A Midsummer Night’s Dream – whimsical comedy or fantastical thriller?

CAUTION! MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!

What’s not to love about Shakespeare’s  A Midsummer Night’s Dream? It talks of love and fairies and dreams coming true. It seems fun and whimsical and even a little bit naughty.  But have modern audiences made it a lot more light-hearted than it really is?

The play opens with a court scene, where Hermia is told that if she doesn’t marry the man her father has chosen for her she will either become a nun, isolated from her friends and family or DIE! Those  are seriously her options?!??!!!! Then we meet Helena who is absolutely in love with Demetrius (who we find out is actually in love with her best friend Hermia). Oh, and guess what? Not only is Demetrius in love with Hermia but he’s the guy Hermia’s father is making her marry! Uhhh… No wonder Helena is upset. So far not so light and fluffy if you ask me.

The play lightens up a bit when we meet The Mechanicals, but even then the stakes are high. If they upset the Duke with their play they could get hanged!!!!! Hanged…Seriously… What the actual……. !!!!!

We are introduced to the third world of the play, the Fairy world, through the character Puck *cue dramatic instrumental music*. I bet you’re thinking  ‘Oh the fairies how cute and sweet and beautiful right?’ WRONG. If there is anything that Harry Potter has taught me, it’s that things that sweet, cute and beautiful may not be what they seem!

While I was reading up on Puck, I was surprised to find the character’s origins in Fae, a type of mythical being or legendary creature in European folklore. A form of spirit, Fae is often described as metaphysical, supernatural or preternatural. Quite dark in reality and not like the fairies we have come to associate the term with at all!  Hobgoblins are a another type of spirit I’ve looked at. According to folklore around different parts of England, hobgoblins were consider to be helpful spirits around the house. If annoyed thought, they could turn quite mischievous! In Irish folklore, the hobgoblin was actually considered a demon with head of an ass! In Wales, spirits like Puck were malignant, queer, little figures; long and grotesque with the look of something like a chicken. Gross.

Okay. So Puck has some dark origins but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he has to be played as dark character, right? Well I don’t know. It was almost as if Shakespeare anticipated  our confusion with the character, so (being the helpful playwright he was) he wrote a pretty clear character description of Puck using monologues and soliloquy. While Puck is generally regarded as mischievous at worst, he also seems to get pleasure out of the pain of other characters – borderline cruel  if you ask me! And speaking of cruel, Oberon and Titania’s relationship, whats going on there? Oberon is so mean to her!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream has all these dark undertones yet in this modern age we have turned it in to something whimsical, sweet and light-hearted. I guess its all down to interpretation, isn’t it? Our own view on fairies and magic has shifted from Shakespeare’s time. Throw a love story in with the story of normal, every day people like you and I and, well, it’s not hard to see the light-heartedness of the play.

The best thing about Shakespeare is that none of his plays are written in black and white. He leaves questions unanswered and writes flawed protagonists. Why? Well, he was writing about the world around him and frankly, life isn’t black and white. Life can be great but it can also be cruel. A lot of questions will never be answered. What is love really? Is there another world out there, other than our own? Is the supernatural real? Can we make our dreams come true through hard work or does luck have a lot to do with it ? One thing I think  the story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream does give us is the opportunity to look at ourselves and laugh, because there’s one thing that life is definitely not, and that’s boring.

— Abbie x

 

 


Throwback Thursday: Actors At Work Rehearsals

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Team Ariel and Team Caliban are on the road for one more month before we head into rehearsals for Romeo And Juliet. So, this week I thought I’d give you a little insight into how some of us worked on the script for our Actors At Work shows before we meet each other to rehearse.

Many weeks before we step foot in the rehearsal room, we are sent the scripts that we are to spend the year performing. As you probably know, the shows we bring you are abridged versions of Shakespeare’s plays so you can get the major scenes and a sense of the whole story in under an hour. This is no easy feat for the writers! And for us actors, first we need to read Shakespeare’s original, full length play so we know the full story we’re telling.

As beautiful as Shakespeare’s writing is, it’s not always easy to understand, so it’s good to have a dictionary handy. One of the first things many actors do is say the lines in their own words – this way you can get a more personal feeling for what your character is saying.

Shakespeare often writes in a poetic rhythm called Iambic Pentameter, which can give you an idea of which words are more important, and it can help you learn your lines quicker. It’s often referred to as ‘verse’. In Shakespeare’s time actors only had a few weeks to rehearse, so they needed all t help they could get. Each line has ten syllables, with every second syllable being stressed. It sounds like a heartbeat, or a horse galloping:

Da-dum Da-dum Da-dum Da-dum Da-dum

The rhythm of a line from Macbeth would sound like this:

So foul and fair a day I have not seen

If a character is speaking in verse but the rhythm is broken or inconsistent, this can indicate that the character is feeling unsettled.

