Press Release

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Summer Shakespeare Theatre will present the Bard’s most popular tragedy, HAMLET, July 20th – 30th in the Appleton North High School auditorium, 5000 North Ballard Road.  This marks the eighteenth year of the program sponsored by the Fox Valley Summer School Consortium.  A cast and crew of over 30 students from area high schools have spent six weeks learning about Shakespeare and the theatre of the Renaissance while preparing a play for public performance.  Appleton North High School theatre instructor, Ron Parker, began the program in the Fox Valley after founding and directing a similar program in Kenosha for 13 years.  “It’s a wonderful opportunity for students interested in theatre to study and perform the work of the greatest playwright in the English language.  In addition, students from various schools in the area have a chance to meet and work together.  Our previous season’s productions have been very well received.  We look forward to even better things in the future.”

Audiences who attend this summer’s performances of HAMLET will be treated to a 24 foot rotating stage, an original musical score by London composer Jay Chakravorty, spectacular swordplay, and a variety of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters.  In addition, one of the student actors will portray Shakespeare himself and will provide pre-play commentary as well as mingle with audience members during the show.

First performed over 400 years ago, HAMLET has been called the “greatest play ever written in the English language” and has enjoyed a long history of stage and screen adaptations.  One of the most popular plays in the Shakespeare canon, Hamlet explores the dilemmas facing the prince of Denmark when he learns his father, the king, was murdered by his new stepfather. Whether to end the new king’s life, or even his own, are decisions that face the vacillating prince who, in his famous soliloquy, questions whether “To be or not to be.”  Among the unique aspects in Summer Shakespeare Theatre’s production is the use of a “Chorus of Conscience,” a group of actors who represent the mind of  Hamlet and several other characters and who speak their thoughts when they are alone on stage.  “HAMLET is often considered by professional actors to be the epitome of their theatrical experience,” stated Parker.  “It is so complex and has so many layers.  More has been written over the centuries about this play, its characters, and themes than any other dramatic work ever conceived.  It has been said that each of us carries a bit of Hamlet inside of us.   Preparing and performing this great work is quite a challenge, but the students are excited about meeting that challenge and creating a production that does credit to its long and impressive history.”

Performance times are 7:00 P.M. on July 20th, 21st, 22nd, 27th, 28th,  and 29th and 2:00 P.M. on Sunday, July 23rd and  30th.  Admission is $10.00.   Tickets can be purchased at the door one hour before performance time. All seats are general admission.  Further information can be found by contacting Ron Parker, director at 707-0487,  by e-mail, parkerronaldc@aasd.k12.wi.us

Give Me Your Hands: Guest post by Tara Pohlkotte

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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

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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

 

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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.

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Fairy Ring at dusk at The Refuge