Tag: dream

Refer a Friend to A Midsummer Night’s Dream

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the, if not the, most produced classical productions of all time, and it’s easy to see why. The escapist nature of play parallels our current lust for space adventures and superhero melodramas. Why watch a tyrant take over the kingdom when you can watch a fairy foil fools?

Midsummer, enchanting Hedgerow Theatre now from May 25 to June 11, taps into something ethereal in our subconscious, something eerily similar to the very art of creating a story.

Like a fairy, stories float around our heads popping up in everyday life and vanishing just as quickly. They have always been a link to the mystical aurora we feel around us, but can never quite capture.

Part of being human is to give meaning to the meaningless, to name the unnamed.

We live by metaphors. The stories we tell ourselves about life and the lessons we learn from it become our reality.

Like many of Shakespeare’s comedies, Midsummer centers around a the marriage: Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the former queen of the Amazons. In a parallel plot line, Oberon, king of the fairies, and Titania, his queen, have come to the forest outside Athens.

Amongst the central marriage plot is a love quadrant that Ray Cooney would be proud of and a group of six amateur actors (the mechanicals) that read like something Luigi Pirandello would claim. These mortals are manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest and one wild ride ensues as Puck’s Love Potion Number 9 is used and misused again and again.

We have the classic clown, Nick Bottom the Weaver, performing in a play within a play, asking: what is real? He begs the audience to remember that they are watching a play, going so far as to ask Peter Quince to write a prologue explaining that Pyramus is not really dead, but is merely an actor, named Bottom.  Then after his journey, Bottom believes in the power of art to transform as he cannot find the words to express his “dream.” He is moved, rather, to ask Quince to write a ballad, believing verse can capture what prose cannot.

Yet what is the stuff that dreams are made on? Like many great creators, Shakespeare used multiple sources to create this fantasy, remixing his was to an original story. Although Midsummer is one of the few Shakespeare originals, as Shakespeare borrowed many of his plots from histories and preexisting stories, the story is a remix of many different myths, legends, and stories. Much in the way George Lucas took many different sources to create Star Wars, it appears Shakespeare allowed the stories of his time to simmer in a melting pot and cook.

From the first, we are introduced to the Greek and Roman mythologies, being transported to a different time and place through reference. There are characters alluded to in the play such as Hercules (1.2, 4.1, 5.1), Diana (1.1; 1.1); as Phoebe (4.1), Cupid (1.1, 1.1, 2.1, 3.2, 3.2, 4.1), Venus (1.1, 3.2, 3.2) and Robin Goodfellow Puck who is sometimes called the “Hobgoblin.”

Puck, a navish elf from Celtic mythology who may or may not also represent the Devil, arrives to fuse old and new. He moves us from a time of Roman and Grecian gods, to a time of European mythology.

Puck usher’s in the world of Faerie, which is something Susanna Clarke explores in detail in her book “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell,” creating a world similar to something Tolkien would write, “between the age of Faerie and the dominion of men.”

Puck is a clever and mischievous elf and personifies the trickster or the wise knave, similar to Loki or Anansi. In the play, Shakespeare introduces Puck as the “shrewd and knavish sprite” and “that merry wanderer of the night,” a jester to Oberon, the fairy king.

Oberon, king of the fairies, stems from French legend, and Titania, the fairy queen, was invented by Shakespeare in allusion to Ovid’s Metamorphosis (also, the Fairy Queen was a title given to Queen Elizabeth).

Also present in the play are allusions to Ovid’s, Metamorphoses, the source of the characters Pyramus and Thisbe. Chaucer’s, The Knight’s Tale: Hippolyta and Theseus are characters in this tale. Likewise, Lysander and Demetrius’s quest for Helena echoes Palamon and Arcite’s fight over Emily in The Knight’s Tale.

Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans and “Life of Theseus” informs Shakespeare’s portrayal of this character of Theseus, and Apuleius’s Golden Ass could potentially be Bottom’s transformation into a human with the head of a donkey.

Furthermore, the play borrows language from the play such as Corinthians 1: 2-9 where Bottom’s language in is a parody of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians. Once again, we have the Bard blending myths and legends, combing language from different times to build a different world.

Midsummer, like a dream, is an allusion to what exists and has existed, with a player’s touch. What Elizabethan Englishmen lived in every day they suddenly saw on stage, as the Bard blends everyday life with the feeling of wonder. It takes a master’s pen to bring together all these escapist elements of awe and to create the dream we all wish to touch again and again.

Top 6 Shakespeare Acting Tips (from Artistic Director Jared Reed)

Performing Shakespeare generally denotes a level of acting expertise. As in the Bard’s time, an understanding of language, rhetoric, diction, and understanding of story is required by the actor to perform the roles well. Unlike Shakespeare’s time, however, many players are not equipped with the basic tools to perform the text.

