By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
The great writers of theater, from Euripides and Sophocles to William Shakespeare, are known today not just for the quality of their prose, but the universality of the themes they depict: love, power, passion, virtue. For Alan Stanford, artistic and executive director of PICT Classic Theatre (PICT), that is the defining feature of a “classic.”
“My definition of a classic is ‘something that is true of its time, and for all time,” said Stanford.
As part of its weekly webinar series, PICT is hosting “Hamlet In His Own Words,” hosted by Stanford. The five part series began March 26, and is part of a weekly series of online talks about classics plays and playwrights that began as online programming after the COVID-19 pandemic closed theater curtains indefinitely last year.
“The webinars began about a year ago as one of our responses to the pandemic,” said Stanford. “I thought, ‘Let’s start off with something that I do, which is talk about plays…let’s do this for a few weeks.’ That was a year ago and I’m still doing it every Friday.”
The webinars have covered a number of topics, from the influence of great Irish playwrights, to the works of August Wilson, to of course, Shakespeare. Stanford draws from his extensive theater background to explore the works as he understands them.
“I talk about my view of certain aspects of theater or plays, based on my own experience. I’ve been doing theater for 54 years as a professional…so I have a great deal of experience to draw on,” said Stanford.
“Hamlet In His Own Words” will focus on five speeches delivered by Hamlet in the Shakespeare tragedy of the same name.
“We’re looking at the way Hamlet describes himself and talks, to us, about his feelings, about the way his mind is working, and also his relationships with other characters in the play,” said Stanford.
The play follows Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, who is prophesied to kill his uncle Claudius, who murdered his father to seize the throne. Throughout the plays five acts, Hamlet slowly transforms psychologically from a man trying to resist fate, to a potential king himself. Stanford says that throughout the play, we see five different Hamlets as his story continues.
“It’s a wonderful play on that level in that a plot is set out, and then you’re following the principal character not carrying out the plot, but actually going through a huge psychological development,” said Stanford.
Each episode of the webinar, as well as all previous episodes, are available on PICT’s YouTube channel. Through these, Stanford hopes to help start a conversation among theater lovers, and allow viewers to better understand why the classics of old are still so relevant and respected to this day.
“Hamlet In His Own Words” will stream live at 2 PM every Friday on the PICT YouTube channel. For more information, visit picttheatre.org.