A good end

Standard
13895320_10154338662824720_3584963342807726394_n

The mechanicals

Tara’s lovely goodbye post would seem to be the perfect ending to this year’s coverage of Summer Shakespeare’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I wanted to make sure that I got my last thoughts out as well, though.

First of all, I want to talk about the show itself.

I’ve been watching or participating in Summer Shakespeare shows since 2010, and I must say that this has been the best I’ve seen yet.  I can even admit that, having been in a production of Midsummer myself in 2011.

One of the things I am most glad about is that I was able to see the show twice–once inside (due to bad weather), and once outside.

13770436_10154321141694720_4921613385664682177_n

Titania and Oberon

When I realized that my first night would be inside, I was naturally disappointed.  My guests had come a long way to see this play, and I wanted their experience to be to the full.  As soon as the second act began in the basement “rain room,” though, I realized that I shouldn’t have been too concerned.  The intimacy of the smaller space raised the energy of the performers and the audience alike.

My guests and I loved Puck’s genderless impishness, the lovers’ comic timing, and the hilarity of the mechanicals.

If the rained-out show was entertaining, the full show was absolutely magical.  The physical comedy sparkled even more with the forest to play off of.

I also got to see the fairies literally in their element: they became equal parts perilous and

13900295_10154338660179720_2559644848290901732_n

Titania’s fairies

enchanting (as they should be).  Their makeup was incredible, and seemed to fit the forest perfectly.  Oberon and Titania were dangerous and powerful, making use of the atmosphere and dominating the space.

Their fairy retinues, though, were positively hypnotic.  Even though they had few lines, these actors (predominately new comers to Summer Shakespeare) were all entirely invested.  Their focus, movement, songs, and dances created the atmosphere and transported the audience.

I was amazed by the dedication of the cast, especially since so many of its members were new to the program this year.  Every scene displayed their understanding of the Summer Shakespeare’s mission, and their enjoyment of sharing that mission with the audience.

13654311_10154321140409720_948551396124070960_n

Lysander and Demetrius 

As director Ron Parker said to me after the show, this minimalist production was really returning to Summer Shakespeare’s roots.  Not only is this accurate in a technical sense, but I think in a relational one as well.  Among the cast, there was a different kind of excitement than I remembered.  The students had a sense of themselves as pushing boundaries and being forged together as a team against great odds.  I imagine this is how the first cast of Summer Shakespeare felt back in 1986, when they were raiding dumpsters for set materials.

Overall, I thought that this year was a fitting celebration of Summer Shakespeare’s 30th anniversary.  Parker and the cast and crew have so much to be proud of.  I can’t wait to see what they will come up with next year.

 

In honor of the 30th anniversary of Summer Shakespeare, assistant director Corrie Riedl has put together a lovely video of past and present students saying what Summer Shakespeare has meant to them.

Advertisements

Give Me Your Hands: Guest post by Tara Pohlkotte

Standard

This morning the woods are quiet. Besides one sharp squall of a hawk as it searches for fish along the Fox River, nothing rustles in the leaves or makes sound.

The last of the show has been taken down.  The costumes back on the rack, stools taken off the path, props and makeup back in their rightful places.

And yet…

The hustle and merriment of 30 teenagers still seems to echo in the long monastery halls. The laughter of the audience tucked the corners of the chapel windows.

Out here in the woods, something feels different than it did before.  It’s not noticeable on first glance…all appears to be as it was just two weeks ago.  But if you look closer, there are footprints and signs of a scuffle between lovers where there wasn’t one before. A broken twig with the slightest strand of webbing left behind by Cobweb. A lone flower head that fell from Titaia’s bed… Remnants of the magic that came to life these past few weeks.

After all, isn’t this what all theatre is? Magic. Words written by hands many years before by a playwright more often than not long gone, brought to life again and again, casting a spell on the audience and cast for a short while before it too, is gone.

This incredible cast and crew of students were a part of weaving that spell for all of us these past two weeks. Braving extreme heat, unpredictable elements and terrine, they found the grit within themselves to make the woods come alive for 400 audience attendees. They gave life to these often tired lines, and in doing so introduced my own spell bound children in the audience to Shakespeare for the first time. And now, all too quickly it seems it has past.

After my final look at the woods, I head back up the hill when something moving catches in the corner of my eye.  I turn back to look seeing only the sunlight dancing through the leaves, but the woods seem to whisper the laugh of a knavish sprite….

