Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (2021)

Trailer for Globe Theater’s 2021 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

What do you think of when you think of “Shakespeare?” What do you think of when you think of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream?” 

    Ruffs and Tights?

    Mostly white dudes?

    Elizabethan music?

    Dark night and moon?

This production, directed by Michelle Terry, is gleefully throwing out every preconceived notion of what A Midsummer Night’s Dream can or should be. In terms of design, casting, music, and interpretation, it breaks all the rules, while still remaining true to the text. This allows the production to appeal to not only hard-core Shakespeare fans, but first time audiences and children too!

I got to see this production thanks to the Globe’s online streaming library. My mother kindly shared me a link to this recording from the summer of 2021. You can watch it yourself on: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/watch/#full-length-productions

I would describe the concept behind the show as “Suggestive,” that is, it doesn’t belong to a literal time and place. Even though the play is set in Ancient Greece, the play refuses to be constrained by historical accuracy, which arguably, fits nicely with Shakespeare in particular, and the Globe itself; a modern building in a modern city, based on a 400-year-old building.

The music and costumes evoke a New Orleans Mardis Gras, a Pride parade, or a Spanish pinata with its bright colors, heavy use of fringes, and bright, energetic jazz music. The only people who don’t wear bright colors are the four lovers, which reflects their continuous frustration with being unable to marry the person they really want.

The show is also Color blind and gender blind, with women playing men’s parts and a cast with black, white, and mixed race actors. Terry’s direction also calls attention to the patriarchial, racist, and sexist elements of Athens which are often overlooked in other interpretations of Dream that I’ve seen or read about. Rather than being a hero, Theseus is a horny old man in a ludicrous pink uniform, looking like a cross between M. Bison and a Christmas nutcracker. To reinforce this point, the actor chose to perform one of Theseus’ most patriarchial speeches as a joke:

Theseus. What say you, Hermia? be advised fair maid:50
To you your father should be as a god;
One that composed your beauties, yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax
By him imprinted and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it. -Midsummer Night's Dream, Act I, Scene i.

I’ve seen this speech heavily cut and played seriously, but never till now did I see it played to ridicule the ludicrous notion that women are in any way bound to worship their fathers.

In another nod to contemporary gender politics, the actress who plays Hippolyta and Titania chose to perform her role on crutches. As far as I can tell, this was a deliberate choice and not a result of real injury. There is a precedent for this: In 1984, Sir Antony Sher performed Richard iii on crutches because it highlighted the cruelty people with disabilities often suffer.

I could be wrong, but I think that the reason the actress was on crutches was a symbolic way of confronting the way gender politics can cripple women.

Many scholars have pointed out how Hippolyta rarely speaks despite the fact that she is supposed to be the powerful Queen of the Amazons, and Theseus’ fiance besides. Shakespeare makes it clear that their marriage was arranged as a political alliance after the Amazons lost to Athens in a war:

Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword,
And won thy love, doing thee injuries;20
But I will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph and with revelling.

With this in mind, it makes sense to have Hippolyta on crutches as a result of her injuries. Those injuries might also explain her silence; she has lost her agency now that she is essentially Theseus’ prisoner. One might think of any number of war atrocious where women have been sold to powerful men over the centuries. In short, by putting Hippolyta on crutches, we see a glimpse into her tragic story that most productions just gloss over- that she has lost a war, been separated from her people, and is now her enemies’ prisoner through marriage.

I’ve come to expect high quality acting from The Globe Theater Company and this cast did not disappoint. As we watched it together, my family concluded that this was one of the best acted productions of Dream that we’ve ever seen, which between us has to be over 30 plus productions.

The delivery is crisp and fast paced. Every actor has taken these words and made them their own. They speak them as if they were written yesterday. One thing I love about the Globe is that the directors encourage this kind of fast paced delivery; with no distracting special effects or sets, the actors have to captivate the audience with their delivery of Shakespeare’s text, without being melodramatic or self-indulgent. I’m pleased to say that this cast does a fantastic job of telling this magical story in a compelling and very modern way.

I’ve shown my recording to kids, teens, adults, and my family, and everyone has a different reaction to the show. Maybe this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but the concept is sound, the acting is high caliber, and it utilizes the Globe’s unique qualities extremely well. 




I personally didn’t care for Bottom just because I felt the actress was playing a very energetic part with too much sarcasm and tongue in cheek, but that’s mostly personal preference. I did however love Peter Quince, Snout, Snug, and the rest of the Mechanicals. Peter Quince is a rather thankless part but it’s great to see someone balance being a straight man trying to reign in Bottom’s antics. and an idiot who has no idea how to direct a company of actors, which the actress playing Quince did very well.

