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Lighting the Stage: Modern 'Midsummer' reimagines classic tale

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

“One (reason) is that it’s practical, because then we don’t restrict students to roles in Shakespeare,” he said. “(The play) was originally done for Elizabeth I, and she never married. There’s this idea that she was a man-woman. She had to be a king even though she was a queen. There’s that gender-role mixing in her role as queen, and I thought that would be an interesting reflection, knowing that the play was maybe even commissioned for her.”

He added that cross-gender parts illuminate modern-day gender issues.

“In the 21st century, who gets to marry who is a big issue,” Tulip said. “If it’s a play about marriage, why not find a way to echo (that) in the current arguments?”

Actors find Tulip’s gender switching appropriate for the play.

“Part of the reason why the show still lives and breathes today is because of all the issues Shakespeare wrote about (that) are still current,” Collins said.

For Collins, playing a cross-gender character was a completely new experience — one that took a bit of adjustment. But he said the experience changed the way he views the play, as well as himself.

“Gender norms are weird to even think about, because people are people,” Collins said. “Everything that happens to Hermia has happened to me in some shape or form, and how she chooses to deal with it is how she chooses to deal with it — not how a woman deals with it.”

Collins further pointed out the irrelevance of gender norms in modern society.

“The essence of a person isn’t indicative of their gender,” he said. “It’s who they are. It’s not because they’re a man or a woman. It’s because of their emotion and their background and where they come from.”

Playing dress up

The cross-gender casting also affected the costume design. For Myers, designing cross-gender costumes was a matter of fashioning outfits that would suit the production’s carnival tone and enhance the audience’s grasp of the play’s message.

“We didn’t want to get into a world where it was drag queens,” she said. “I feel like my job is to forward the production, so is (the audience) going to notice some of the clothes? Sure. Three of them are lighting up like Christmas trees,” she added.

“But I don’t want the (audience) to notice (the fairies) because they’re lighting up. I want them to notice because (the fairies) are supporting the concepts of the show.”

For the cross-gender costumes, Myers incorporated tactics that helped actors better understand their characters, as well as propose answers to the challenges that gender switching creates.

“We can stuff a bra with birdseed to give it a sense of movement and weight like real breasts have,” Myers said. She also noted the use of bust-binders and baggy jeans for the actresses playing men.

Hermia’s costume helped amplify Collins's understanding of his character.

“(The costume) definitely affects my movement, which gives me a lot of information about my character. My dress is very responsible for how Hermia moves,” he said.

Whereas Collins originally began his acting process using a high-pitched voice, he now understands more about his cross-gender role.

“I wanted to acclimate my voice to how I thought a woman should sound, so I originally upped my pitch quite dramatically,” he said. “I think what I’ve learned now, especially with my costume that I have, is that women carry themselves because their weight is distributed differently than mine.”

Collins added that he now believes his acting has incorporated the core perspective of a woman, rather than a stereotypical female viewpoint.

“It’s about playing the essence of that being,” he said.