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Lighting the Stage: Modern 'Midsummer' reimagines classic tale

Teresa Mathew/Daily
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By Carlina Duan, For The Daily
Published December 2, 2012

Students stand in a loose circle in the middle of the studio, going through a series of vocal practices: trilling, singing, whispering. Backpacks lie crumpled across the floor. Actors in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” temporarily shed their roles as University students, their academic lives wedged into studio corners along with scattered sweatshirts, boots and scraps of paper.

During rehearsal, the students evolve into fairies, confused lovers, kings and queens: the dazzled and spunky cast of William Shakespeare’s play.

“Give me the first five minutes. In French,” Prof. Malcolm Tulip, the director of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” called out to his cast on a Tuesday evening.

Tulip sat at a large wooden desk, overlooking the center of Studio Two in the Walgreen Drama Center. The cast lay sprawled across the wooden floor, draped in costumes and props. One actor flung a red stuffed animal dog across his shoulders. Another grasped a potted plant in one palm. Immediately, the room fluttered with motion and buzzing, halting French, the cast rapidly belting out their lines in a swirl of bonjours and oui-ouis.

And so it went on a second time. “Do it in German,” Tulip commanded. One actor hollered out the only German phrases she seemed to know repeatedly— “Nein! Nein! Deustchland! Nein!” — repeatedly, while brandishing a cardboard sword.

Tulip paced back and forth, scrutinizing his actors’s movements, while his assistant director, MT&D sophomore Ruby Grammatico, jotted down notes on the stage movement in a small notepad.

During rehearsal, actors swooped into their roles of fairies, royalty and lovers: swallowing love juices, hissing pledges of romance and guffawing into their shirtsleeves. Not just any ordinary fairies, royalty or lovers, either, but a crew dressed in dark, plucky hues reminiscent of tattooed biker gangs, set in a carnival scene similar to the Burning Man Festival — an annual carnival-like event held in the deserts of Nevada.

“We feel those are the modern tribes, those are the modern fairies, the modern workers, the playground,” Tulip said.

A modern take

A classic Shakespearean comedy peppered with wit, romance and chaotic revenge — takes on a more modern twist under Tulip’s direction.

Throughout the performance, characters are clustered in three main groups: the court, the lovers and the fairies. The general plot occurs within these three realms, with characters swallowing magical drinks, falling in love with donkeys, eloping to the forests and tangling in a net of passion and humor.

While the general plot and language remains preserved in the original Shakespearean roots, the play’s setting, costumes, casting and overall atmosphere veer away from Renaissance elements.

Tulip described Shakespearean plays as needing “space” rather than a physical setting.

“Back in the day, there was the Globe Theater,” he said, referencing the famous London open-air amphitheater where numerous Shakespearean plays were performed. Tulip noted the wooden “O” shape of the Globe Theater as an undertone for the final setting of Tulip’s adaptation of the play.

“We kept on thinking about that globe shape in our research,” Tulip said. “The moon and the roundness of the moon appear a lot in the play.”

The globe shape is consistent throughout the production and affects many of the set choices.

According to Tulip, Vincent Mountain, the set designer and professor of theater and drama, researched the Wall of Death: a carnival set inside a rounded cylinder “wall” that motorcycle riders would cascade across, performing carnival tricks. This finding led the team to incorporate a carnival theme to their setting.

Once the staff had established a “globe” base for the scene, the team worked to establish a setting based off of the Burning Man Festival.