Playing Hamlet Entry #1

My Father's Shoes

[Transcribed from hardcopy journal]


"2-26-13 Tuesday
a bit after 12PM on the subway to Brooklyn

My father's shoes. Really they weren't actually his shoes. This is what my emotional brain is calling them, but they were the shoes my mother bought for me at Kohl's Department Store (I think) for my father's funeral in Wisconsin in August 2003. She also bought me a suit. Black suit and black shoes. Lots of buttons on that suit coat. I still have them both. The shoes; "those shoes..." "with which [I] followed my poor father's body" (Hamlet I.2). And I am carrying them now on the subway in NYC in 2013. In my gym bag. And I was planning on having them cobbled (the left shoe is splitting from the sole) but I am hesitating. I pause because I am fixing these shoes to wear as Hamlet this time around and honestly after today's morning simply examing these things on the way to the city and facing the sense memory of the Kohl's Department Store in my Method Practice Group session I don't think I would be repurposing these shoes with anything less than an "overburdening" of my work on this play.

It is not imagination, it is a visceral distraction. Can I use it? I want to be "good enough" to use it too, but all the same sometimes emotional memory is not necessary. Am I scared of where it will take me? Of course. But I am also aware that the anxiety it is producing may not actually be helpful. (Until it is.)

Why shoes? I don't think it matters why. I think what matters is that the response is there and that on its own it matters. No help needed. It creates for me the sense of absurdity and wonder and helplessness of having to carry on with the ridiculous simplicity of purchasing shoes when your world has been drastically shifted -- and for the purpose of attending the event which emblemizes the formal recognition of the drastic shift! It's like buying a clown costume for your own funeral.

Shoes. These worn out shoes that have seen 10 years of use and memory, loaded, might be "fixed" for use in a show largely about the loss of fathers and sons and youth and manhood and growth and despair? As I write it it makes sense. As I write about the new meaning they might have, these old shoes become magic -- more magic than they were before. If they are now set pieces -- costume pieces -- they are reinvigorated as I am and as my audience may be by the exploration of the sorrow of objects in painful memories that we all share because we all have loss and, here, there or everywhere we all remember. And we can't help it. It sticks like viscous but it also changes with the gentle force of time, kind will, and simple improvisation. Play. The play[ing]'s the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of humanity -- my dear audience -- my masters and patrons, my dear idiots and geniuses who can always know the truth if they care to see it, to hear it, to breath and feel it with the exploration within and without which we are all given as opportunity in all things great and small. And in art most especially. One human speaking to a roomful of humans for something approaching an understanding. A verge, a cliff, a falling into each other with the grateful abandon of trust -- however momentary -- in play.

"Play, play every day, play and play away, and then play the play you played to-day, the play you play every day, play it and play it. Play it and remember it and ask to play it. Play it, and play it and play away." -- Gertrude Stein

Barefoot or otherwise, shoes notwithstanding."



Ben Williams is an actor and musician based in NYC.


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