The maddness of the great ones should not go unwatchedHamlet is of course one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays whose lines are ingrained in our cultural vernacular. The iconic story of the brooding prince of Denmark grieving his father’s death and the tragedies that ensue has become one of Shakespeare’s most commonly known and oft produced plays. Yet there is nothing common about the production presented by Back Alley Productions as part of their annual tradition of touring a Shakespearean play to various locations around the Chattanooga and North Georgia area and offering them to the public for free. BAP’s production of Hamlet breaks free of conventions with minimal set pieces stripping away any elements which distract from the story and instead sets out to focus on the characters and their relationships. The end product is an enthralling tale filled with deep emotional conflict that draws the audience in to question who these characters are and how the complications they find themselves in came to be (or not to be.)
Though this be madness, yet there is method in’tThe role of Hamlet is often considered one of Shakespeare’s more difficult characters to portray. With complicated emotional depth and psychological turmoil many scholars still debate the question of Hamlet’s madness even over 400 years after the play’s premier. Rising to this challenge is Chris Smith, a veteran to BAP. Chris’ portrayal of Prince Hamlet is multifaceted and excellently preformed, showing a true mastery of his character. “When we first started the work we broke down his character, Hamlet is a man on the edge. There are just so many layers to who he is.” Chris said speaking of how he and director and BAP founder Kaylee Smith prepared the role. One of the ways he prepared was by watching videos of mental ill patients. “I wanted to see and experience what real world insanity looked like.” Chris said. The work he put into this production and his character development definitely shows. Chris’ performance as Hamlet is genuine and authentic. “There are some roles that affect you as a person, that influence you and change who you are. The role of Hamlet is definitely one of them in which you get invested and forget who you are.” Chris said.
The very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dreamIn the five years that Back Alley Productions has been producing shows the company has grown by leaps and bounds. The company began in 2011 under the umbrella of Stageworks Entertainment when BAP founder Kaylee Smith produced and directed a production of Sherlock Holmes at the Colonnade Theater in Ringgold. Unbeknownst to them at the time, that particular production proved to have a life changing impact on many of those involved, including James Caleb Reed who plays the lead antagonist Claudius in Hamlet. “I was on my way home from work one night and passed by the Colonnade. Out front there was a sign for auditions for Sherlock Holmes, that they would be happening that night at 8pm. I looked at the time and it was five minutes till. Completely spontaneously I decided to audition. I had never been involved with theatre outside of a couple high school productions, but ended up landing the role of Moriarty. I’ve been involved with Back Alley Productions for at least ten or eleven plays since.” Caleb tells of how he became part of BAP. The production of Sherlock Holmes was also a first for Chris Smith who plays Hamlet. “Kaylee approached me after the auditions. She still didn’t have an actor who fit the part of Sherlock. She asked me if I would accept the role and I did. I had no experience acting before then.” Chris said. A year later BAP stood on their own and became a fully functioning theatrical production company.
The play is the thingIt was in 2014 that Back Alley Productions began the Shakespeare tour. Inspired by the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company they mounted a production of Macbeth, handpicked a select number of local venues, and offered the production to the community free of charge. “The free Shakespeare show is one of the most rewarding opportunities the theatre company has. Some people are not financially able to see shows. Many times during the three years that we have offered the tour people have come up to us and told us this was their first time seeing a play of any kind.” Kaylee said. And it’s true. During intermission of the opening night of Hamlet as I’m standing there talking to a few patrons this is precisely what they told me, that this is the first time they have seen any play. “It has also helped us as a company to reach new audiences and to grow our fan base.” Kaylee said. And grow they have. Thanks to the ambition and drive of Kaylee and her merry band of thespians and techies Back Alley Productions moved into their new home at the historic Mars Theatre in Lafayette Georgia earlier this year. The enthusiasm and excitement the community has shown in support of this is apparent. “It’s been a long time since Lafayette has had theatre and the community is hungry for the opportunity to be part of something like this.” Kaylee said.
This above all: to thine own self be true
There are many things that cause Back Alley Productions to stand out. There’s more to it than just passion, and passionate they are. And it’s not just their drive and determination or their extensive focus on the quality of their work. It’s the personality of the company itself that really shines through and sets them apart.
“One of the challenges we have had is defining the company’s identity, to find out who we are and to remain responsible to ourselves.” Chris Smith said.
This really shows in a number of ways, from their design and style choices and the ambiance and character they have given the Mars Theatre, the company’s personality is most clearly defined by their choice of productions. Choosing titles with grit and substance, hard hitting emotional conflict, and tense dramas, the troupe delivers an experience for the audience unlike any other theatre in the area. This fresh approach is most welcome.Though the story of Hamlet is very much a tragedy, Back Alley Production’s story is far from it. More importantly their story is one we hope will never end as we expect great things from this company as they continue to take rewarding risks and try new things and continue to build and grow the great thing they have started.
Friday, August 12th and Saturday August 13th: the North Georgia Amphitheater Saturday August 20th: at the Coolidge Park open air stage in Chattanooga Friday, Aug. 26 and Saturday, Aug. 27: the Camp Jordan Stage .Outdoor audience members are encouraged to bring water, snacks and a blanket for grass. Outdoor shows will still be performed even if it rains, unless the weather is severe and dangerous. Tax-deductible donations contributing to this and future productions can be made by visiting BackAlleyProductions.org.
All performances are at 8pm EDT.