Actors are known to do some weird things in preparing for a role, and one of them is skipping. Often to learn the lines actors will skip while speaking the words out loud to get a feeling of the rhythm of the poetry. It looks silly, but it really works!

Sometimes if a character is speaking casually, or is of a lower status, they will speak without poetic rhythm, which is called ‘verse’. The Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are a perfect example of this.

To get to know you’re characters, its important to go through the script ask some simple questions.

  • What do I say about myself?
  • What do I say about other people?
  • What do others say about me?

You can also look at who they are in society. Are they a King, or Queen? A servant? A warrior? A faery? Look at the images they use in their language. Macbeth is often describing dark and horrible images, while the Lovers from A Midsummer Night’s Dream talk about beauty, longing and heartache. This gives you a great idea of what their priorities are.

All of this will feed your imagination and give you an idea of where to start. And then it’s off to rehearsal to bring it all to life!

Cam

— Team Ariel


Making the Dream a reality

 

For the past month or so, The Players were locked in the rehearsal room preparing for our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, now playing at Sydney Opera House. It has been a gruelling rehearsal process comprising rigorous biomechanics training, intensive text analysis and scene work.

Earlier in the year, we were on the road bringing to you our in-schools shows Such Sweet Sorrow and Macbeth: Undone. As the year progressed, we began gearing up for our in-theatre performance. As you can see below, Jane and Ildiko were super keen to enter the ethereal wood on the outskirts of Athens and get their fairy on way back in March whilst in Albury – crafternoon is surely a thing!

Crafternoon Delight

Jane and Ildiko create Midsummer-themed headbands in Albury

 

What’s it like in the Rehearsal Room?

It was both a rewarding and challenging journey working with The Players from both teams under the direction of our Co-Artistic Director Peter Evans, our Assistant Director James Evans and our Movement Director Nigel Poulton.

An average day in the rehearsal room consisted of a 90-minute morning session of intense physical conditioning and training in the Meyerhold process. What is Meyerhold you ask? Well, Meyerhold (or biomechanics), is a movement system developed by Vsevolod Meyerhold (a Russian contemporary of Stanislavski). The system concerns itself with the art of structural forms in space and the expressive potential of the body. To assist us in executing detailed and precise physical work onstage – both heightened and naturalistic – we had to strengthen and condition our bodies (through a punishing regime of sprints, squats, sit-ups, push-ups, burpees, tumbles, martial arts – you get the idea!). On top of this, we have honed our spatial awareness skills and the ways in which our bodies physically express the intentions of our characters; so that we are constantly aware of our relationship with our audience.

After these physical sessions, we would jump straight into text analysis and scene work. In order to perform any text (let alone classical plays by playwrights like Shakespeare), an actor needs to be fully aware of what they are saying and the character’s need to say those words (the ‘What’ and the ‘Why’). As such, it has been so essential for us to probe the text and really discover and rediscover what each and every word in the play means. This ensures that we best communicate our character’s intentions when we get on the floor to rehearse the scenes. It requires great focus and attention to detail and respect for the work. Not to mention a good Shakespearean dictionary and commentary!

Directors

The Players work their scenes on the floor before the Directors.

Occasionally though, the boys get a bit sidetracked and decide it’s more fun to be Superman… Did we mention the importance of focus??

JoeAJ

 

After our four weeks of intensive rehearsals we headed into Sydney Opera House to undergo ‘Tech Week’. This is when the set and costumes are ‘bumped-in’ to the theatre and set-up so that full dress and technical runs of the show – including all lighting and sound cues – could begin. It is a useful part of the process so that we are comfortable and confident in the space and are fully prepared once the audience (you!) start heading through the door and taking your seats!

We are all so excited about the production that has emerged and the world and characters that have sprung to life in our rehearsal room!

A huge thanks to Foxtel, and to all of our sponsors who have made this show possible. We look forward to seeing you all there! Make sure you keep us posted with your thoughts and experiences on our Facebook page!

 

Season Details

 

Sydney Opera House

Monday 22 July – Friday 9 August

10:00am and 1:00pm daily

 

National Theatre

Tuesday 13 August – Friday 16 August

10:00am and 1:00pm daily

 

Running time: 90 minutes with no interval. To book tickets call 1300 305 730 or email learning@bellshakespeare.com.au.