New Acting Course for Young Actors Starting September 12th, 2021.

Trailer for my 2021 Acting course via Outschool.com

I’ve been working on a remote learning class for Outschool.com where I take some of the audition advice I wrote in Creating A Character: Macbeth, and some of the other acting posts I’ve published over the years. This will be a weekly virtual acting course for kids ages 13-18, starting September 12th at 10AM EST.

This class will outline the tools and techniques of Shakespearean acting such as projection, articulation, and imagination. Each We’ll also go over Shakespeare’s own advice on acting in his play “Hamlet: Prince of Denmark.” The course will culminate with the students choosing their own Shakespearean monologues and scenes, which they can use going forward in auditions, school plays, and classes.

The best thing about the course is that each week builds on the previous week’s experience, but you don’t need to go to all of them. I’ll be flexible and work with the student’s schedule so everyone gets as much out of the class as possible.

If you’re interested in signing up, go to Outschool.com. If you have any questions, email me by clicking here:

Hope to see you online soon!

How to Throw a Fairies Themed Midsummer Night Dream Party (Quarantine Safe Edition)

Happy Midsummer everyone! Wednesday June 24rth is the Midsummer festival, which means as you go to sleep that night, I wish you all Midsummer Night Dreams! Before that though, I welcome you to party like it’s the court of King Oberon, and here are some ideas:

Background: What Are Fairies?

The story of Fairies has many authors that come from multiple folkloric traditions. The Greeks had nymphs, the Romans had cupid, and the English and Germans had…



1.  According to Paracelsus, fairies are elemental spirits that help control the Earth’s four elements: Silfs (air), gnomes (Earth), Salamanders (fire), and  Undines (water).
2. In some versions, they are household creatures that interact with humans
3. Some cultures call them demoted Angels, not good enough for Heaven, but not bad enough for Hell.

So you can see there are lots of traditions that contribute to our modern concept of the fairy, and plenty of ideas to adapt into your party!

Part One: The Invitation:

There’s a ton of free fairy clip art and fairy designs online. Below is an invitation I created for free with an app called Canva and a parchment background picture I found online.

1. Pixie invitations
2. Immortal Longings

Second card design I created on Canva.

You probably also know that I am a huge fan of the website Immortal Longings because of their excellent Shakespearean art and they sell cards too. You can buy the cards or download the pictures on their website.

Shakespearean Greeting Cards from Immortal Longings.com


Part Two: Decorations
Fairy

Fairy Dens Right now the Royal Shakespeare Company is making DIY Fairy decorations including a Fairy Den that you can share with your family and friends:

What is a Fairy Den? Fairies in folklore are closely tied to the Ancient Celts and Druids, who believed that Fairies live in hollow places underground. A fairy den is a homemade den that imitates the ancient fairy hollows.

Workshop on Fairy Dens and Fairy Lanterns: https://youtu.be/KC7CbPPIrjs

Fairy lights from IKEA

In addition to fairy dens, there are tons of fairy lights, fairy coloring books, and other fairy crafts you can find. Here is a fairy lantern my wife made using pickle jars!

First paint the jars with white paint and cut out paper fairies to paste around the inside of the jar (we used tackey glue). You can also stick star stickers on the inside of the jars.
For added realism, you can glue fake moss to the bottom of the jar. We got this from our local dollar store.
Put a small battery powered LED light inside.
Turn on the LED lights and take the lanterns somewhere dark.
Detail of the fairy lights.



Part ThreeThe Feast

Since the Fairies in Midsummer are woodland spirits, almost any forest or camping themed recipes can be adapted. Here are some ideas that my wife and I made for our own fairy themed party.

Snail sandwiches

Hedgehog cheese ball.


Hedgehog cheese ball:

Fruit wands with yogurt dip


Dessert

Chocolate GardenCake from How to Cook That: https://youtu.be/JidhdxiSsnQ

Fairy bread: For those of you who don’t live in Australia or New Zealand, Fairy bread is white bread covered in

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/80934/fairy-bread/

Homemade Fairy bread

 

Music

  • Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies

Games

1.  Pin the tail on the Bottom.

2. Love potion: Similar to follow the leader or musical chairs. A group of people lie down and pretend to sleep. Then someone plays Puck by putting a real or pretend flower in one of the player’s hands. The Puck then yells “Awake,” and sets a timer or plays some music. The object of the game is for everyone to chase after the flower and get it before time runs out.

