Behind The Scenes Of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' With The Cast And Director

The dances in the show, choreographed by Pomona Lecturer in Dance Elm Pizarro, perfectly blended hip-hop style with a magical, fantastical setting. (Courtesy of Theatre and Dance Department for The Claremont Colleges)

The set was alive with fairy magic, incorporating deep blues, purples, and greens, from the color-changing lighting to the graffiti backdrop to the long strands of leaves and flowers hanging from the ceiling. (Courtesy of Theatre and Dance Department for The Claremont Colleges)

CAST TALKS CHARACTERS, ACTING, AND SHAKESPEARE

TSL: Can you describe the character you played?

Megan Marshall PO ’20: Titania is the Queen of the Fairies. She is a strong, powerful woman. I think she can be a bit petty at times but nowhere near as petty as Oberon, the Fairy King.

Maya Barbon PZ ’21: Hermia is very strong and has a very big heart. Her world comes crashing down around her numerous times throughout the play, and she always gets back up and keeps fighting for the person that she loves.

Winnie Stack PZ ’18: Helena is a 20-year-old woman in Athens. She is in love with Demetrius ([whom] she used to go out with) and is best friends with Hermia ([whom] Demetrius left Helena for).  

Jon Wilson PO ’19: Nick Bottom is a weaver but his true calling is the stage. … We love Bottom because he’s an absolute idiot but in the best way possible. He’s just full of this joy and this innocence, and it spills out of him in these grand expletive moments of trying to show he can do this, show he’s the best.

Ben Hogoboom PO ’19: Demetrius is a wealthy man in Athens who wants to marry Hermia. He was previously in a relationship with Helena, but in sort of a social climber move married into a more powerful family, so he has to pursue someone who is in love with someone else while also trying [to] repel someone who is in love with him.

Berto Gonzalez PO ’20: Puck is a mischievous fairy and the right hand man (fairy?) to Oberon, the Fairy King. He spends his free time playing tricks on mortals [whom] he finds throughout his daily routine and while doing Oberon's bidding.

Gbeke Fawehinmi PO ’19: Lysander is an optimist at heart, and truly values honesty and loyalty.

TSL: What did you like most about your character, and what did you like least?   

MM: I really like the way [Titania] is able to take up so much space and how much power she has because I feel like that’s something I personally don’t get to experience in everyday life. I think the thing I like the least [about her] is how much Oberon manipulates her, even though that’s not about her personally.

MB: I love her resilience and the love that [Hermia] has for Lysander. She is such a sweet character and such a joy to play. I don’t like her naïveté. There are times where she is so oblivious that she winds up getting hurt, and I wish she was able to avoid that.

WS: What I like most about Helena is her drive for love. Despite the fact that Demetrius has rejected her multiple times, her hopeless romantic passion keeps her determined through whatever hurdles come her way. What I like least about her is her lack of self confidence and self-respect.

JW: The physicality and voice affectation is really fun to play with, and getting to play with my pitch. … Bottom has this very huge monologue at the end … and that’s an absolute blast, but it ruined my voice every night.

BH: I like that Demetrius is passionate and doesn’t really do anything halfway. He really pursues everything to the end, and I respect that. I don’t like that he is sort of able to shift and change his morals and his love for what amounts to like a social climb.

BG: Puck is probably the most fun character that I've played so far in college. Getting myself out of my own skin and into the skin of something so otherworldly was great. It allowed me to really escape myself, while also drawing on my own experience to influence my interpretation of Puck. … I think Puck's least flattering characteristic is his unending dedication to his master.

GF: What I like most about Lysander is that she is willing to fight for her love and happiness, and doesn’t let the confines of the court change who she is or who she wants to be with.

TSL: What was most challenging about playing your character?

MM: I was really stuck with Titania for a while because I think I was playing her as a little bit too submissive. She wasn’t willing to challenge Oberon enough, and I was having a hard time finding the depth of her as just a tired woman in a failing marriage. When I finally discovered all the nuance she has going on, that was a cool thing to overcome.

MB: Taking Shakespeare’s text and trying to understand everything that is being said. His words are so beautiful, but it can be a challenge to translate it all and properly broadcast what we are saying to an audience.

WS: The most challenging part for me was allowing my own physicality to show more through Helena, and to drop into my lower register voice.

JW: About halfway through the process there is a tendency to just get a little bit frustrated. You hit a wall sometimes, and it feels like you can’t quite break through. … For me, it’s a fear of not being good enough, not performing well, or the audience not liking me. Once you can access that, it’s easier to break through the wall and say that doesn’t really matter, and the self-consciousness goes away.

BH: I think the most challenging part was not [to] judge my character. It’s really hard to play somebody that you don’t like, and I think you try to make choices that don’t really feel like a real person. … What Carolyn [the director] would often say is that “you have to find the love in every scene.”

BG: The most challenging part was also the most rewarding: grounding Puck. He is a character that is very easy to stereotype, and at first I was falling into this pitfall.

GF: I think the most challenging part for me was figuring out how to show the effect of fairy magic on the character. … I thought that this “love” [for Helena] should be shown differently from the love that Lysander feels for Hermia, more lustful and excitable.

