This weekend, Islanders will be treated to Shakespeare comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, acted by the local teens in Main Street Theater and Dance Alliance’s (MST&DA) Teen Theater class. Directed by Island resident Joan Marie, with music by Jon Cook, scene design by the Roosevelt Island Visual Artist's Association's Dan Nistor, and Graphic Design by Ana McCasland, the cast is comprised of 15 actors whose ages range from the eighth grade to seniors in high school. Shows will be performed Friday Feb 1, 8pm, Saturday February 2, 8pm, and Sunday, February 3, at 6pm.
Set for A Midsummer Night's Dream, by Dan Nistor
As a testimony to Marie’s confidence level, she’s giving this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream a creative new twist. Get ready for Jersey accents out at the shore, in lieu of the forest. And instead of Shakespeare’s fairies, Marie's production will have mermaids.
The Elizabethan dialogue will have a fun and relatable appeal that should take the edge off the sometimes intimidating Shakespearean early modern English to let loose the playfulness and humor of the story. The iconic and broadly produced comedy about love, explores the blurred boundaries between fantasy and reality, and between one identity and another.
The iconic play consists of four interconnecting plots structured around a wedding between Theseus and Hippolyta, the Duke of Athens and the Amazon Queen. Shakespeare can be intimidating,“As an actor I try to give as much as I can for each role I’m given. And as a director you have to do that for everything,” Marie says with a wry laugh. “So the challenging thing for me is to take a step back and breathe, because I want everything to be the way it’s going to be on opening night. And I need to respect that it needs air, and it’s a process. And even now as an actor I really trust the process more, and that things will come with time. And as a director you really just have to focus on one thing at a time and it all will come together in the end.”
Cast members of A Midsummer Night's Dream rehearse, days before opening
All of the cast members live on the Island. According to Marie, only two students are brand new to the class. “It’s really fun to watch the people who have been working together for years; the seniors just have this bond."
Two of the student actors play opposite one another regularly in productions at MST&DA and play a couple, Hermione and Lysander, in this show."It’s just so fun to watch them play with each other because it’s so, they just get each other’s instincts on stage. It’s magical,” Marie shares, laughing.
The show must go on, as the expression goes. There are so many players, so many factors, so many small details that add up to one big fine tuned humming machine in theater, that there are also always many, many things that could possibly go wrong. Being able to stay on your toes, remaining flexible, and able to adapt to changes creatively under pressure is part of what makes theater exciting, unpredictable and charged with energy.
This production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is no exception. The actor playing the female lead suddenly could no longer perform, ten days shy of opening night. One of the youngest members of the cast, Hannah Block, an eighth grader with a small part, landed the lead part at the eleventh hour.
Marie explained her choice to give Miss Block the role: She could not really give it to anyone who was already playing a larger part; but further, she noted that Block always gave a lot of energy and feeling to her lines, was always attentive to what was going on, and prepared for rehearsals. Exemplifying how well prepared she was and how enthusiastic about stepping into the role at a moment’s notice, Miss Block showed up at the first rehearsal in her new role completely off book, theatre parlance for no longer needing the script to rehearse.
Block's ability to step up was an enormous relief to the director, and also demonstrated to the cast right away that they can rely upon her instincts. In my view, it is the collective energy and creativity that occurs in unplanned events that can give theater its special spark. I hope you’ll join me at the Howe Theater this weekend for what promises to be a lively and engaging show we will not want to miss.