REVENGE IS MAD HARD
ECU students attend ‘Fat Ham,’ a reimagining of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet,’ on Broadway
This spring, East Carolina University students, along with three faculty members from the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Department of English, had the unique experience of traveling to New York City to watch firsthand the creative reinterpretation of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in the Broadway play “Fat Ham.”
Marianne Montgomery, Harriot College associate dean for faculty and student affairs and associate professor of English, coordinated the trip that brought 16 students from English, Foreign Languages and Literatures and the School of Theatre and Dance to NYC. The students traveled via Amtrak with Montgomery; Margaret Bauer, Rives Chair of Southern Literature and professor of English; and Donna Kain, associate professor of English.
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In addition to seeing Broadway’s “Fat Ham,” ECU students enjoyed all that NYC had to offer. Check out a photo gallery from their trip.
“When we were getting on the train, I didn’t know anyone, and I met some of the best people at ECU,” said Victor Aguilar, a sophomore majoring in Hispanic studies education. “The trip really opened me up to New York. It was a great experience, and I felt like I was in another country.”
After seeing the Pulitzer Prize-winning play last summer, Montgomery was inspired to take the group of students to see it in NYC. Playwright James Ijames — originally from North Carolina — and director Saheem Ali transformed Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” into the set of a North Carolina family barbecue in what The New York Times calls “a hilarious yet profound tragedy smothered in comedy.”
“The main character, Juicy, even seems like he could be an ECU student,” Montgomery said. “Black, queer and first-generation, he’s trying against all odds to get an education and transcend the trauma of his father’s death. The play takes up serious themes, but joyfully and accessibly.”
When it was announced that the play would open on Broadway, Montgomery said she thought it would be an amazing opportunity for ECU students, many of whom have studied “Hamlet” in ECU’s Shakespeare and theater classes.
“Representation matters, and we don’t often see rural North Carolina on Broadway stages or in Shakespeare,” Montgomery said. “In my teaching, I emphasize how contemporary playwrights and directors play with Shakespearean material to speak to us in the present day, and this play is a fantastic example: it’s deeply engaged with Shakespeare but also feels new and fresh.”
“Even if you’re not the biggest fan of Shakespeare, ‘Fat Ham’ tells a modern-day story of things people are experiencing. Having Black voices in this story was something I never would have imagined would happen, and it was just magical,” said Grace Gardner, a senior majoring in theatre arts.
“My favorite part of the play was how it discussed generational trauma,” said Alli Swinson, a senior majoring in English. “It took up really deep topics about mental health and the difficulties of being queer in the South and added levity and comedy.”
According to Montgomery, she wanted students to take away that they have the power to tell their own stories and write their own endings, and that Shakespeare belongs to everyone and can be freely remixed, adapted and reworked. She said the play offered students an opportunity to experience professional theater and reflect on the big questions — about family and community, race and gender, and tragedy and comedy.
“After seeing the show, I want to express myself even more – to be fully who I am,” said Caleb Joseph, a senior seeking dual majors in psychology and foreign languages and literatures, with a concentration in German.
Jonah Seretti, a junior majoring in English, said, “The one word I’d use to describe the play is transformative. It not only transformed the source material but also my perspective.”
In addition to attending the Saturday night performance of “Fat Ham,” students explored the city, visiting landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Stonewall Inn, seeing the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry, and marveling at a planetarium show at the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the Museum of Natural History.
“Stepping off the train and seeing how big New York is was incredible. My favorite part of the trip was exploring Times Square and seeing the American Airlines Theatre,” said Sheema Boone, a senior majoring in theatre arts education.
The co-curricular trip was sponsored by Harriot College’s Department of English, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Program in Gender Studies and Whichard Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities; the North Carolina Literary Review; ECU’s School of Theatre and Dance; and the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center. Bauer’s participation was funded by the Rives Professorship in Southern Literature.
“This trip was a truly life-changing experience for me,” said Taylor Edmondson, a junior majoring in English and English education. “I’m already making plans to go back.”