- Presented by: Colorado Shakespeare Festival
- Venue: Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre
- Hellems Arts & Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80302
"It's good, clean fun that can activate children's imaginations but has enough innuendo and word play to satisfy adults' craving for wit. It is just a delightful evening." Daily Camera (6/13/2013)
"To say that A Midsummer Night’s Dream kicked off the festival marvelously is an understatement along the lines of saying that the NSA has a vague idea of your calling and Internet browsing habits." Boulder Weekly (6/13/2013)
On performance evenings, tickets will be available for sale and pick up in the University Theatre box office starting one hour before each play begins.
Conjuring compromise … and a little magic
“The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he is really very good – in spite of all the people who say he is very good.” — Robert Graves.
Truer words are rarely spoken. As a Colorado native I grew up around the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. In 1990 I fell in love with Tony Church’s cavalier direction of Romeo and Juliet, a production that eventually supplied me with a girlfriend (now misplaced), a best friend (somewhere on the East Coast), a swashbuckling mentor (still kicking, still mentoring) and an undying love as a young actor for Shakespeare, especially under the summer stars of Boulder, Colorado.
And now, 23 years later (10 of them spent here swashing and speechifying), I’ve inherited an opportunity to stage A Midsummer Night’s Dream, having had front-row seats to Joel Fink’s in ’96, Patrick Kelly’s in ’02 and a brief hand in Gavin Cameron-Webb’s sharply paced 2007 Victorian version. And of course two of the current season’s directors (Jane Page on Macbeth and James Symons on Richard II) were my first directors here in 2003.
Exciting. Intimidating. OK … terrifying. But what a script we have. Resplendent with the best comic scene money can buy, a fistful of magic and four quarrelling lovers that pretty much encapsulate everything I have ever dared to say (and in fact often regretted, with no magical spell to blame).
Our production is framed in the late teens/early 1920s of an English countryside. If you think Downton Abbey you are not far off. In fact our mechanicals might have one foot in the Upstairs, Downstairs style of that piece and other great BBC classics. Likely a little Fawlty Towers in there somewhere too. For me this period beautifully frames the conflicts contained in Midsummer. Rebellious youth exiting war and wanting to make their own decisions about love, women inheriting the right to vote and entering the workforce with a voice, and a fading post-World War I monarchy grasping for structure and rules that mean something to them.
“The course of true love never did run smooth.”
The hope? That in our play, resplendent with broken couples at the start (faeries included), all pushing and pulling each other to head in the “right” direction and do what “I” want, each find their way through the forest and out the other side stronger, with a better understanding of what it takes to make love work: compromise, an attentive ear and a little magic.
— Geoffrey Kent, director
Theseus, Duke of Athens, will wed Hippolyta in four days. The couple is interrupted by Egeus, whose daughter Hermia loves Lysander, though Egeus would have her marry Demetrius. Demetrius is eager to marry Hermia and scorns Helena’s love for him. Theseus gives Hermia four days, until his own wedding, to let her decide if she will obey her father, die, or join a nunnery. Hermia and Lysander choose to flee and Helena relays the plan to Demetrius.
Meanwhile, a group of artisans gather to rehearse a play for the eve of the Duke’s wedding. In the woods, the Fairy King and Queen, Oberon and Titania, argue over a young changeling child. In an attempt to sway Titania’s attention, Oberon commands his fairy servant, Puck, to pluck a magical flower whose drops will cause a sleeping individual to love its first waking sight. Oberon also sends Puck in pursuit of Helena and Demetrius, hoping that the drops will remedy the quarreling he has overheard.
Puck puts the love potion in sleeping Titania’s eye, as well as Lysander’s, after Puck mistakes him for Demetrius. Puck eventually adds the magic drops to sleeping Demetrius’ eye. Both men wake to see Helena first, and fall madly in love with her. Hermia is appalled that both men would abandon her for Helena. The lovers clash, then fall asleep.
Titania, upon waking, sees Bottom, who has entered the woods at midnight to rehearse the play. The mischievous Puck has transformed Bottom’s head into that of a donkey, and Titania, under the influence of the love drops, loves Bottom ardently.
Satisfied, Oberon administers an antidote to all the affected lovers. Lysander awakes and loves Hermia again, Demetrius loves Helena after all, and Titania stirs to see Bottom and flees to unite with Oberon. All the lovers, disoriented yet content, join with Theseus and Hippolyta to celebrate their marriage and watch an awful production of Pyramus and Thisbe. Puck begs the audience to imagine that it was all a dream.
— Bianca Gordon, dramaturg
Some of the most recognizable images of fairies today include Tinker Bell, a pint-size pixie with wings; Cinderella’s fairy godmother, an elderly helper who sings “bibbidi- bobbidi-boo”; and even the tooth fairy, a kind figure who leaves money under a child’s pillow. We watch the Sugar Plum Fairy grace the stage of The Nutcracker. And for some, the word “fairy” conjures up images of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In a modern context, fairies are connected to a sense of childhood innocence. They specialize in flying, fairy dust and magic wands. Elizabethans, however, had quite a different picture of fairies.
Shakespeare picked what he liked from oral tradition about fairies to use in his plays. The fairy myths that did exist depicted a broad landscape of creatures and various types of fairies, which were also referred to as “sprites.” As opposed to generous, benevolent beings, fairies were commonly depicted as malicious and mischievous creatures. The most widespread wickedness attributed to fairies was pinching and bruising humans. Even scarier, fairies could replace a human baby with a changeling child. In rural England, fairies were also blamed for spoiled milk, butter that wouldn’t churn and fires that went out suddenly. For these folks in the countryside, it was useful to suggest fairies as an immediate response to any strange experience, before the Enlightenment challenged this widespread tradition and myth.
Elizabethan folklore consisted of multiple categories of fairies, and Shakespeare employed one type in particular that would have been familiar to his audience: the heroic fairy. Considered the aristocrats of Fairy Land, heroic fairies were kings and queens who could sing, dance, hunt and change shape. Despite their small size, heroic fairies still held formidable powers. Shakespeare’s Oberon and Titania are prime examples of heroic fairies. They are the royalty of the natural world, yet they do not hesitate to manipulate the human characters in the play. Structurally, they parallel Theseus and Hippolyta of the court world, but the fairies wield more influence and freely meddle with the lovers and each other in the woods. In other words, Oberon and Titania, as heroic fairies, transcend the confines of the court and open up the creative possibilities within the play.
In a modern world bound by logic and reason, we may not use Elizabethan notions of fairies to respond to strange circumstances, but fairies still ignite within us a sense of youthfulness, magic and most importantly, imagination.
— Bianca Gordon, dramaturg
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