It’s hard to believe that the first performances of our 35th Season are now just weeks away!

Our Mainstage Acting Company has been busy getting settled in on site this week, but before their big move, we had the chance to sit down with Nadeem Phillip Umar Khitab, who will be playing the title role in Hamlet on the BMO Mainstage from June 13 to September 1.

Read on to learn more about Nadeem, his side hustle as a personal trainer, and how films like DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story and Boogie Nights have made an appearance in the Hamlet rehearsal room!

Nadeem Phillip Umar Khitab.

How has the rehearsal process for Hamlet been so far? 
Every single second we’re in rehearsal, it’s loaded with this idea that, like, I’ve been waiting six years to do this. I’m just soaking up every single second. I could just keep rehearsing—it’s only just occurring to me that I’ve got to start doing this in front of people.

You were last at Bard in 2019 for All’s Well That Ends Well on the Howard Family Stage. What has it meant for you to be bringing Hamlet, which hasn’t been performed at Bard since 2013, back to the Mainstage this Season? 
I’ve done two seasons on the Howard Family Stage, and now this’ll make two seasons on the Mainstage. At the opening of my first Season in 2017 for The Two Gentlemen of Verona, I’d wandered onto the Mainstage at the afterparty. I did my monologues to the empty house, and I was kind of manifesting that I was going to come back and perform on the Mainstage, and then the next Season, I did in As You Like It! Then at the As You Like It afterparty, I wandered over to the Howard Family Stage, and I did the “to be or not to be” monologue there. That brought me back to the Howard Family Stage the following year [for All’s Well That Ends Well] and here we are doing Hamlet. Now I’ll have to think about what I’m going to do on the Opening Night of Hamlet

What has it been like to work with Stephen Drover on this production of Hamlet
Stephen Drover might be the smartest man in North America when it comes to Hamlet. We first did a play together in 2015 called Cock by Mike Bartlett, and I played the lead role, so I was on stage for 90 minutes without leaving. It was basically my introduction to the theatre community here, and nobody really knew me before that show. I did the audition and met Stephen there, but he was the Artistic Director of Rumble Theatre at the time, and Rumble just had that scrappy, indie energy. After the success of that show, I kind of felt that if we were able to work in that scrappy, indie, pirate way, but with, say, Bard’s resources, we could really do something. Now, nine years later, we’re getting to do that.

It must be exciting to bring that sense of invention and resourcefulness to a play as well known as Hamlet
Yes. With this play, you have to treat it with the level of importance of knowing what it means to people culturally, but if you treat it like a museum piece, you’re never going to get your hands dirty enough to make an exciting production.

What are you hoping that audiences take away from this production of Hamlet
Honestly, I don’t really make it my business to assume or hope for what audiences take away, just because pound for pound, every single time, what people do end up taking away is always so much deeper and more nuanced than anything I could ever hope for or project onto them. I do think it’s the type of production that people will either be ruminating on or enjoying so much that they will absolutely want to see it more than once.

Nadeem during Hamlet rehearsals.

Nadeem (left), Matthew Ip Shaw (middle), and Stephen Drover (right) during Hamlet rehearsals.

You recently completed the screenwriting program at Toronto Film School. What inspired you to pursue screenwriting, and has dipping your toes into filmmaking changed how you approach theatre, and vice versa? 
I love films, and all my castmates will tell you that. I don’t know how many movies I quote in a day or reference. Nathan Kay, who plays Laertes, said the other day, “It’s like you watched every movie in the world last night.” It was film, not theatre, that made me want to become an actor. But it was very clear to me that the best way to learn how to act was to go to theatre school and then of course I found myself, inevitably, working in theatre. When Covid kind of put the whole world on pause—and certainly our industry—it was a moment to take stock and go, “Okay, well, time to dance with the person I came to the dance for.”

Is there a particular film or filmmaker that really inspired you? 
Any and all. The first movie I ever saw in a cinema was Aladdin, and the film I saw most recently in the cinema was Challengers. In the Hamlet rehearsal room, too, there were films that came up as we were referencing things, so we were saying, “Oh, it’s like this moment in this.” We talked about DodgeBall, Boogie Nights, the documentary Pepsi, Where’s my Jet? and the Franco Zeffirelli Hamlet.

Outside of the arts, you’re also a personal trainer. Can you talk about how you got into that line of work and if there are any elements of that work that you bring in as an actor? 
Most actors, and certainly most emerging actors, need a side hustle. Originally, my side hustle, like a lot of artists, was restaurants, but that began to feel soul-sucking, and I wanted something that was a little more soul-growing. I did my certification as a personal trainer back in 2013 before I moved to Vancouver. Then by 2016, I was jam-packed with so many theatre jobs I didn’t have time for personal training anymore, and in that time, my certification lapsed. When the pandemic shut down all film/TV/theatre, I recertified, and started working with F45, which is a global franchise for high-intensity interval training. The work we do, especially as outdoor theatre actors, is immensely physical. It’s very, very athletic. With all the wrestling in As You Like It and the sword fighting in Hamlet, my side hustle has meant that my stamina and endurance has grown immensely.

Was fitness always something you had a passion for? 
To me, it’s part of “Physician, heal thyself!” I’ve had injuries from shows in the past, and you know, knock on wood, there are things like, “oh, I have a tight shoulder from sword fighting all day” or “I’m out of breath because of how many times they’ve made me run this dance” that I’ve thankfully managed to avoid because of this other part of my life. Now I’m into cold plunging. Almost every day.

Hamlet runs June 13 to September 20 on the BMO Mainstage. Buy your tickets now by visiting our Season Schedule!

Plus, as a member of our Bard community, you can receive an exclusive offer to try out F45’s high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes!

Get a free 7-day trial at F45 Training False Creek when you use the promo code BARD at checkout. To redeem your free trial, visit the F45 Training False Creek website. Members of our Bard community can also receive exclusive discounts on memberships, with perks like pause allowances and free friend passes. For more information, email Christian at [email protected].