“Whenever we hear about Shakespeare we imagine a bunch of old people in dusty, old costumes doing a five hour-long play and people falling asleep in their seats. This is a smart, sparking play where it goes ‘Bang, Bang, Bang’ and you’re kept on the edge of your seats,” said Sarah Mueller (‘21) after viewing Shakespeare and Company’s Northeast Regional Tour performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Shakespeare and Company’s Northeast Regional Tour performed Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Oyster River High School students in Essentials of English, Shakespeare, and Acting classes this past Friday. Bringing Shakespeare and Company to ORHS has been a tradition for many years and a way to remember the late Martin Brewer, an English teacher at ORHS. Additionally, students are provided with an opportunity to see a live Shakespeare performance and to relate it to what they have learned in class.
Last year, Shakespeare and Company performed MacBeth and returned this year with the magically intricate, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The comedy touches on the themes of love, destiny and dreams by following three main groups: the lovers, the fairies and the theater troupe. What is typically told over the course of five acts, the Northeast Regional Tour performed in 90 minutes and finished with a talk-back from the actors.
Shakespeare is a unit in the Essentials of English curriculum, which is a mandated class for all freshmen at ORHS. Teachers combine reading and understanding of text with a variety of activities to bring Shakespeare to life. “I’m just happy to have my students experience a Shakespeare play,” said Kara Sullivan, who teaches English at ORHS. Teachers aren’t required to teach a specific Shakespeare play so some students will not read the same play as the one being performed. Sullivan expressed her love for the Shakespeare unit. She firmly believes that, “the themes that Shakespeare introduced in his plays are still relevant today.”
“It’s phenomenal experiencing a play that has been written 400-500 years ago and how it still so deeply relates to what we’re experiencing today,” said Kirsten Peacock, who played Titania, Hippolyta and Snout in Friday’s production.
Caitlin Kraft, who played Helena, Peter Quince and Mustardseed, elaborated on why it’s important for teenagers in particular to learn about Shakespeare. “Shakespeare was written at the extreme moments in time and that’s kind of how we live as teenagers,” said Kraft.
Sarah Mueller (‘18) attended the performance as a part of her Acting 2 class, and was blown away, even though she’s seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream a few times before. She enjoyed that the actors interacted with the audience to make it more engaging.
“I think what they really, really got down was the Lamentable Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe,” said Mueller, adding that they amped up the comedy by including side characters commenting on the performance.
Another interesting component of the Northeast Regional Tour is their talk-back after the show, which provides an opportunity to converse with the actors. The seven actors began the time by saying a reflective sentence and asking the students to stand if they agree with statements. Some of these included, “we learn more from our failures than our successes,” “dreams are our true destinies,” and “we cannot control who we love.” Students were asked if they would like to share why they chose to stand or remain seated in order to create an interactive and enticing environment.
The discussion opened up to a question and answer session with the cast where questions ranged from specific questions about Shakespeare plays, to costuming, to the rehearsal process. When asked about how they learn their lines, Kraft invited six students up for a demonstration. She explained how in the rehearsal process, one person will ‘feed’ the actor their line by reading it in small chunks behind them and the actor’s responsibility is to engage with the words and connect with the other actors.
Maggie Sperry (‘21) attended the performance as a part of her Essentials of English class and was a part of the demonstration. Her only experience with Shakespeare before this year was in elementary school and felt like the exercise was beneficial. “We read Othello in class and just seeing [the words] on the page, you don’t see the sounds right away,” but with the help of the actors, the lines made more sense to her.
Just like the performance at ORHS, Shakespeare and Company’s Northeast Regional Tour travels as far north as the New Hampshire Seacoast, south to Maryland and into New York, performing at but not limited to high schools, middle schools, and colleges. Each season they have two shows that participating groups can choose from, this season’s being A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Othello, and then do a talk back after the show and a small workshop.
Alison Howard, who played Hermia, Cobweb and Starveling, explained that many schools will book the troupe because it corresponds with their curriculum. “The plays were not meant to be read necessarily, they were meant to be performed. There’s obviously merit to reading the plays and learning the plot, but to see it on stage with live actors saying these word is a completely different thing.”
Gregory Boover, who took on the roles of Demetrius and Bottom, summarized, “a big part of this tour is just giving students in schools the opportunity to experience live theatre. Of course, a lot of schools have theater programs where students are putting on their own shows, but this gives them an opportunity to watch a show and talk about it.”
For the students and teachers at ORHS, bringing Shakespeare and Company to perform has a bigger purpose than the experience itself. “We always put this on in memory of Mr. Brewer, who was a very important person in our lives. He loved Shakespeare and so every year when we put this on, it’s really important for us to remember him,” said Sullivan.