A Spare, Soulful Midsummer Night’s Dream Tomorrow
New Rep’s outreach company a springboard for CFA alums
A reimagined staging of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream comes to the Boston University Theatre tomorrow night. The performance involves no lighting crews, no sets, and no special costumes. There are no entrances or exits; the actors remain on stage. It’s all about the imagination—theirs, and the audience’s.
When the Classic Repertory Company takes its shows on the road to schools and communities underserved in the arts, it promotes a powerful form of theater that is often richer and more creative for being stripped down to its purest form. The flagship educational outreach program of Watertown-based New Repertory Theatre, CRC also affords an opportunity for theater graduates to gain professional stage experience; six of the current eight members are 2013 graduates of BU’s College of Fine Arts. In addition to Shakespeare, the troupe has staged adaptations of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, shifting and sharing administrative tasks as well as acting roles.
“We wanted to dispense with the notion that to do theater you had to pretend or lie,” says CRC director and CFA School of Theatre lecturer Clay Hopper (CFA’05). “We engage with the space and text in an absolutely honest way without any artificial barriers—no light cues, no sound cues. The more limits we impose, the more creative we become.” The CRC brought its production of the play to the BU Beach last month. Tonight’s performance, which like all CRC productions is 90 minutes long, is copresented by the Boston Center for American Performance, the School of Theatre’s professional arm.
Although the CRC tour is in its 14th season, the program, formerly called New Rep On Tour, changed its name two seasons ago and evolved into presenting two plays touring in repertory. That change, and Hopper’s appointment as director, came after School of Theatre director Jim Petosa became New Rep’s artistic director. With its casting of recent CFA graduates—Petosa calls it a bridge for students who’ve completed theatrical training—CRC is one of the ways he is nurturing ties between New Rep and the University. CRC, which also provides study guides for classroom teachers and conducts frequent talk-backs, performs 50 times a year, says Ami Bennitt, New Rep director of marketing and public relations. Recent venues include Brighton High School, the Brookline Council on Aging, and Perkins School for the Blind.
On stage, cast members inhabit multiple roles, recycle and reinvent minimal props, and use whimsical shorthand. In the case of Shakespeare’s mirthful comedy, the actors pull small handheld lights from their pockets to become the band of fairies, led by King Oberon and his queen, Titania, darting about the festivities and engaging in slapstick dalliances with the play’s love-struck pairs and those who would thwart them. The play is paced and punctuated by cast members’ drumming.
“The style makes for a very distilled form of theater,” says Simon Pringle-Wallace (CFA’13), who portrays Oberon and Theseus. Not only is the production an intimate experience, it brings clarity to the text and provides the perfect introduction to Shakespeare, according to David Keohane (CFA’13), the production’s Bottom and Egeus. “Acting in general is about clarity of thought,” observes Celia Pain (CFA’13), who plays Puck and Philostrate. And Midsummer Night’s Demetrius, Emerson College graduate Marc Pierre, says that kids lock right into the Shakespearean verse that might be expected to stump them at first.
“There’s a stigma that you have to work your way up to Shakespeare” to grasp it, Pierre says. But at a recent performance, a group of kids who aren’t native English speakers “loved the show and were engaged the whole time,” says Lorne Batman (CFA’13), whose roles alternate between Helena and Snarvling. “I would’ve killed to have this be my first exposure to Shakespeare,” Hopper says.
A one-night only performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is tomorrow, Friday, October 25, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the BU Theatre mainstage, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for the BU community and BU alumni, and $10 for CFA students, faculty, and staff and New Repertory Theatre subscribers. Subject to availability, one free ticket at the door provided to students with BU ID. Purchase tickets online here or by calling 617-933-8600.1 Comments