 

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

Not Walt’s fairies

Standard

In Shakespeare’s day, fairies were not Disney’s pixies and flower sprites.  Will o’ the

fairy-1225819_960_720

Not quite what Shakespeare had in mind

wisps waited in the night to lead travelers astray, elves kidnapped infants from their cradles and replaced them with changelings, kelpies lurked by lakesides, ghosts haunted lonely graves, and quixotic brownies could either do your housework or drive you mad with their tricks—depending on their mood.  The “Fair Folk” and “Good Neighbors,” as they were often called, had their own laws and morality—they were not necessarily virtuous or evil by human reckoning.

 

But they were perilous.

Although Summer Shakespeare’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be taking place in the present day, director Ron Parker has decided that he is not modernizing the fairies. He feels strongly that the Midsummer fairies are outside of time—they are the same  in our time as they were in the Renaissance and the Victorian period.  However, Parker is not portraying the characters in the same way he has in productions past:

“I’ve always played Oberon and Titania very regal and stiff (on a stage, you can do that), with very restrictive costumes that kept posture very straight.  They were the nobility of the forest.  They would walk around restricted by what they were wearing.  It kind of gave them a powerful, formidable bearing. 

You can’t do that in the woods, there’s no way you can walk that way, you’ll fall over—we tried it!  So I had to look at those characters differently.  If they live in the woods—if this is their home, if they walk over rivers and across stones and under branches—they would have to be a lot more agile and elemental than I’ve ever played them.

I had the actors try it: I told them to come in connected to the earth, to feel free to swing around a tree trunk, or crouch down or make themselves the ‘masters of the forest.’  That gave me a whole new view of them.  All of the sudden they were much more vital and energetic—still powerful, but in a whole different way.”

In this production, since it is in the woods, the fairies can be intimately connected to their natural environment—both in how they are dressed and in how they move.  Camouflaging costumes in the dark will allow the actors to imitate what the Elizabethans always believed about the fairies: that they were always present, but not always visible.

puck 1

Leah Dreyer as Puck in rehearsal

The most popular of the fairy characters in Midsummer is, of course, Puck.  The feisty trickster is the henchman of the fairy king, and the cause of many of the antics that take place in the woods.  Leah Dreyer (18) portrays Puck, who she calls Oberon’s hitman: “He is very mischievous and finds joy in causing trouble,” she says, “he is the thread that weaves together the three stories of Midsummer.”

 

Shakespeare didn’t invent the character, though.  Puck would have been well-known to the British audience of the Renaissance, since he has his origins in Celtic legends.  “He comes from various European myths and folktales” Leah says, “he was a forest sprite that would cause people to get lost in the woods.  They would say that they had been ‘Puck-ledden’ or that Robin Goodfellow (another name for Puck) had been with them tonight.  Puck exists in many forms—the Irish version of him has the head of a donkey.”

Puck, like the master he serves, is neither good nor bad, but can switch between being

puck 2

Leah Dreyer as Puck and Oscar Brautigam as Oberon in rehearsal at the Refuge

kindly and dangerous.  Parker says that “we’re trying to play the fairies with that kind of dichotomy of personality—they can serve you one moment and sever your jugular the next.”

 

 

We can assure you, though, that the throats of all audience members will be left intact.  We cannot assure you that you might not begin to look twice at the shadows when you enter the woods.

Summer Shakespeare’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens this Thursday night.  Tickets are now sold out!

Guest Post: Find a Fairy, by Tara Pohlkotte

Standard

 

I was 17 when I found myself alone and more than a little lost in the woods at night. No matter how hard I tried to get my eyes to focus, I couldn’t make out even the trees around me. I had finally given up trying to find my way out, and decided to sit and listen in wonderment at the sounds of the woods so full of life I hadn’t even noticed all around me. It was then that I heard a familiar voice bellow, “Find a fairy!” and the natural noises of the woods were overtaken by the sound of 20 other teenagers, all similarly disoriented and unable to see, trying to find those of us who had hidden themselves away among the trees.

 

midsummer

A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2001

 

 

It was 2001, only the second year Summer Shakespeare and Mr. Parker had been in the Fox Cities area and the first time A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be performed by a cast of local high school students. We had been practicing our monologues, for many of us it was our first attempt to make practical sense and direction from a Shakespearean text; building sets that depicted castle walls and fairy lairs; washing cars and selling program slots in hot Elizabethan dress outside our local Wal-Mart.

