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This week, fairyland will come to the Shawnee Mission East stage as 36 cast members perform this year’s fall play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare. The show features intersecting worlds of realities where the King of Athens and his reluctant fiancée, the King and Queen of Fairies, Athenian handymen and four lovers meet and clash in the woods.
The theater department has worked to make sense of this convoluted classic and–more importantly–find the humor in it. Director Brian Cappello, East theater and English teacher, has made it his goal to take this Shakespearean classic and make it accessible to modern audiences.
“I don’t want the cast to be caught up in the idea of doing Shakespeare with a capital S,” Cappello said.
Cappello and fellow theater teacher Tom DeFeo have tried to make this adaptation much easier to follow by removing the more obscure, flowery Elizabethan references therefore cutting the three hour show down to less than two hours.
“Part of our problem with doing something like Shakespeare is that it’s an uphill battle for students,” Cappello said. “They know that in school it’s, ‘We’re going to read it, we have to dissect every line, there’s going to be a quiz, we’re going to watch a movie, and then we’re going to write a paper.’”
Cappello believes that Shakespeare wrote to be enjoyed by theater-goers, not just analyzed by English students. According to Cappello, the comedy in the show is universal and relatable to modern audiences.
Understanding the script, however, has been the first step for cast-members like junior Jessie Burnes, who plays Puck, a woodland sprite. Burnes had to take extra time to analyze her lines and motives by studying the script at home.
“You have to understand what you’re saying before you even try to figure out how to say it,” Burnes said. “We’ve done a great job of trying to portray this in a way that anyone can understand.”
Burnes too is confident that the audience will see parallels between the show and modern situations: the great King and Queen of the Fairies, played by senior Grant Kendall and junior Kim Hoedel, bicker like any modern couple and the lovers fall in and out of love more abruptly than modern teenagers.
Playing one of the four lovers, Lysander, junior Max Duncan doesn’t let the script’s antiquated language stand in the way of having fun with the characters and situations.
“I think [the audience will] loosen up and realize that it’s a comedy,” Duncan said. “It’s OK to laugh even though it’s Shakespeare.”
Duncan says that the exaggerated nonverbal signals make the show similar to modern comedies. In the show, the beautiful Fairy Queen is in love with a donkey man and characters groan, sigh, giggle and grunt their emotions.
“Having huge body movements and being really ‘big’ is universal in comedy,” Duncan said. “Just the body language is enough to entertain the audience and have them understand what we’re talking about.”
Student Director and senior Spencer Davis believes that not being intimidated by the playwright has made the performance more enjoyable.
“We’ve worked a lot on modernizing the dialogue and the emotions,” Davis said. “When you think of Shakespeare, you often think of big, bombastic soliloquies and monologues and speeches which you don’t really understand and aren’t very exciting to watch. We’re trying to find a human element of Shakespeare–the part that’s really fun to be a part of.”
Technical nuances help to bring that excitement to the performance. The set involves a slanted trampoline, forestry backdrops and 29 platforms, allowing actors to bounce, run and stand at different heights on the stage. Lights, sound and other effects are in sync with the action: fog and foreboding sound effects accompany Oberon’s entrances while whimsical chimes accompany Titania’s.
Each actor is further characterized by costume and makeup. Blush or silver hair spray and wrinkles define age while royal dress or dirt and stubble define status of the Athenian courtiers and handymen.
Oberon, King of the Fairies, and his minions’ appearances are reminiscent of the rock band KISS: black leather, fangs and red and black makeup. Titania, Queen of the Fairies, and her attendants are colorful, with blue, pink, purple and silver faces, adorned in glitter, leotards, and diaphanous dresses. Accompanying Oberon, Puck’s face is tinted green and decorated with a woodland tree while her costume is reminiscent of Peter Pan.
Junior Madison May, a Makeup Crew Chief, looks forward to bringing the fairy world to a whole new level of fantasy. Armed with colored base, glitter, false eyelashes, paintbrushes and the occasional facial hair appendage, May is excited for the opportunity to try techniques that other shows don’t afford.
“It’s just sparkle overload,” May said. “There’s a lot of small, intricate detail that we have to paint on with a paintbrush; everybody’s face is like a canvas.”
Costumes Crew has also ensured that no two characters look quite the same. Though the show has required the crew to make most of the outfits from scratch, junior Polly Haun, a Costumes Crew Chief, believes that the crew is well-adapted to adjusting to new challenges.
“We just kind of roll with the punches,” Haun said. “Every show is different in its own right and this happens to be one of them.”
By approaching Shakespeare’s classic like any modern play, the theater department has breathed life into the characters and relationships. According to Cappello, the script is, after all, supposed to be funny. The directors, cast and crew are confident that the audience will enjoy the show in spite of the perceived difficulty of understanding a Shakespearean show.
“Treat it as just a night at the theater rather than an assignment and you’ll be very, very pleasantly surprised,” Cappello said.
For a video about the tech of the show, click here.