For the past week, UNF Shakespeare has been performing Hamlet to audiences at MOCA Jacksonville and UNF’s Lazarra Theater, respectively. Their production is unique in that the students were an integral part of every element of the design process, as well as the performance itself.

As an example of the creative freedom afforded to students, this production is set in the 1960s, a distinct departure from the play’s typical setting – Denmark in the late Middle Ages. Cast members work about two to three days a week for four to five hours a day. The cast hopes audience members will be able to see the full extent of their production efforts when they see the show.

The production is co-directed by Dr. Maureen McCluskey, Guest Instructor for the Department of English. Dr. McCluskey has been involved in theater at UNF since 2017 and spent several years working as an advisor for Swoop Troupe, UNF’s flagship drama club. She particularly enjoys theater because it provides an opportunity to engage students from various majors and backgrounds.

Shakespearian plays, because they are royalty-free, offer students, especially English students, the opportunity to adapt scripts and flex their own creative muscles, as seen with this production of Hamlet. Dr. McCluskey is proud of the work of the actors in this production. Specifically, she is thrilled with her choice of actors, calling their performance “a good, dark interpretation. [of Hamlet].”

(Above) (left to right) Jack Beard plays Hamlet and Kaleb Lawrence plays Horatio in the UNF Shakespeare production of Hamlet. Photo courtesy of Dr. Maureen McCluskey.

Christina Brennan, a sophomore in film and graphic design with a minor in theater, plays Queen Gertrude in the production. She’s been acting “on and off,” as she puts it, since fourth grade. She attributes her involvement in UNF Shakespeare to Dr. McCluskey. “100%,” she adds.

According to Christina, Dr. McCluskey encouraged her to audition for a role in the production. She praises Dr. McCluskey for his patience, his mentorship and his ability to be a role model in the theater field. For Christina, two words sum up Dr. McCluskey – “the best”. Christina’s favorite part of being a cast member was getting to know the rest of the cast and crew. “Everyone brings something to the table,” she explains.

The cast of Hamlet receives applause from the audience after their performance at MOCA Jacksonville. Photo courtesy of Dr. Maureen McCluskey.

Overall, the cast of Hamlet hopes audiences enjoy the show. They are optimistic that by performing a production by the initiator of the theatre, audiences will be able to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the language and emotions conveyed in the show. Even though the dialogue itself can be difficult to understand (as anyone who has read Shakespeare can attest), the cast promises that by seeing the play, audiences can connect with the characters and the story on a level more human. Cast members also appreciate how Shakespeare can deal with modern issues in his plays, especially mental health, which shows that Shakespeare’s works are still of great relevance in the 21st century.

Christina Brennan as Queen Gertrude and Jack Beard as Hamlet in the UNF Shakespeare production of Hamlet.
(Left to right) Christina Brennan as Queen Gertrude and Jack Beard as Hamlet in the UNF Shakespeare production of Hamlet. (Justin Nedrow)

The next performances of UNF Shakespeare will be on Saturday, January 22 and Sunday, January 23, both at 2:00 p.m. at the Thomas G. Carpenter Library. Admission is free for all UNF students. An ASL interpreter will also be present for the entirety of the two performances.


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