Scott Kelly plays the Gravedigger in “Hamlet,” now playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. But there’s something else: Throughout nearly all of the play, looking up from the audience toward the Elizabethan Theatre’s “heavens,” you see Kelly, an enigmatic figure, surrounded by musical instruments and bathed in a deep-red light. Kelly’s music provides a psychological resonance for Hamlet’s inner monologues with an occasional duet with Hamlet on electric guitar. I saw the first preview, and the undercurrent of music intensifies the emotional impact of the language.
Before joining the cast of “Hamlet,” Kelly spent eight years as an OSF sound technician. A gifted musician, Kelly often tours internationally with his heavy metal band, Neurosis.
EH: When did you know you wanted to be a performing artist?
SK: I was focused on music at a young age. I was driven by it. I started out playing music mainly inspired by punk rock. That was how I learned. It was the kind of music where your emotion mattered more than your skill level, at the onset. If you felt it, you could get up and do it. I slowly learned. I taught myself how to play through the course of that, through touring, and being exposed to the world and other musicians. My initial influences were bands like Black Flag and Black Sabbath and early Pink Floyd. Then I came across Miles Davis and Hank Williams and more obscure underground stuff, noise music, and avant-garde music. I like some hip-hop music. I like Wagner, Prokofiev; I like the heavy classical stuff, anything that moves me. I like emotion-driven music. I don’t like cookie-cutter stuff. I’ve got to feel it in the words or the music. It could be (the poet) Charles Bukowski, to me he’s very musical. I just need to feel it.
EH: So that’s why your music and “Hamlet” make a good match.
SK: It definitely wasn’t my idea. I was approached about it by Paul James Prendergast, who is the Co-Composer of the show. He said, ‘The director has this idea of what she wants to do. I told her about you, and that you’re here, and that you have this history, and that you’re professional and can do this.’ She did some research on what I had done previously, and really liked it. They came up with the idea to link the Gravedigger with Hamlet in the show, and therefore to put me in a speaking role.
EH: What’s so special about live performance that some of us make it our lives?
SK: It’s a shared experience. If it’s done right, everybody in the room surrenders. The actors and the musicians surrender themselves to the art that they are portraying. The audience surrenders themselves to the portrayal of the art or the music. It creates this symbiotic relationship, this circle that then can build and build and build, and ebb and flow, and hopefully crescendo at the end.
One of the many things (that is so genius) that Lisa Peterson directed into the play: The moments of light and comedy thrown in, to create that ebb and flow. There are moments that are really funny in the show, where you’re not really expecting them to be. And then there are these very ghostly moments. Then it comes to the end, and the intensity level ratchets up. They are fighting for their lives out there. You can really feel it. It’s fast and it’s physical. Wow.