This September, we're taking you to the mountains. The Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, to be exact. The Rude Mechanicals’ second annual Shakespeare in the Park production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a romantic comedy about four people who flee into the woods and unknowingly encounter the fairy world. Meanwhile, a rag-tag group of tradespeople come together to rehearse a play for the court. Worlds collide, affections are manipulated, and someone may (or may not) turn into a donkey.
You might be asking, "What do fairies, lovers, and community actors have to do with West Virginia?" The biggest challenge when mounting Shakespeare productions is the imagined barrier of Shakespeare's language. Many audiences believe, for whatever reason, that Shakspeare's writing isn't for them. The reality is that Shakespeare wrote for anyone and everyone — royalty and common folk alike. We attempt to remove the anxiety surrounding the text by connecting the play's plot and story to a context audiences might have more familiarity with than 1600s London.
Our production, set against the backdrop of 1935 West Virginia, mixes Appalachian history and folklore with Shakespeare’s text to form a magical, family-friendly show. Why would audiences connect more with 1935 West Virginia than with 1600s London when they are watching the show in 21st century Eastern Washington? When I was preparing to direct this show, I kept thinking about the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s and how their family feud is so iconic that it's become a prominent part of pop culture and American history. From there, I chose to begin our production with an announcement: The upcoming marriage between Hippolyta and Theseus, descendants of the Hatfields and Mccoys, is to occur, creating a union which will hopefully end the bad blood between the two communities. The idea of Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding bringing everyone together felt like a great way to connect Shakespeare’s language to a part of our modern day's shared cultural knowledge.
If you’re already a Shakespeare fan, skip to paragraph 6.
If you’re not, read on.
“But I don't really do Shakespeare, it's too hard to understand!” This is a common frustration those of us who produce Shakespeare's plays hear a lot. I'd like to put the language aside for just a moment and talk about the root of theatre and why we do what we do. Theatre is about telling a story in a way that engages the audience and connects us — the storytellers — to them for the brief moments we share together. If we are to tell stories that connect us to the audience, we have to focus first on making the text understandable and relatable, which is easier than you might think with Shakespeare. The text solves the very problems it presents.
I recently learned from Cyndi Kimmel, the Artistic Director of The Rude Mechanicals and Dramaturg for this production, that around 95% of all of Shakespeare's language includes words we still use today. While Shakespeare's text is, in terms of phrasing and rhythm, written differently than how we might phrase things today, the language itself is actually quite familiar. The Rude Mechanicals focus significantly on text analysis and understanding the language so that when our actors are performing it, there's no question as to what they're saying, and the relationships between characters, feelings, and action are easy to track. I believe this is the best way to experience Shakespeare.
I speak on behalf of the entire company when I say I really hope you'll join us for one of the performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The cast has spent countless hours studying the text and preparing characters to tell you a story that will hopefully make you laugh, think, and who knows, maybe even swoon.
Performances are on Friday, September 8 at 7pm; Saturday, September 9 at 7pm; and Sunday, September 10 at 2pm at The Fingernail Stage at Howard Amon Park in Richland, WA. The production is free of charge and open to the public, but donations will be welcome at the venue. More information at rmtheatre.org.
The Rude Mechanicals produce kickass Shakespeare in Eastern Washington State. http://www.rmtheatre.org , @rm_theatre