 

 

But try as we might to understand what it was our follied lovers and forest creatures had encountered that fateful night, we couldn’t really understand how it was that you could mistake your lover for another, or how the woods could play tricks on your mind. That was, until we found ourselves tucked in between the trees late one night and told to find one another and to find our own way out.   Laughing we traced faces with fingers trying to read features, grabbed hands with those we hoped were a part of our fairy troupe, and slowly the truth of what Shakespeare had envisioned came to light for us.

My connection to Summer Shakespeare and North Theatre remained long after I put down Oberon’s crown and even my own graduation. See, I married another student who had been lost in those woods with me. If memory serves me, I married the one we all relied on to get us out of those woods before the sun rose the next morning. The one who, with no fuss or frills, still builds worlds from pencil drawings and scraps of wood. My husband Jason Pohlkotte and Mr. Parker scheme together to make Shakespeare come alive and fresh for students and audiences year after year. Each time I get a front row seat to watch the magic of seedling concepts growing all the way to performance and the power theatre has to influence and inspire all involved.

When my brother Cory Chisel and I got involved with The Refuge a year ago, we talked instantly of wanting to incorporate a love of ours, theatre, into the space and fabric of what was being created. My husband had been urging Mr. Parker to do an outdoor performance of Summer Shakespeare for years, and now we finally had the place. Jason initially invited Mr. Parker out to scout a possible location for last year’s production of The Tempest. Parker got quiet, wandered off into a patch of woods on the property by himself and emerged with a look I had seen in his eye many of time. He smiled and said simply “Midsummer.”

Fifteen years later, and I find myself again in the woods at night. A hush has fallen over another group of 30 teenagers and the rustling of the leaves, chatter of the Fox River and birds singing the last song of the day surround me again, the moon peaking in and out through the lace of trees. Until, at last that same familiar voice bellows “Find a Fairy!” …and I smile for what the night will uncover for another generation.

midsummer 16

Fairy Ring at dusk at The Refuge

 

Guest post: creating characters, by Zak Metalsky

Standard

 

image2

Zak Metalsky

Previous post by Zak Metalsky

Directing a play involves many responsibilities: blocking the actors’ movement, analyzing the script, working with sound cues and stage lights, collaborating with costume and set designers, and telling a story as honestly and amazingly as possible, all while keeping under budget.

The analogy that our director, Parker, gave me was being the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise in Star Trek, spearheading the mission while making sure every sector is running smoothly.

231478071_24bf502c2e

Captain’s log, Stardate 47457.1: Act 2, Scene 4 still isn’t blocked yet.

As assistant directors, Corrie and I are given many logistical tasks, like coordinating schedules and printing off handouts and making phone calls, but the “directing” part really kicks in outside of our normal rehearsal time. Before and after every rehearsal, I work one-on-one with an actor on their performance, taking the time that Parker can’t to focus on each person. I also got to choose a scene to direct on my own, blocking the movement and all, which felt like taking the reins for the first time and really leading the production.

In the one-on-one rehearsals, I do a number of things with the actors that helps them explore the character more deeply, or give them the tools to enhance the character on their own time. The first step is text analysis, finding when to breathe and what words to emphasize in order to help the audience understand what is happening.

Shakespeare helps a lot in this regard: his use of punctuation, lists, and contrasts are more actor-friendly than people might think. Spending just a few minutes on this makes them leagues more accessible for an audience, and while there are certainly exceptions to the rules of text analysis, it is something that every professional classical actor does.

The second step is character analysis, or reflecting on a character’s objectives, backstory,

zak1

Zak leading rehearsal

relationships, personal life, and more. The theatre cliché “What’s my motivation?” is really extremely important, since motivation drives literally everything that a person does. Analyzing how a specific character thinks gives them insight into how everyone thinks, what desires they have, what gets in their way, and how they try to overcome it.

The beauty of Shakespeare is how relatable his characters’ motivations are; in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the main characters are four young lovers looking for love, the Fairy King and Queen dealing with their rocky relationship, and a bunch of bad actors trying their best (but failing) to produce a play. We’ve all had experiences with love, we’ve all had relationships that weren’t perfect, and we’ve all seen a really bad playbut I PROMISE that Midsummer will be a good one.