TSL: What do you like best about “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”?

MM: This is one of my favorite shows that I’ve ever been in. It’s just so fun, and it can be played so many different ways. You can go slapstick, or it can be very dark.

MB: It’s a Shakespeare play about true love, struggling actors, and magic. What’s not to like? I especially love our production. It is so beautiful visually, especially when we go into the magical forest.

WS: What I like most about “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is how it is such an ensemble and community-driven show. I like that there are so many different worlds and perspectives the audience gets to experience in just one play.

JW: Within the Shakespeare canon, it stands out as a play that’s still very accessible. There’s this wonderful joy in every storyline, whether it’s the fairies and Puck’s mischievous pranks or it’s the lovers’ quarrel. Though it’s violent, it’s played for comedy and is very much rooted in how intensely these people do love each other.

BH: I like how human it is and how easy it is to relate to. I think it’s hilarious how there are people marrying for the wrong reasons, people marrying for the right reasons, this sort of stereotype of the actor who is sort of a blockhead. … All these things that are really relatable now were just as common in Elizabethan England.

BG: I really love how unusual the world of the play is and how it takes us out of our day-to-day while we're in it, returning us to our daily lives with some new thoughts and ideas.

GF: What I like most about “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is that it’s not centered around certain characters, but rather it’s a conglomeration of different storylines with different characters interacting in hilarious ways. You have the court, the lovers, the fairies, and the mechanicals, and each group adds a special aspect to the show.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Berto Gonzalez PO ’20 played Puck, the trickster fairy, who made Shakespeare’s lines sound like spoken word poetry and rap, speaking almost completely in rhyme. (Courtesy of Theatre and Dance Department for The Claremont Colleges)

EXPLORE 'A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM' WITH DIRECTOR CAROLYN RATTERAY

TSL: How did the idea to do this production come about?

Carolyn Ratteray: It was in the back of my consciousness as a pretty interesting and magical piece, but also a piece that is not really talked about in terms of really interesting power dynamics that were fascinating for me to explore. ... Our own egos get in the way of our relationships and having control and power over others. There’s a lot of that in “Midsummer.” 

TSL: What was your favorite part about directing this play?

CR: This is a really passionate and talented group of students, and we did a lot of extra hours of rehearsal outside the assigned 6-10 each night. When doing Shakespeare, there’s a lot more work to do in terms of handling the language and the technique involved in speaking Shakespeare, in addition to “What’s my character? What’s my moment?” 

From day one, these actors were completely game. I feel really lucky as a director. It’s been an absolute honor to work with these really talented artists. And the dancers who came in, they’re multitalented. They’re just doing amazing work, too, so it’s been a lot of fun to see all the talents come together in the room.

TSL: What was the most difficult part about directing this play?

CR: As always with any large cast, it’s coordinating schedules, but also the most rewarding part is the same as the most difficult part: making the language come alive. I think some people’s attitude toward Shakespeare is “Oh, I don’t understand it. It’s not accessible.” But when the actors really know what they’re saying, when we’re clear about what story we’re telling, then the audience can’t help but see what story we’re telling. 

TSL: What do you like about this play in general?

CR: I liked that at every level in this play — whether it’s in the court or the woods — there's a really fun and interesting examination of power dynamics. I think people can think of “Midsummer” as a really light and frilly play, which it is. It’s really magical and light and fun, and it’s a comedy. But, it also has this really serious dark underside in terms of the fairy king is basically drugging his partner in order to get what he wants. In modern day language and understanding, that’s a horrible thing to do. It’s interesting to highlight the power dynamic — the tensions. The examination of relationships in all areas of the show had been really interesting for me.

TSL: What is special about your specific production of this play? Did you change anything?

CR: Because we had two women playing Hermia and Lysander, we did change some of the pronouns when characters were referencing them. I also placed some women in roles typically assigned to men. 

Is it so much different? Or is it just, every director is going to have their particular take or approach to a piece? … I’m an African American cisgendered female. I’m queer. [So,] using the lens like “Why can’t there be a queer lover storyline in this?” seems pretty normal and natural to me. 

When I read Shakespeare’s language, there is such a musicality in so many of the speeches because of the rhyme pattern that Puck speaks in. As soon as I hear that, it reminds me of spoken word and hip-hop, so why not incorporate that lens into it as well? … Shakespeare’s words were meant to be heard. Hip-hop is also form of poetry meant to be heard. 

The king and queen are in a battle, so “Oh, how do I tell that story?” For me, one of the first things that comes to mind is [that] I’ve always seen dance battles as a way of telling a story about two opposing forces. The genre where I’ve seen dance battles is hip-hop. So that’s where that came from.

TSL: Is there anything else you would like to add?

CR: Just to give another shoutout to the students I've been working with. It really moves me to work with a group of such talented and dedicated artists. It’s been a pleasure, a deep, deep joy, to go through this journey with them. And shoutout to the choreographer and all the designers who [made] this come to life. It looks beautiful.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The costumes, designed by Wardrobe Supervisor Devon Horn PO ’18, contributed to making the world come alive, shining and glittering when the dancers moved. (Courtesy of Theatre and Dance Department for The Claremont Colleges)