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Olympia's Animal Fire Theatre and Hamlet

Becoming Animal Fire: The beauty of the beast

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I've spent much of the last few weeks slapping mosquitos and wrestling with iambic pentameter, all in service to a murderous king and his conflicted, unpredictable stepson. I'm referring to Hamlet, the third Olympia offering from a young but dedicated troupe known as Animal Fire Theatre. It's probably the finest piece of dramatic writing since at least the book of Job, so hey, no pressure.

Shakespeare in the park is among the finer aspects of metropolitan life, so it's great to have it here. Even better, it's free. I chatted with founder and resident director Austen Anderson about the company's origins.

"We started after I graduated from the University of Idaho in Moscow," Anderson says. "Some peers and I were sitting around bored, and we said, ‘Let's get together and put on a Shakespeare show and play with some ideas we have from college.' We staged Henry V in an abandoned Sears in a strip mall. It was great fun. That was January of 2010."

The troupe moved to Oly a few months later.

"I grew up in Whitlock and attended Centralia College," Anderson says. "I was familiar with Olympia, and I wanted to do another show here. We found a really nice spot in the park and did Macbeth in the summer of 2010."

Last year brought Animal Fire's well-received production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Then came Hamlet. "I was coaching a high school class on Shakespeare, and they were doing Hamlet. Every scene we did, I had an opinion about, and I really enjoyed it. I started seeing all these connections. I went home and reread it. I thought, ‘This show strikes a chord with me.' I had an actor, Jay Minton, who I thought would make a fantastic Hamlet. So it was a marriage of I feel this show and the right guy exists to do the show."

What inspired the troupe's beastly moniker?

"When we were at the University of Idaho," explains Anderson, "we took an infamous class called the Animals class, where we learned this technique where we pretend to be animals and it makes us better actors, basically. We had some amazing things happen. We wanted to take that energy we found and put it into a full show of Shakespeare."

Anderson's cut of Hamlet clocks in at less than two hours, but all the same, it rests on the actor essaying the melancholy Dane.

"Hamlet's got a lot of objectives," says Minton, "but the biggest in my mind is to become the new king. Revenge his father, kill Claudius - it's all part of the bigger picture in which he assumes his rightful place as the king of Denmark. They (acting teachers) say find one thing and go for it, but Hamlet's too big for that. You have to find lots of objectives and keep them all in your mind to pursue. I grow more afraid of the role every day," he admits, laughing. "It's scary but it's complex. Good roles should scare you."

[Animal Fire Theatre, Hamlet, July 19 - Aug. 5, Priest Point Park, Olympia, aftheatre@gmail.com]

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