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Monday, May 9, 2011

First Person: Andrew Cuk on A Midsummer Night's Dream

Chris Brown's design for the forest
Mise-en-scène Magic
Rose Bell's designs
for Puck
The theatre is already a place where magic happens, where we create the illusion of many different realities. As the director of this Dream, I wanted to highlight theatre itself as part of the Dream’s magic.
by Andrew Cuk
production photos by Andrew Cuk

There always seems to be a debate between those who like their Shakespeare unadulterated and those who enjoy messing with the bard’s works. Concept productions tend towards the tragedies and comedies, as the history plays are grounded in a reality of apparent historical truth, at least from the Tudor perspective. Setting Henry V on a starship hovering above Mars might be an intriguing idea, but we lose the connection to the real events on the field of Agincourt so many years ago.

Justine Lewis as Mustardseed, Megan Magisano as Peaseblossom

Two plays from the cannon do have carte blanche when it comes to conceptual presentation: The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Both plays deal with fairies, sprites and the magic of mythological beings. The Tempest has a serious and profound tone. There is comedy, but as a pastoral romance, its main objective is to return us to a happy balance through love and sacrifice. The Dream takes us on a journey of love through laughter, and its set up of a dream-like reality opens up all sorts of visual possibilities. Our concept of the play is only limited by our own surrealistic imagination.

Naomi Duvall (Titania, l) Megan Magisano
It is with this in mind that the professional theatre program at John Abbott College has taken on Shakespeare’s most popular comedy. The theatre is already a place where magic happens, where we create the illusion of many different realities. As the director of this Dream, I wanted to highlight theatre itself as part of the Dream’s magic. After all, drama plays an important role in the plot of the play: the workers of Athens perform the play Pyramus and Thisbe as part of the triple wedding celebration at the end of the Dream. I also wanted to remind our contemporary audience—particularly the cégep-aged students—that magic still exists in the 21st century.

Design by Rose Bell
In our 300-seat proscenium stage, we have moved the audience onstage in two groups facing each other (an alley configuration). Against the back wall of the theatre is a four-storied scaffolding unit representing the real world of Athens. It is the harsh Athenian law that demands of Hermia a brutal choice: marry someone you do not love, become a cloistered nun or be put to death. Hermia and her true love Lysander run away into the forest where the King and Queen of the Fairies are having a marital quarrel, a quarrel with rather severe consequences for the world: crops will not grow, rivers overflow their banks, crows feast on dying animals. The forest is their domain. In our production, it is the house, or the part of the theatre where the audience normally sits for a show, that becomes their forest.

The Athenians
Department chair and set designer Christopher Brown placed a web of hemp rope above the seats of the house. Hanging within and around this web are all the artifacts that our time-traversing kleptomaniacal fairies have gathered through the eras: armour, umbrellas, lamps, books, dolls, hubcaps...even a hookah. Christmas lights and chandeliers twinkle, as provided in the lighting by student Cassandra Genesse. It is a forest of the debris of civilization.

l-r: Eric Rolhion (Egeus), Kelly McCormick (Hermia),
Steven Piovesan (Lysander), Ian JD Geldart (Demetrius)
Design student Rose Bell designed the fairy costumes to suit their hording instincts. Thus Oberon, the King of the Fairies, wears a colourful 17th century frock coat over cowboy boots and spurs, while donning a head of Rastafarian dreadlocks. His Queen, Titania, still clings to her Victorian bustle while strutting in modern leggings and fetish straps. In Shakespeare’s day, his Athenians would have been costumed in everyday Elizabethan garb. So, our Athenians look like the John Abbott community.

Our dreamy Dream is not limited to the visual. Student sound designer Alex Kresevic takes us from Elizabethan drinking rounds and lute ballads through Mendelssohn’s 1843 score for the play to the more contemporary and Canadian The Tragically Hip, not forgetting Gloria Gaynor and the rap scene along the way.

Poster design by
Maggi Macaulay
Anachronistic, theatrical, bawdy, illogical, silly, and full of love, lust and gender swapping. Yes, that’s our play. Purists might get themselves into a tizzy, when they are not actually laughing, but the irony is that Shakespeare’s play is all those things. That’s the way he wrote it. No history lesson. Only the message that we cannot control Cupid’s arrow of love, and by extension, our imaginations.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, directed by Andrew Cuk
John Abbott College Professional Theatre Production
May 5,7,10,11,13 @ 8:00 PM; May 6,14 @ 2 PM
Casgrain Theatre, John Abbott College, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue
Box office: 514-457-2447; Web site
Seating is limited.

Michelle Lewis (Puck)

1 comment:

  1. Wow. That looks really awesome, and I'm sorry I won't be around to see it. Way to think outside the box, guys!


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