Costumes:

Make some printable donkey masks for Bottom, flower crowns for the fairies, and don’t forget your wings!

Well, that’s my advice, happy  Midsummer everyone!

Sources:
Tolkein, JRR. On Fairy Stories

Top Five WORST Shakespearean Father Characters!

Hello everyone!

Parenting is tough! Parents have to sacrifice so much to make sure their kids grow up happy, healthy, and prepared for life. Not everyone can do it, but if Shakespeare has taught us anything, it’s that there’s always someone doing a worse job than you. So for all you dads out there, enjoy this list of my top 5 worst dads in Shakespeare, lovingly made to remind you that whatever kind of father you are, at least you’re not these baddies!

If you’d like to listen along to my podcat about this topic while you read, here’s the latest episode here:

The Shakespearean Student Episode 4: Top 5 WORST Shakespearean Father Characters

Worst Dads Title:

First and Worst: #1: King Antiocus from Pericles.

Slide2

#2: Egeus from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Slide3

#3: King Leontes from The Winter’s Tale

Slide4

#4: Titus Andronicus from Titus Andronicus

Slide5

#5: King Lear from King Lear

Slide6

Do you agree with my list? Leave me a comment below! Tomorrow I’ll continue my list with the top 5 Dad Dads; guys who are good, but have modern problems that keep them from being truly great. Then we’ll take it home with the best of the best. Hope you enjoy them!

Till Next Time,

-The Shakespeare Guru

How to read a Shakespeare Play for the first time!

Hi folks! Since this site is basically a Shakespeare appreciation site, I wanted to start off this week by showing you how you can enjoy Shakespeare at the first reading, even if you’ve never read him before! What follows is a list of advice based on the way I myself learned to enjoy Shakespeare, backed up with some nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up from teachers along the way.