The third and final step of the one-on-one rehearsals takes many different forms, depending on what the actors are struggling with. The director has to find ways to illicit a response from an actor that may be completely foreign to them; after all, Midsummer is filled with fairies and magic and the supernatural.  Already, we’ve done a number of exercises to give the actors a sense of how differently they can move when they are performing.

zak2

Zak directing a scene at the Refuge

One exercise is to experiment moving like the four elementsimagining how to personify water, earth, fire, and airand finding similarities between the elements and their character. Another is moving around like different kinds of animals, really exploring different ways to control your body, and putting that into a performance. For actors working on conveying the meaning of Shakespeare’s words, I’ve given them comparisons to modern situations and pop-culture references that they can understand, ranging from awkward moments in relationships to John Cena memes. My favorite one-on-one so far was when I needed an actress to show more anxiety and frustration in different scenes, so I had her recite a monologue while holding a heavy stage weight the entire time, and later give a speech while imagining her character’s dead husband was in the audience. Both exercises worked very well.

All of those crazy exercises, long-winded conversations about character, and tedious analyses make their performances more believable.  These things help the audience forget that they are watching a bunch of high-schoolers, and to imagine that they are actually watching fairies and lovers in the woods.

Imagination is a huge part of theatre, something that both the actors and the audience need to use, especially when Shakespeare is involved. The audience has to imagine that they are deep into the woods (which our outdoor venue helps with), watching fairies making humans fall in love, and turning an actor’s head into a donkey’s. The director’s most important job is helping the audience use their imagination by creating a believable and engaging story, and if these exercises help at all with that, they will have been worth it.

Come see A Midsummer Night’s Dream, On July 21st-24th and July 28th-31st at 7:30 in the Refuge, 1000 North Ballard Road!

Tickets available through the Appleton North High School office beginning July 11.

When a director changes his mind

Standard

 

Image (2)

Click images to enlarge

Image (3)Image (12)

 

 

For the first time in Summer Shakespeare history—in order to celebrate the program’s 30th anniversary—we have decided to set a show in modern times.  This is a common trend in theatre today, and productions may “update” Shakespeare’s plays for many reasons: to highlight social parallels, demonstrate the applicability of the Bard’s work to the modern period, or even as a gimmick.

Director Ron Parker’s reasons are also varied.  Practically, wearing layers and layers of Elizabethan clothing in the woods on a hot summer evening isn’t feasible.  Not only would it be uncomfortable for the actors, but many of Summer Shakespeare’s costumes are older than I am, and need to serve for many productions to come.  This challenge has created an opportunity for Parker to interact differently with Midsummer Night’s Dream than he has in the past.

 

summershakes2010

A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2010

 

Parker last directed Midsummer in 2010.  At the end of the production, he vowed that he would never do so again: he had done the play so many times that he felt he had explored all that it had to offer, and he didn’t want to recycle ideas from the past.  As he put it, there was nothing to get “fired up” about.  However, the idea of doing Midsummer as an environmental production in modern dress was “just too wonderful to pass up”—from the first rehearsal at the Refuge, Parker realized that he had begun to understand certain lines of the play differently.  It has proved to him that he had been wrong to believe he could exhaust the possibilities of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays:

“I’m very intrigued that I’m learning new things about a play that I can quote whole scenes from, because I’ve done it so many times.  Every time you do Shakespeare, you

13517684_10154244228179720_1328985855079864024_o

Rehearsal at the Refuge

find something else—that’s the magic of his writing, you never just know everything.  Every time you think you’ve figured out a play, something smacks you in the side of the head and you realize that you didn’t consider something, and all of a sudden, you’re whole world is turned upside-down in terms of what this play could mean.  And that’s what keeps bringing people back to his plays over and over again.” 

Parker wants to avoid this Midsummer being “gimmicky” at all costs, though.  He has seen too many bad productions where Shakespeare’s language, rhythm, and cadence are sacrificed or manipulated in order to make modern jokes.  In others, the visual spectacle of modern sets and effects takes precedence over the play itself.  The directors of these shows try to “squeeze Shakespeare into our period—like a square peg in a round hole.”

However, modernized productions can be justified when they focus on helping the audience see that they can relate to Shakespeare’s characters and themes.

Midsummer Night’s Dream is primarily about the complicated relationships between four love-struck teenagers.  Parker believes that Shakespeare had an insightful understanding of teenagers—both as a parent, and as someone who would have worked with them in the theatre.  He understood how teens (both in his day and ours) think and feel.  Parker believes that the lovers have a very modern feel: as a teacher, he recognizes their passions, jealousies, blustering, and cattiness in the halls of North High School every day.

Parker hopes that using modern clothing and props will help audiences identify with these four teens and their quest for love and autonomy from parental control.

