When an opportunity to travel abroad and do more than study presents itself, most students will jump on it quickly. A group of ambitious students from SUNY Purchase had just such an opportunity recently. Led by acting major Daniel Croix Henderson ’17, a group of Purchase students spent last summer living in Saigon, Vietnam producing The Hamlet Project, a multidisciplinary art project that aims to strengthen social and cultural ties among the millennial generation in the United States and Vietnam.
Henderson had long been fascinated by Vietnam. Believing in the power of theater to help people grow and change their lives, he decided to bring American artists to Ho Chi Minh City to help foster a cross-cultural conversation.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Henderson enlisted the help of fellow class of 2017 members including film majors Maxwell Mooney, William D. Miller, and Aidan Maculso, and dance major Emily Kessler. Together they would choreograph the movement, design the sets and lighting, and film the production. Rounding out the team was stage manager Gabrielle Carr, a student from SUNY Fredonia.
The students spent two and a half months studying traditional Vietnamese art forms and performance practices, immersing themselves in local culture through live music, dance, opera, theater, and visual art.
The result was the first theatrical collaboration between New York City and Saigon-based artists in the history of theatre: an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Set in a concrete room converted into a theatre by their team, the production featured an all-Vietnamese cast of actors and dancers, removed all spoken language, and utilized the human body and a continuous soundscape to unfold the narrative.
Described as “bold,” “riveting,” and “vibrant,” the The Hamlet Project received rave reviews, and has captured the attention of the National Theatre and other international theater companies and publications. If that’s not enough, the project raised 12 million VND (about $550 USD) for Saigon Children’s Charity.
Henderson, who chose Hamlet because of its universal themes, says, “I believe that if anything can bring people together and create a more compassionate world, it’s the power of story.”
The group plans to release a short film documenting their journey in the coming months. From the travel to the international collaboration, it’s a story that plays well on any stage.