The Minnesota Shakespeare Company celebrates its 40th birthday in January with a production of “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” directed by St. Anthony Park resident Mikel Clifford.
After Nick James’ performance in her production of Jane Martin’s “Good Boys” last summer, Clifford realized she’d found herself a Hamlet. “I figured we’d go for something really big,” she said.
The company recruited actors mostly by word of mouth, she said, adding, “We’ve got a gaggle of young people in this one, which is nice.”
Clifford and three others involved in the current production were among the group that started Minnesota Shakespeare. “It started the usual way,” she said. “People just decided it would be fun to do a show.”
Their first play was “Two Gentlemen of Verona.”
“We set it in the Wild West,” Clifford recalled with a chuckle.
There have been some gaps in their seasons, Clifford said, and she herself spent many years in California, where she got busy starting another Shakespeare company in the Bay area. But the Minnesota group revived several years ago and has been mounting productions every six months or so.
Over the years, they’ve played Bryant Lake Bowl, Hennepin Center for the Arts and “a whole lot of parks,” Clifford said.
She has also directed at Park Square Theatre, acted at Theatre in the Round and participated in many other productions in Minnesota, California and Alaska. Her resumé lists skills in “various accents, stage combat, French, Dutch, German and poker.”
Clifford, who is also a nurse, credits her father for her Shakespearean sideline. Her parents had a recording of Macbeth, and by the age of 3 she’d become fascinated with it.
“They told me I used to ask to hear the witches when I went to bed,” she said.
The production notes for the character Hamlet suggest timeless relevance: “He is a student intellectual, oppressed by an older generation whose lives are governed by political expediency and by military force.”
But in contrast to the common approach of setting old plays in modern times, Clifford said, “We are going full-tilt boogie into about 1350.” Among the costumes she’s rounded up are some treasures she bought years ago from the Paris Opera.
Hamlet opens Jan. 8 at the Lowry Lab Theatre, a black-box theater that seats about 100.