Hamlet on Alcatraz Turns Play into Experience

By Matt Baume
|  Thursday, Oct 21, 2010  |  Updated 12:27 PM PDT
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New Year's Eve Comes Early

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SAN FRANCISCO - JULY 2: A seagull flies over Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary on Alcatraz Island July 2, 2003 in the San Francisco Bay, California. The park service, which manages Alcatraz as one of San Francisco's most popular tourist attractions, has started selling boxed chunks of concrete rubble for $4.95 which were left over from a 7.7 million dollar retrofit of a decaying cell block and guards quarters. Park staff came up with the idea as a cost-effective alternative to ferrying tons of rubble off Alcatraz and to bring in an extra $20,000 to $40,000 a year. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Alcatraz isn't just a former prison and tourist trap: for the next few weeks, it's also a stage.

The weird topography of the island is apparently well-suited to a staging of Hamlet, with actors rushing around on dilapidated buildings and lurking in the foliage. Audience members must rush about the island to follow the action, providing a workout for all parties.

The show is being staged by We Players, a troupe with the reputation for transplanting drama into unexpected settings. A fight in "Romeo and Juliet" was staged in a Stamford cafeteria, and they put on Macbeth at Fort Point. Despite the show being sold out, the troupe will offer unclaimed tickets to members of its mailing list -- so get thee to a nunnery, er, mailing list.

The production takes place at night, so bring warm clothes and comfortable shoes. Ushers with lanterns guide audience members from one location to the next.

Critics have loved the presentation so far, pointing out that the island setting adds to the story's sense of isolation. The memory of former prisoners also heightens the ghostly feel.

Meanwhile, drama of another sort is unfolding in the sky above Alcatraz. Two peregrine falcons have recently been sighted by Alcatraz birdwatchers, which could mean a bloody showdown with the island's other predators, ravens. Or actors.

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