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Lighting the Stage: Modern 'Midsummer' reimagines classic tale

By Carlina Duan, For The Daily
Published December 2, 2012

The new setting would maintain both the globe-like shape of a circus performance and the sense of creativity that the team wanted to capture.

“They do have an imagination and create things out there in the desert,” Tulip said. “We thought, ‘Let’s take that as an inspiration for the setting.’ So we have this carnival-ish half (of) a Globe Theater, a Tunnel of Death … it also looks a bit like a wooden circus.”

While the set was being chosen, costume designer and Associate Professor of Performing Arts Christianne Myers, was brainstorming as well.

“All during the summer, Malcolm and I were battling around ideas of gypsy culture and carnival culture. It’s this kind of dangerous, noisy and dirty mentality — and those aren’t usually the adjectives you’d associate with ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’” she said. “People are usually (looking for) pretty fairies.”

Tulip steered away from the traditional fairy realm of glitter and blossoms.

“I don’t need to make it contemporary, but I don’t want to fit 20-year-olds running around in satin and gold pretending to be fairies,” he said. “I don’t think people believe in that anymore.”

Myers stressed that her fairy costume designs are not of the “pretty” sort.

“We were talking about ideas where the references of fairies would be a manipulation of light and shadow, or maybe puppetry,” she said.

This led the cast to incorporate the use of shadow puppets as a part of the props.

Meanwhile, costumes for the fairies are similar to the attire of bikers.

“We started to hone in on research on the vibrant contemporary gypsy culture that is happening outside of major European cities,” Myers said. “The one thing they all have in common with this biker gang is the appropriation of other things and turning them into something for themselves.”

Myers discussed the popularity of body adornment in such gypsy culture, including tattooing and piercings.

“The one thing they have control over their lives is what they look like, so when you look at their clothes, the way that they’ve turned them into something else is what’s interesting,” she said.

Through her research, Myers collected flavors from gypsy and carnival culture to infuse her costume designs with a gritty, earthy and unusual vein. She wired LED lights into body suits and fiber optics in wings, so their skin will glow on stage.

Trippingly off the tongue

Despite these non-traditional hues, the basic script remains almost entirely true to the original. According to the cast, being involved in a Shakespeare play requires a slightly different process than that of a contemporary play.

“When you work with Shakespeare, you have to come to it with a really open mind, because there’s so many ways to interpret it,” Myers said.

Actors in the play view their performance in Shakespeare as both an obstacle and an exciting opportunity.

“Shakespeare is challenging because it’s so foreign to a lot of us,” said Senior Jon Manganello, who plays Demetrius, one of the four lovers. “(It) is definitely difficult — at least for me — just to wrap my mouth around, but it’s also easier in many ways because it’s got a rhythm to it.”

Kevin Collins, an MT&D freshman, emphasized the difficulty of working with Shakespearean script.

“The language is tough,” Collins said. “It’s in verse, and people don’t speak that way anymore. So in order to begin to memorize what you’re saying, you have to figure out the essence of what you’re saying first.”

Gender what?

Tulip’s casting of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” added another contemporary twist: Several actors were cast in cross-gender roles. In fact, two of the four lovers play cross-gender characters, with a female playing Lysander, and a male playing Hermia.

Tulip explained the reasoning behind cross-gender casting as entwined in logistical and historical roots.