One last story to cap off this week.

I was cast as Hamlet when I was 27 years old. I had already done As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caeser, although that last one was in high school so let’s not count it. Suffice it to say, I had not a lot of Shakespeare under my belt, but you’d be surprised at how much your musical theater training comes in handy. “You want me to talk to myself for five minutes with nobody else on stage and the language has to have a specific rhythm in order to make sense? Yeah, talk to me about No, No, Nanette, you classics-loving knob-gobbler, I got this.”

After three weeks of rehearsal, the producer came and sat in. He hated me so much that he asked that I be fired and when the director refused the producer fired me AND the director. I was so awful that I got the guy who *hired* me fired.

That’s a great story, isn’t it? And it certainly goes a long way toward explaining why I didn’t play Hamlet when I was still young enough to play him. But even a cursory overview of the story falls apart. Even though what I’ve just written is 100% true, it’s actually not true *at all*. It’s interesting when that happens.

For all the theater people out there, have you ever been in a situation where a producer is willing to cover the expenses of three weeks of rehearsal and then throw it all away because he or she doesn’t like an actor? The actors were all being paid, the rehearsal hall had been rented, *coffee* had been purchased… and the producer is willing to throw this all away because I was actually *that bad*?

Look, I might have given a terrible performance, I don’t know, but in order for a producer to make that call, to throw away that much money, he had to have watched the rehearsal and decide that my performance would damage the integrity of his career. And there’s no way I was *that awful*. I speak English, I have at least a tiny bit of charm, even if we were completely misunderstanding the script, we still had a week or so to fix the show. The fact that he fired *the director* is a clue about what happened.

I don’t know, I wasn’t behind closed doors, but knowing what I know now I have to assume that these two men hated each other. And when I was first cast I had two meetings… with the producer. To discuss character, relationships and (red flag here) blocking. Not blocking specifically, but he insisted that he could justify Hamlet having been injured before the play, and he walked with a slight limp.

Hamlet was to have a limp in this production, I was told.

He also revealed to me the great secret that he unveiled – that Hamlet and Ophelia were lovers and that she was pregnant. When he told me, he swore me to secrecy even though this idea has become one of the accepted interpretations of the play so obvious that you have to make a choice when you’re confronting the script whether or not to embrace it.

Unfortunately, I was much younger then. So I laughed at the guy and said, “I can’t name a single person who doesn’t know that about the script. It’s almost four hundred years old, and I’m fairly sure every single production has had to deal with how to treat their love affair.” It wasn’t a great move on my part, but the guy was also massively out of line for meeting with the lead actor privately before a single rehearsal I didn’t care.

His criticism was that I wasn’t British, and only a British actor can play Hamlet. It wasn’t the accent, it was that I hadn’t been a boy in England. When it was pointed out that I *had* lived in England as a boy, his criticism was that I hadn’t lived there for my entire boyhood. And when it was pointed out that the Dane was… y’know, DANISH, it didn’t matter, only a British person understands a BRITISH writer. By the way, the producer was not, himself, English and had never been to the U.K.

Also, after I was fired, so were many of the other cast members. And then the opening was postponed. And then the production was canceled. And there’s a pretty good chance that had none of this drama occurred, the production still wouldn’t have happened, the producer was that crazy. I don’t tell that part of the story because that part makes it clear that the production was a shitstorm of incompetence, and that doesn’t fit into the narrative of me being wronged by the industry.

Now, to say this is water under the bridge is an overstatement, I was 27 then, I’m 42 now, I don’t even still contain any of the same cells as the 27 year old who went through this ordeal. But my choice for many years was to decide that I had no skills as a stage performer and that I should focus on my career as a musician, maybe teach voice or something. What I *didn’t* do is go back out and audition for a *different* production of Hamlet, there’s always one going up somewhere. I’ve told this story countless times with an ironic glee, another brushstroke in my portrait of a noble failure. But the only truth in this story is that some theater producers are flat out nuts, and if you take their craziness personally you have nobody to blame but yourself.