Drama Dept. modernizes classic

Pictured above is Emily Burke ’18 in the role of the fairy queen Titania in the Drama Department’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Courtesy of Leo Hilton

Although “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” remains an unwavering staple to the theatrical canon after four centuries, the Experimental Theater was undaunted in its quest to uniquely reinterpret the classic play in nearly every way imaginable. Directed by Christopher Grabowski, Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was presented to members of the Drama Department in a hidden part of the Martel Theater from Dec. 1 to 3.

Designed for a limited audience, the play began as a small crowd of people were led into the main stage of the Martel—the props were sparse, a lighting crew was in plain sight and, most notably, the majority of the stage itself had been removed, revealing an unlit pit that seemed to descend indefinitely. While the story was told through the original text, nothing else about the production was traditional: audience members were quickly roused from their seats and led through a hallway, in which another scene was performed, and were then brought to the “trap room,” or the space underneath the stage, where the rest of the production took place.

Above is actress Emily Drossel ’19, who played both a mechanical and a fairy, in one of the grungy, modern sets that diverged from traditionally ethereal and fanciful depictions of “Midsummer.” Courtesy of Leo Hilton
Above is actress Emily Drossel ’19, who played both a mechanical and a fairy, in one of the grungy, modern sets that diverged from traditionally ethereal and fanciful depictions of “Midsummer.” Courtesy of Leo Hilton

Mimicking the original story in which characters escape to a magical forest, the trap room felt like an alternate reality in which magic might really exist. Cast member Jacqui Anders ’19 elaborated, saying, “The most obvious difference in this iteration of ‘Midsummer’ is its location … [When the audience does] get to the trap room, they get to be a part of the same magical environment that sweeps the characters away … Performing in the trap room lets the audience step into the forest as well and experience the magic right alongside the characters.”

The trap room itself was small, but every inch was put to use as characters swung from the rafters, appeared through trap doors, descended into the space through fire poles and even fell asleep in the arms of audience members. “The space is untheatrical, dark and a bare storage room,” elucidated Assistant Director Logan Pitts ’17. “Yet it is from this space that makes our production ignite into reality … The room is small so the actors play intimately in every inch of it, including the audience.”

The space also lent itself to a more industrial, modern interpretation of the play. Pitts remarked, “‘Midsummer’ holds a reputation for being light, cute, in this magical forest inhabited by fairies. This production tends to avoid all of these stereotypes.”

The Drama Department’s production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” utilized an unconventional set, and a section of the play was viewed from below the stage, as pictured above. Courtesy of Katie Scibelli
The Drama Department’s production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” utilized an unconventional set, and a section of the play was viewed from below the stage, as pictured above. Courtesy of Katie Scibelli

Cast member Karli Bentley ’17 noted the play’s divergence from traditionally romantic productions, saying, “[T]he vision from the beginning has been to do a grungier, edgier ‘Midsummer.’ With this play, there’s a tendency to want things to be really pretty and cutesy because it’s set in this beautiful forest…but we’ve tried instead to tap into the sexually charged language that’s woven through the entire play and overall to make this production more gritty and dark.”

Bentley continued, “I think that this way of framing the show definitely makes it a more exciting production and more appropriate for this campus. This isn’t your grandma’s ‘Midsummer’ (unless you have, like the coolest grandma).”

The cast and crew’s less romantic conception of “Midsummer” was fully taken advantage of through the set, costuming and props. Fairies and lovers alike, for instance, were dressed in edgy costumes, which cast member Alexa Jordan ’17 expounded upon in an email: “We talked a lot about leaning into the darker side of ‘Midsummer’ and not playing into the ‘ooey gooey’ mood that the show often takes on, in general (I think the fairies’ crazy costumes, in particular, are a great example of that) … The world of our play was also more modern (also exhibited in costumes, specifically that of the lovers: leather jackets, boots, etc.).”

In keeping with the production’s rejection of many of the norms of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” many characters were reimagined outside of their traditionally male casting. Bentley, who played Puck, explained her newfound understanding of Shakespeare’s impish character. “One of the discoveries that was really a major lightbulb moment for me is that my version of Puck is non-binary,” she said. “This is a character who can literally transform into animals and inanimate objects, so it seemed silly to me that they would fit into a traditional understanding of gender. We’ve changed some of the language in the play to reflect this, and overall, I think it’s really been key to my understanding of the character.”

The myriad changes made to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” allowed for a modern interpretation of the original play in almost every sense possible, all the while paying homage to the classic text. Upon her second time participating in the show as the character of Helena, Anders noted, “I actually played the same role two and a half years ago, so it’s been really fascinating to work on the show again, this time with a very different concept and process.”

Jordan reflected, “I think all of these changes really added a new, unique dimension to the show. I’ve certainly never experienced this play this way, and all of my friends and family who saw the show commented on how much the space influenced their interpretation of the play.”

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