IMG_0803

Yasmeen Ashour, Costumer for A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Yasmeen Ashour—a senior at Appleton North High School and the costumer for the show—is taking on Parker’s vision behind the scenes.  Although she has been working in the costume shop for the past two years, this is her first show in charge.  Although one might think that using modern clothing would make her job easier, Yasmeen feels that her job is actually harder: the audience can no longer rely on the elaborate Elizabethan costumes to identify the class of a character–or even that they are a character at all!

In this production, Yasmeen will have to employ subtler visual clues, and the actors will have to rely on their skill—rather than the beautiful costumes—to create their characters and transport the audience into the story.  Yasmeen is excited to watch her friends grow from this artistic challenge: “they will have to find new ways of participating and relating,” she says.

Despite the challenges, she has complete confidence in the Summer Shakespeare team.  “Even though it always seems overwhelming, it always works out,” she reminds me with a smile, “What makes Shakespeare’s plays so wonderful is that they fit in any time period.  Updating the costumes doesn’t change the show, just how we relate to it.”

Performances will be July 21-24 and 28-31 at 7:30pm at the Refuge in Appleton.  Tickets will be available beginning July 11 through the Appleton North office for $10.

Assistant director spotlight: Zak Metalsky

Standard
image2

Zak Metalsky

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was my first experience with Shakespeare, and with the Summer Shakespeare program, so coming back to assistant direct it is all kinds of nostalgia. I was an incoming freshmen when the program did Midsummer six years ago, so I hardly knew anyone–at first. The only person I knew going into it was my older brother, who was also an assistant director (what are the odds?), but that quickly changed as the theatre community welcomed me with open arms. I met some of my closest friends–including my best friend–in that production, so Midsummer has always been a special play to me. Now, I get to watch friendships spark in the cast and crew of a new Midsummer, which will hopefully last as long as mine have–through high school and beyond.

Now that my role has changed–from an actor in the fairy ensemble to a director–I can

image1

Zak as a fairy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2010

step back and appreciate all of the steps that are taken to get a cast engaged and a performance ready. I get to see the students building more trust towards one another, as we play games that focus on trust and imagination, which are vital to the world of theatre. I get to see the students become enthusiastic as we explain how our production of Midsummer is going to be like nothing they’ve done before. I get to see the students using their passion and imagination, tackling their characters and crew assignments with gusto to make the show as amazing as possible. Most importantly, I get to see the students grow as actors, technicians, Shakespeare enthusiasts, and people, helping each other create something much larger than themselves.

The students want to make something that they can be proud of, and as a director, my job is to channel their energy and harness it into something focused, thought-out, and loved. The assistant directors handle many of the managerial and logistical aspects of theatre, so that our rehearsals can be dedicated to the show and nothing else. Contacting places for car washes

394670_10151082715274720_463426727_n

Zak as Shakespeare, A Winter’s Tale 2012

and rehearsals, editing and blocking parts of the script, organizing people’s schedules, helping the director organize his thoughts, and printing out the hundreds of handouts about Shakespeare are all done by the assistants outside of class time, so that what does get done in class happens as efficiently as it can. Of course, the students put in a lot of work outside of class time as well: building costumes, memorizing lines, doing character analysis, selling ads, and fundraising at different events are all tacked on to the Summer Shakespeare experience. Despite this extra work, people never complain–it helps to unite them as a cast and crew, and makes them feel connected to the program, to the 30 years of Summer Shakespeare’s history.

Our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is going to be radically different than anything Summer Shakespeare has done in the past, which is both terrifying and electrifying. We are performing Midsummer in the woods, at a venue with

1009936_10151735457374720_297253322_n

Zak as King Charles of France, Henry V 2013

one indoor location and three outdoor locations, of which we are performing in all four. The audience will move around from location to location, following the characters as they enter the woods and get horribly lost (in many ways) as they go. We are also setting Midsummer in modern, performing as if it was happening today – something that no one in our production has done before. It is new territory for everyone, and thinking about how we accomplish these ideas has been a collaborative effort every step of the way. We have asked the cast about how to set an Elizabethan play in 2016, how to let an audience know that they are moving in the middle of a performance, and how to stage a play so that it is both funny and genuine: a little over-the-top, but believable. And there has been a constant stream of ideas and feedback along the way.

Come see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Refuge, on 1000 N. Ballard Road, from July 21st-24th and July 28th-31st at 7:30 pm!