Senior Spotlight: Emi Herman and Lisbeth Franzon

On a particular day two years ago in Phelps Dining Hall, a few theatre students gathered and watched the Lego stop-motion animation of “The Murder of Gonzago,” created by faculty member Eric Van Tassell, inspired by a scene within the famous Shakespearean play, “Hamlet.” From this, an idea bloomed from the ashes. “What if we put on a production of ‘Hamlet’?” an ambitious voice chimed in, which was then understandably followed by laughter.

But not long after, the idea took root, and what started out as a joke is now coming to full fruition in just a few short weeks. 

Hope College’s production of “Hamlet” will be directed/light designed by theatre and English literature student Emi Herman (‘22), and stage-managed/set designed by theatre and political science student Lisbeth Franzon (‘22). We decided to sit down over coffee with these two wonderful minds to discuss their process, ideas, what drew them to theatre and where they are headed after Hamlet’s conclusion. 

What is the Plot of “Hamlet” and What is Your Vision for This Production? 

In simple terms, “Hamlet” is about a prince, Hamlet, who experiences grief over the murder of his father, the king of Denmark. The play follows his plot for revenge against his uncle Claudius, and how this drive impacts his romantic life, his friendships and his familial relations. In this dramatic, action-packed play, the audience is left wondering if any character will still be standing in its conclusion. 

One thing that Herman and Franzon are playing with is the idea that while the events within the play are extremely challenging, Hamlet does not think anything of this due to his childlike state of mind. 

To play with this theme, they made the interesting choice of including Legos and lightsabers in their production. Herman says, “When people ask why I’m doing “Hamlet,” they usually give me the ‘You’re actually doing that?’ and my usual pitch is: it’s “Hamlet” with lightsabers and Legos.”

But how exactly do they plan to incorporate these elements? “For ages, I have joked about having a set made completely out of Legos,” remarks Franzon, “Now clearly that’s not going to happen because this is a student production, but we’re doing our best to run with that with the time that we have. So we are going to have Legos involved, it’s going to be a very childlike element. It’s going to be very reminiscent of childhood because that is a theme that we’re playing with around this.”

To see this interesting set addition and to know how the idea played out, you’re just going to have to come see the show!

What is a 490? 

Herman says it best with this little snippet:  “A 490 is basically the theatre department’s version of a senior capstone. You can write a play, produce a play, direct a play, stage manage a play, you can do all of the above. I think they’re important because it is a very student-led project.”

She also talks about the importance of participating in 490 projects, saying “When you’re doing a mainstage production, your faculty is involved no matter what. When that happens, sometimes there can be limitations to how comfortable you are in a room, just because there is the power of your seniors. So when it is a student-led piece, it’s just freeing in a way that normal productions aren’t. And for whoever’s project it is, it’s also an opportunity for them to have a really intense creative outlet for a semester. I have never been involved with a production like I have with this. Beginning, middle, end, I was there at its conception, and that doesn’t happen with mainstage because you don’t even know what production you’re producing until the year before, and so working on this for 3 years has been super eye-opening for me in how I want to pursue my career later on. It’s also important because it’s sometimes easier to manage for nonmajors, so a lot of people get involved who are usually not in a mainstage production or not taking classes with us, so you’re just building an even broader community within that.” 

The Team

Production cannot work with just two people! Herman and Franzon are joined on the production team by two other seniors: sound designer, Zach Pickle (‘22) and costume designer, Valerie Dien (‘22). 

Herman says fondly, “My sound designer, Zach Pickle, has been really helpful. He co-wrote a song with Grant McKenzie (‘24), and that is so cool, it’s stuck in my head all the time and I can’t wait for people to hear it. And Valerie Dien is our costume designer, she’s got some really cool ideas.”  

On top of these creative minds, the show is supported by an excellent cast: 

Hamlet- Payton Johnson (‘22)

Ophelia- Abby Doonan (‘24)

Horatio- Lydia Konings (‘24)

Gertrude- Emily Dykhouse (‘23)

Polonius- Leslie Olivarez (‘22)

Laertes/Lucianus- Isabella Gaetjens-Oleson (‘24)

Rosencrantz/Oseric/Barnardo- Eden Comer (‘25)

Guildenstern/Francisco/Doctor- Ashley Lauraine (‘25)

Marcellus/Captain/Player Queen/Gentleman/Gravedigger- Sophie Reay (‘25)

Ghost/Player King/Sailor/Messenger/Fortinbras- Rachel Leep (‘25)

They are also joined by faculty member Eric Van Tassell, who has helped them a lot, especially on the production side of things since, as Herman claims, “Me, Zach, and Lisbeth are definitely actors first, so it’s a very big learning process for all of us, but it’s a fun learning process.” 

On the topic of actors first, Herman says that her favorite show that she has been in is “Twelfth Night” during the fall of 2020. This should come as no surprise because it’s another Shakespeare, but also because it has been the only play done outside in recent years, which is an experience that not many people get during their time at Hope. 

Franzon has also acted in many shows (she was in “Twelfth Night” along with Herman), but one remarkable thing that Franzon has done is her work in stage management—she has stage managed for 3 shows. She assistant stage managed “Cry it Out” her freshman year, then in her sophomore year she stage managed 490 project “Hippolytus,” and, during the fall of 2020, she stage-managed “The Thanksgiving Play” while acting in “Twelfth Night.” 

These women never fail to show their commitment and love to Hope’s theatre department!

What Do You Like About Theatre? 

Franzon highlighted the versatility of theatre and how those involved can do more than act, but what they both mentioned in their interviews was the fact that theater brings people together. 

On the topic of community in theatre, Franzon says, “Theatre has this ability to connect people because it’s so emotionally driven. We all deal with different things in our lives and sometimes seeing that put up on stage or experiencing that on stage with other people, or experiencing something similar has a way of drawing people together in community. A lot of my really good friends are in the theatre department.” 

What Are Your Plans for After College? 

Herman plans to move to Washington D.C. with a friend that she made at Hope Summer Repertory Theatre and pursue theatre as much as she can during a global pandemic. Her ultimate goal is to do something creative.

Franzon plans on staying in the area for a few years as she has younger siblings that she’d like to spend more time with before going out into the world. She then plans to work for a nonprofit and then pursue a profession in political science. When we asked her about theatre in her future, she says, “I don’t think that I’ll ever completely lose theatre, I just don’t see myself pursuing it actively at this moment.”

Last Words on Hamlet

“Hamlet” will be showing in the studio theatre in Dewitt at 7:30 pm on March 31 and at 2 pm and 7:30 pm on April 2. Seats are first come first served, and tickets will be $2 at the door. This can be paid both through cash or Venmo. 

You won’t want to miss this dramatically gorgeous show (or the Legos and lightsabers)!

Abby Doonan ('24) is the Arts Editor for The Anchor and was previously a staff writer. She is a theatre and communication double major from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Abby loves acting, any music that makes her dance or sing, hula hooping, romcom movies, and all things Marvel. She is passionate about arts journalism and strives to publish content that keeps you updated on all the artsy things!

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