Most everyone knows about Hamlet, but playwright Jeffrey Hatcher contends they don't necessarily first meet the Dane in "Hamlet."
Instead, it comes from outside references, parodies and riffs on Shakespeare's play.
"It's often a Xerox of a Xerox," Hatcher said last week during a break in rehearsal for his latest work, "Jeffrey Hatcher's 'Hamlet.'"
Hatcher is doing more than writing this time. The veteran playwright also takes the stage in the autobiographical play, which will be presented this week as part of Illusion Theater's Fresh Ink series.
The Wayzata resident draws from his own childhood for the play. At age 10, he gathered up a bunch of classmates in Steubenville, Ohio to put on a version of "Hamlet" that he adapted. The performance was a hit, selling out its performance and introducing Hatcher and his classmates to the excitement of performing.
Forty-five years later, Hatcher is looking back at those years. It's territory he has mined in the past, but this is the one that is drawn the closest from his actual experiences.
"That was my first exposure. It is interesting to throw kids at 'Hamlet' and see what they make of it," Hatcher said of the original experience.
Though he has taken some artistic license to craft a show out of the experience, "I want to have the right people playing the roles. I am exact about that. There were a couple of them I couldn't find at all. People who seemed to have dropped off the edge of the universe," Hatcher said.
Fresh Ink is a transitional stage for the show. It's put on its feet and presented four times over the weekend. A full production is scheduled for the fall of 2014. The play itself is the latest work Hatcher has done at the long-running Minneapolis theater. A number of past shows have been commissioned and premiered there.
This time, the commission was a gift from the board of directors to the founders and producing directors of the Illusion, Michael Robins and Bonnie Morris. Knowing that the theater would eventually have to pay for the production of the gift, Hatcher set out to craft a play with a limited cast (one) and set.
Playing the role himself also means Hatcher has no one else to blame but himself if a line doesn't land.
"I have to blame the line if I interpret it the way I meant as I was typing it," he said.
As a prolific writer, Hatcher says the process this time has been slower.
"I'm guessing it's going through all of this older stuff. It started in March with chunks and blips and blobs," he said. "Primarily, we're getting the script in shape and sketching out a version of where the production will be."
"In the process of the writing it has been getting the voice," said Robins, who is directing the Fresh Ink production. "We're trying to get it so the stuff on the page can flow."
Hatcher is also happy to finally revisit this moment from his past.
"I'm 55 years old. I should have probably done this 10 years ago, but it is better to do it now than not," Hatcher said.