I. Learn the Story of the play.

 I would argue that the biggest advantage the Elizabethans had over us was they knew the story of the play before they even came into the theater. All of Shakespeare’s plays were adapted from other sources, including myths and fairy tales. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is literally a fairy tale about the Fairy Queen Titania. There was no such thing as “spoiler alert” in Shakespeare’s day, in fact the prologue of “Romeo and Juliet” gives away the ending before the play has begun!
Clearly, Shakespeare wasn’t interested in making his plays a surprise. The thing is that back then audiences didn’t want new stories, they wanted familiar stories told in a new way, the same way we base movies off of comic books and novels. So the first thing you can do to put you on the same level is read the story of the play before hand. Quiz yourself about what happens: who are the characters you should be rooting for? Whom are they fighting against? What is stopping the hero(s) from achieving their goals? This is a rare time when cliff notes and spark notes actually help; learning the story of the play will help you connect with the action on the stage and instead allow you to concentrate on the characters and the language. I also recommend websites like Crash Course that tell the story with a sense of fun.
II. Read the play- the whole thing, (preferably out loud).
The first time you read Shakespeare, you probably won’t get every word, but don’t worry, you’re not supposed to. Every single edition of Shakespeare has a glossary on the opposite page that translates the basic idea of what you’re reading. If you’re a first time reader, I highly recommend the Folger Shakespeare edition, (available at amazon.com). These editions not only have a good glossary, but big, friendly pictures of a lot of the terms. They also have a free online version of Shakespeare’s texts which you can look at here: http://www.folgerdigitaltexts.org/
I would also advise you to read the plays out loud. Shakespeare loved playing with the sounds of words- having characters hiss and bellow and whisper and seduce the ear. Some of the most fun I ever had with Shakespeare was having a Shakespeare reading party with my friends, where we discovered a play by reading it together and playing with voices and accents.
Another option is to listen to the play while you read it. There are great websites like Audible.com and Librivox that allow you to listen to the play spoken by voice actors. Hearing the play will open it up in a way that just reading it can’t After all, the plays are meant to be heard, that’s why they call it an audience (audio- to hear).
Finally, if you go to nearly every public library there’s a recording of The Archangel Shakespeare, a series of CD recordings of professional actors performing every one of Shakespeare’s plays. Many of these performers have done Shakespeare professionally, so you know they know what they’re taking about.
III. Watch a movie. There are hundreds of Shakespeare movies out there, and each one can show you a little bit about how the play feels and looks when it is placed in the hands of an actor or director. You may be expecting some guy in wrinkled tights bellowing his lines in a fake-Elizabethan set, but lots of Shakespeare movies have chosen inventive settings for Shakespeare in different times and places, like Ian McKellen’s Fascist-era Richard III, Michael Hoffman’s 19th century Midsummer Night’s Dream, or my favorite, Julie Taymor’s epic retelling of Titus Andronicus in a fictionalized blend of ancient Rome and modern Italy. A movie allows you to hear the text read, and allows you to see ideas from the play brought to life on the big screen.
IV. Go see it if you can. Almost every major city has a Shakespeare festival, and lots of regional theaters also choose to do Shakespeare. The reason is simple- he’s royalty free, and everyone recognizes his name. As you watch the play, try to answer these questions:
-Which characters did you like?
-Was there a line you really liked or one that seemed to speak to you?
-Did this play remind you of another play or movie? Did it remind you of something from your own life?
V. If I can recommend a good play to start with, start with Å Midsummer Night’s Dream. This play is not only very easy to understand, it’s also charming, funny, romantic, magical, and has a lot of colorful characters. I myself have directed and starred in Dream, and seen no less than 15 productions on stage and screen! If I can quell the fear you may have about Shakespeare, my wife and I directed the play with actors who had never read Shakespeare before, never acted before, and most of them were only 8 years old! So if they can learn this play and grow to love it as much as I do, then I firmly believe you can too!
Helpful hints-
1. Shakespeare’s company performed outdoors in the middle of the day, so they had no control over their environment. All the actors had was a bare stage, costumes, and a couple of props. This is why Shakespeare devotes lots of passages to just tell you where the characters are, and what time of day it is. His is a theater of the imagination, so read the descriptions and let the world come to life in your head.
2. Shakespeare drew heavily on images from Greek/Roman mythology and the Bible. If you need help looking up some of these resources up, I can recommend the Encyclopedia Mythica for Greco-roman references, and the Catholic Encyclopedia for Christian references.
3. There is a glossary of every single word Shakespeare ever used and plenty of books too. In terms of simplicity and ease of use, I recommend http://www.shakespeareswords.com/Glossary.
4. Shakespeare wrote four types of plays – Comedy, History, Tragedy, and Romances.
    • In Tragedy, the hero dies by the end, and the overall tone is one of change and struggle.
    • In Comedy, the hero and the heroine usually get married by the end.
    • The History Plays- are all about a struggle for the English crown and are based on historical chronicles. Most of them conclude in a battle or in the peace after a battle.
    • Romances– “Romance” is a term invented by scholars to describe some of the last plays Shakespeare wrote that don’t end in death like tragedies, and don’t end as happily as the comedies. One such play has a man get eaten by a bear, and another has a man forced to marry a prostitute! Some scholars don’t like this title, but i keep it here because it’s the most common term for these weird plays that include Cymbeline, Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest.

4. DO NOT READ THE NO-FEAR SHAKESPEARE EDITIONS. These books and websites advertise to be a clear-cut translation of Shakespeare with his text on the left, and a modern translation on the right. I believe these editions don’t do justice to the cleverness of Shakespeare’s writing. For example, here’s the famous speech of Macbeth when he discovers that his wife is dead:

She should have died hereafter.
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
I’ve actually played Macbeth, and when I saw this speech, I played it as a struggle to deal with the loss of his wife, (the only person he truly cares about), while at the same time dealing with imminent war. Macbeth wants to put off dealing with the news until tomorrow because he can’t possibly handle it now. What’s really cool about Shakespeare is you don’t have to agree with me; you could just as easily interpret the speech as a manifestation of psychosis, of loneliness, or how bitter and unfair Macbeth’s life is and it would still work! That’s why actors and directors love going on and on about Shakespeare; he gives us the freedom to interpret the speech the way we want, as long as we stay true to the basic text. I don’t think anybody could claim that this is a happy speech! The problem is that No Fear Shakespeare makes it too simple, and doesn’t allow you to really consider the possibilities for interpretation. Read their translation of the speech below:

MACBETH

She would have died later anyway. That news was bound to come someday. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. The days creep slowly along until the end of time. And every day that’s already happened has taken fools that much closer to their deaths. Out, out, brief candle. Life is nothing more than an illusion. It’s like a poor actor who struts and worries for his hour on the stage and then is never heard from again. Life is a story told by an idiot, full of noise and emotional disturbance but devoid of meaning.
Of course, if you bear in mind the limitations of translating Shakespeare and give yourself the freedom to take it with a grain of salt, that could work too.
So there’s a basic guide for first time readers. Let me know if you agree with my approach, what strategies work for you, and if these techniques were helpful!