Think of it this way, Shakespeare wrote in the common language of his time, in the language of the people, with a dialect directly suited to his common actors. Transpose that to 2017, in Philadelphia, where film is the predominate medium and pictures are the language of the world and we begin to understand the difficulty of Shakespeare’s verse and prose.

Performing in Shakespeare plays introduces you to new skills and allows you to play with language, sounds, and rhetoric in a way unmatched by modern plays (although the American Shakespeare Center is looking to change that).

So what are some of the rules for getting a part in a Shakespeare play? The following list is a number of guidelines our Artistic Director Jared Reed, who has played Macbeth and Hamlet at Hedgerow, uses that you can use to navigate through the Shakespeare’s silly syllables and pretty punny prose.

  1. Act on the words

    • Shakespeare is a celebration of language, he invented half of it for God’s shake. Therefore, we do not need those Pinter pauses and Chekovian glances. Use the language in front of you. The challenge is a gift. Speak the speech, I pray you!
  2. Stress the verbs

    • Again, the action is in the language. Therefore, verbs are your friend. When performing Shakespeare the characters thoughts, feelings, and turmoils are in the text. Often, they are navigating through their minds like a patient sitting in front of a psychiatrist, only it doesn’t cost you $500 an hour to see! Since we are traversing our way through verse, we need to use the action given to use. Verbs give us a sense of movement. The audience creates the action in their head, and uses the metaphors given to us by Shakespeare to see the story in their mind’s eye.
  3. [Secret Tip] Consonants express thought, vowels emotion – a speech heavy in rich consonants is more intellectual.

    • Think,  “Now is the winter of our discontent” vs heavy long  consonants “to be or not to be.” Shakespeare uses rhetoric and every classical tool of speech and language at his disposal. He plays with language and meaning the way a Hip Hop artist plays with beat and rhythm. The iambic pentameter is a tool meant to carry the flow of the language. The sounds, therefore, are the tools to carve up that turkey. Use the language to inform your decisions about character, about pace, about intent. Does your character speech in vowels or consonants? Sharp sounds? Or soft?
  4. Absolutely less is more or at least simpler is better – the language is so rich that excess movement makes it unclear

    • Our modern ears are not tuned to the musing of Bill’s tongue; even so, actor’s in Shakespeare’s time performed in a completely different fashion, allegedly, than we do today. There was no “Method,” no Stella Adler, no Marlon Brando. The important thing for the audience was the language. So, actor’s performed much in the same way opera performs, using their body as an instrument. How does this apply to us today? Well, in order to get through large chunks of text, and to keep the audition with you, less is more. If the audience is having to watch you move every beat, or gesture on every line, then you are competing against yourself for attention. Certainly, body language informs us of emotion, however, body language is more than embodying Robin Williams and running off to the races. “Suit the word to the action, the action to the word.”
  5. Breath control

    • Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three. Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination. Now that we’re there, let’s talk about breathing. There is a lot of talk today about breath. Take one quick search on youtube and you will find millions of mediation and yoga videos detailing the proper way to breath. Well, we won’t go don’t that rabbit hole here, but breath control and diaphragmatic breathing are essential to good Shakespearean acting. If you want the simplest explanation, imagine someone sucking air as Hamlet, or losing their voice as Henry V during the Saint Crispen’s Day speech. Weak right? Well, if you want to be a baller, then learn to use your breath hommie.
  6. Change pitch to make meaning clear

    • Could you sit through Ben Stein reading King Lear? What about Henry Kissinger speaking Iago’s lines? Good speakers understand how to use their instrument. We all can make more sounds than we give ourselves credit for: we have a chest voice, a throat voice, a nasal voice, a silly voice, a pithy voice, a factual voice, a matter of fact voice, a lying voice, a “I’m not lying” lying voice, a serious voice, and on and on and on. Speeches are rarely speeches in Shakespeare’s plays. More often than not they are thoughts on page, or moments interrupted by new moments. Therefore, we, as actors, must make it clear what we are saying and what we are thinking. Opinion is character. Use your voice in all its glory.
  7. Change tempo to make emotion clear

    • Remember that whole iambic pentameter thing you learned about when you read Romeo and Juliet as a 15 year-old? Yeah, there’s a purpose for that other than a test. The beat of the speech, like a song, informs us of emotion. The tempo puts us in tune with the characters feelings and emotions as he rides the wave of language. Shakespeare understood how to use the syllables of language to create the flow of voice that translates the emotion of the character in the most efficient way. Tune in to the beat of the speech and unlock its tempo to make the emotion clear.