Producing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

A Midsummer Night's Dream Poster and logo for saleBy William Shakespeare
PERFORMANCE LENGTH: About 2 hrs. and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

ACTING: Medium

SET DESIGN: Easy

COSTUME DESIGN
: Easy

CAST POTENTIAL:
This play allows for a large, flexible cast: 21 (13M, 8W) speaking roles and a chorus of attendants and fairies.

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CROWD REACTION: This is one of Shakespeare’s most popular (and most accessible) comedies.

GENRE:
Comedy

SUMMARY:
Hermia loves Lysander. Demetrius loves Hermia. Helena loves Demetrius. And no one loves Helena. When these four lovers seek to find their hearts desire in the forest on a late summer’s evening, they unwittingly fall into the crossfire of an amorous quarrel between two powerful fairies, Oberon and Titania, and get caught in a world of fantasy, spells, and misrule. Suddenly Demetrius and Lysander fall head over heels for Helena, and Hermia is the one left out of the loop!

Meanwhile, a motley crew of players, referred to as the “rude mechanicals,” is plotting a play to perform before the court. Unfortunately, their rehearsals in the forest are also disrupted by the fairies’ games when the lead actor, Bottom, gets his head transformed into that of a donkey.  Because of Oberon’s magic, Titania falls passionately in love with Bottom in his beastly form. By the play’s end, all turmoil is undone and each is paired with their rightful love. The final act features the rude mechanicals’ play which bids the court (and the audience) adieu.

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS:
Shakespeare’s comedies are a great source for large ensembles. This play in particular features many distinctly colorful roles that a cast would relish to play. While it features the typical ingénue, Hermia, the brutish suitors, Lysander and Demetrius, and the slightly ugly but well-meaning Helena, it also offers a bevy of comedic roles for all types of actors, including the sexy fairy king and queen, the mischievous Puck, and the bumbling rude mechanicals (who often steal the show, even in a play filled with funny characters).

Other than the lovers, this play also offers the opportunity for flexible casting. Many of the characters can be played by either gender.

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS:
The text of Shakespeare’s play tells the audience everything they need to know (time, setting, costumes, etc.), allowing for minimal technical elements. And, given its fanciful nature, directors and designers alike are afforded great latitude towards the scenic elements. While some set it in ancient Athens, as the text suggests, others choose to contemporize the piece to address some of the script’s more modern themes. Peter Brook’s once directed it with circus elements inside a large, white box. The possibilities are literally endless.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:
Like all of Shakespeare’s comedies, this play is filled with bawdy humor and double entendres hinting towards sexual themes. Because the language is so dense, however, a director can choose to play-up or tone down these jokes as they see fit. Certainly, the play’s comedy holds up remarkably well even without the sexuality, a testament to Shakespeare’s craftsmanship.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS:
This is a universal comedy but is suited well for high school students because its themes are incredible relatable with what young adults experience on a daily basis. The lovers in this play experience the pangs of rejection, the pain of desire, and the confusion of love’s whimsy. Love is supposed to be permanent. It is supposed to last through the night. Yet in this play, Lysander falls asleep in love with Hermia and wakes in love with Helena. He, nor Hermia, nor Helena understand the transformation, but it happens none the less. Furthermore, their friendships dissolve in the face of the new loves born. Again, these are universal themes, but these lessons are, for the most part, discovered in adolescence, and high school aged actors can play it with a great deal of empathy.

About Matthew McMahan

Matthew McMahan is an actor, writer, and dramaturg, who has worked both in New York and regionally for theatre companies such as the Wooster Group, the Atlantic Theatre Company, the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Young Playwrights, Inc., and the Living Newspaper. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Drama from Tufts University in Medford, MA.
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