Wilma One Question: James Haskins, Managing Director

From time to time, we like to ask actors, designers, and members of the Wilma Staff a single question.

For Hamlet, we asked our Managing Director (and former actor!) - WHAT IS YOUR HAMLET STORY?

James Haskins - In my former life as an actor, my first foray into a full production of a play by Shakespeare was as Laertes in a college production of Hamlet (Pictured, James Haskins center). I recall the first read-through of the play just before winter break. We had not yet spent any time with the script and I had no clue what I was saying to Ophelia: “…your chaste treasure open to his unmaster’d importunity.” What? We were asked to memorize our roles during winter break and be prepared to begin rehearsals without our scripts. And this was to be a production with very few cuts that ultimately ran more than four hours. What had I gotten myself into?

A few years later, I was cast as Horatio in a touring production with the National Shakespeare Company. We literally traveled all over the country with performances in a turn-of-the-century vaudeville house in Calumet, MI, and a replica of the Globe Theatre in Odessa, TX. It was 1989, very shortly after meeting my now husband while touring with him in a production of Twelfth Night. We were young, a bit scared, and living in a very uncertain world still reeling from the AIDS epidemic. We very much identified with Horatio’s line after seeing the ghost of King Hamlet, “Oh day and night, but this is wondrous strange.” And then we considered Hamlet’s response, “And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.” Hamlet’s rejoinder became our mantra, our touchstone, our reminder of how to attack any unfamiliar or overwhelming situation.

I no longer act, but I have since seen countless performances of the play. Unlike my first dive into the script during my sophomore year of college, I now have a more thorough understanding of the play than any other text in the English language. In fact, I must temper myself so as not to drive Blanka to distraction with my opinions about certain cuts or character interpretations. With each new production, there is something previously unconsidered to be discovered. It’s just that kind of play.

So...what is your Hamlet story?

If you could ask anyone at the Wilma - actors, designers, directors, staff members - just ONE question, what would it be?

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