Playwright to share his Shakespeare experience in Dawson

Back when he was 11 years old, Minnesota playwright Jeffrey Hatcher decided to adapt and direct his fellow fifth-graders in one of Shakespeare’s notable tragedies.

Now 45 years later, he’s telling that story in a one-man show that’s making its way to Dawson.

“Jeffrey Hatcher’s Hamlet” will be performed at 1 p.m. Monday at Memorial Auditorium in Dawson. It is one of 10 stops as part of the Arts Tour Minnesota program.

Hatcher was in the fifth grade in Steubenville, Ohio when he decided to take on “Hamlet” for his English class.

“At age 11, I’m not certain that all of the subtleties and complexities of ‘Hamlet’ are apparent,” Hatcher said. “I knew it had a terrific plot and famous dialogue and that it could be fun to do, and I must also admit, I knew the previous plays that had been done in my fifth-grade class tended to be either plays for and about children or adaptation of stories, fables, fairy tales, etc. So I’m sure on some level, I was hoping to show off.”

How Hatcher pulled off such a feat is explained during his one-man show about the experience. He said that he and his classmates had four weeks to stage it.

“And although there are many advantages to having a young, energetic cast of 11-year-olds in a production of ‘Hamlet,’ one can imagine without going into detail that there will also be difficulties and unsuspected hardships,” Hatcher said.

After seeing dozens of productions of “Hamlet” since and having read the play with more years behind his belt, Hatcher said he sees and hears things that didn’t resonate with him in quite the same way at the time.

“I must admit, however, that I do always respond to it first and foremost in terms of plot, and in adapting it back in those days, one was adapting it primarily, the key plot points,” he said. “(I’m) not saying that’s the most important aspect of the show, but it’s certainly the one that has always attracted a part of me that responds to narrative and twists and turns, but it’s also true to say that the textures and the life experiences one applies to the appreciation of any play are informed by events, occurrences, choices that one has made, love affairs, loss, marriage, death, betrayals and the politics of the world keep ‘Hamlet’ turning like a jewel with endless numbers of facets and variations.”

Hatcher said he’s been thinking about telling the story of his fifth-grade “Hamlet” for the last 10 to 15 years.

“I thought perhaps it might made a good film or a teleplay, something along the lines of ‘A School of Rock,’ and then it struck me that a one-person play would be just perfect and as it was my story, why not play the role myself,” Hatcher said. “I proposed this idea to the board of the Illusion Theater, which is planning the anniversary for the Illusion Theater, and it all came together rather quickly, at least on the level of idea.”

The show premiered last summer as part of the Illusion Theater’s Fresh Ink series, and Hatcher said there were five performances. The script was altered performance to performance.

“So if you saw the first performance, four nights later, there were many differences in the final performance,” Hatcher said. “I think the audiences liked the show, I think they found it entertaining. There were some parts where I’m sure they wanted a deepening and other parts they found not as interesting.”