Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Midsummer Night's Dream

The “Dream” Cast

Five days after Mikado closed, I got lost in a forest trying to find my audition location.

But I got a part in A Midsummer Night's Dream! I’m Peaseblossom and Fairy. I think I do fae better than human. Too much glitter as a child?

Also, did you know that an entire Shakespeare play can be read in one go? That it does not have to be broken down and spread out over a semester? And that it can be fun? Someone needs to tell the English departments asap.


Rehearsals were held at an old camp with a big grassy field surrounded by cabins. June flew by because I had all of two rehearsals, and then rehearsals (for me, at least) began in earnest in July. The cast was an odd mixture of G&S people and former students of the directors. And all were extremely good-looking. Am I allowed to say that? I’ve never been in such an attractive cast.

My scenes were mostly with the Fairy Queen and the other three fairies. We also had two dances—choreography was killer indoors without A/C—and one song that we created ourselves using a background track and a shorter version of Shakespeare’s lyrics.

There was a lot of music in the show. I’m not sure what soundtrack they used, but most was quite light with a Celtic feel. The fairy entrance music got to the point where we’d wake up—leap up—just hearing it.

When we were able to, we rehearsed outdoors on the grass. So freeing! And dirty! But freeing! Fairies do much better with space to play and frolic and the show became more cohesive as larger chunks were played out at once.
Unfortunately, working outside meant working with outside noises. Once during our lullaby, a group of motorcycles drove past. During one of Helena’s speeches, an airplane flew overhead, a truck drove past, and a nearby train blasted its horn. She paused for each, and kept going.
We did a photoshoot in costume on the beach for promo shots—fun but a little awkward as it was one of the first rehearsals and the fairies didn’t all know each other. One picture was of all five of us—fairies with Queen—jumping off a log and “flying.” As I learned much, much later, the other four were going for a floaty look, whereas I went for a spread-eagle look. Sigh.

We also practiced using “magic dust” for the scenes with spells. The only characters who got mic’d were Oberon—the Fairy King—Titania and Puck, and only when they were saying spells. It was a cool effect but glitter in the eye still sucks. A couple different types were tried out and a couple different cast mates ended up with glitter permanently embedded in their skin.
During our first full-costume rehearsal, there was a thunderstorm. Drenching rain, hissing wind, shining lightning, the whole shebang. Suddenly the magical scenes became so much more magical. And awesome!
…Especially since I had a ride home that night. Most nights, I took two buses each way, about an hour in transit. This was only bearable since two—sometimes more!—of us took the same route and there was a Tim Hortons halfway through.

This was my first real play and my first Shakespeare, so I was getting nervous. My scene with Puck opened with me dancing and being silly until she interrupted me. To be honest, dancing and being silly—silently—was my favourite part of the scene. But the rest of it was still fun. Puck’s miming of acorn cups always got a laugh and we were plain goofy.
Meanwhile, the lovers scenes were becoming more and more established. The amount of lines they memorized—and understood—was crazy intimidating but it made so much more sense with their physicality. There was a fight scene between Lysander and Demetrius where they bitch slapped and pinched and punched and then attempted to canoodle with Helena. And all of Helena’s scenes were spectacular. Girl could recite a grocery list and still have presence.
There was a slight hitch when Demetrius showed up at rehearsal with half—just half!—of his hair shorn off. Right side of his head was shaggy. Left side was bald with bangs. This was eventually solved with a surprisingly realistic comb-over in which everyone breathed a sigh of relief and the stage managers sent out a stern email about appearances.
A few weeks before opening, the fairies had a make-up rehearsal in which we all met up at a school and played with glitter while back-combing our hair. The directors wanted untraditional make-up, more animalistic than girly. I ended up with a firebird on my nose—gold and brown wings—with peacock circles on one side, and golden, glittering fake eyelashes.
And did I mention glitter? And more glitter? And—oh look! More glitter!

Since the society was brand new—Midsummer was their first show—we didn’t know how ticket sales would go. But within days of tickets being released online, all five shows sold out completely! Over a thousand tickets!
On the Sunday before opening, we got to rehearse at the venue for the first time. It was spectacular. The stage was built outdoors on the edge of the beach, under a great big white tent so that the audience could look past the actors at the water.

The greenroom was another tent blocked off by potted trees, with corners curtained off for changing and plastic interlocking flooring with bottles of glitter hairspray everywhere. The outside, where the audience members would come in towards the main tent, was decorated with flags and candles and signs with fancy old-English-style writing. Considering a week beforehand it had been nothing but a gravel lot, it was startling pretty, especially during sunset. The only downside to the venue was, alas, the port-a-pottys.
For that rehearsal--the last normal rehearsal--I came straight from work, which made for the start of a long week. I was nervous because we were days from opening and I was still getting the same note from the directors since we’d begun: be louder. For months, every rehearsal, same note; and it was wearing on me that I couldn’t seem to improve.
Tech Rehearsal (Monday)

At tech rehearsal, we had bigger problems than projection. Some of the Rude Mechanicals had taken to playing and experimenting onstage during their scenes, instead of what the directors had preferred in earlier rehearsals. This caused some issues since playing made the show longer, and because the amount of physicality meant that deviating could be dangerous. Also, kinda unprofessional.
…which led to friction between actors which led to tech rehearsal being stopped entirely. Drama!
Eventually, things were tentatively worked out and rehearsal resumed amidst considerable tension and gossip. The gossip was typical, but the tension was new.

Dress Rehearsal (Tuesday)

At dress rehearsal, relations amongst the cast improved, while I fretted over shoes and lines. I was wearing soft jazz shoes, that are really just cloth with elastic overtop. I wore them in Mikado, but here we were walking outdoors on gravel  and it was uncomfortable, sometimes painful.
The costumers couldn’t do anything about my shoes or the gravel, but I was able to talk directly with one of the directors about projection. Specifically, my lack of projection and why am I such a failure. She gave me some pointers and reminded me that I’m up against an ocean.
That night I didn’t feel nervous. My scene went great. It felt great. I projected the crap outta it, as loud as I could, and at intermission, one of the directors told me I’d nailed it.
Ready for Opening Night!
Opening Night! (Wednesday)

We got a standing ovation!
Our first real audience—who all had real sunglasses. Their gorgeous view of the stage in front of the water was hindered by the full blast of the sun at sunset, so everyone was given a pair. It worked fine, but for us on stage, it made them all look like secret agents.

I almost—but didn’t!— slip during one of the dances. The stage is particularly slippery because it’s dusty and our jazz shoes have become increasingly less stable as they become smoother with wear. In one dance, I have to run all the way around the stage, a big circle where I run behind Stumpy-the-Chair, right at the far edge of the stage.
The stage is six feet high and does not have a railing. Or a safety net for clumsy fairies.
I did not fall, thankfully, although I did do a wacky arm movement for balance. Running around the edge will now be considerably slower...

We also experienced the singular experience of Hermia’s burping. Hermia—a very sweet woman who wears an elaborate blonde wig for each show—gets nervous before and during shows and it makes her burp. Loudly. It’s actually quite impressive for such a loud sound to come from such a petite body.
Second show (Thursday) 

I made the ‘projection team!’ During a pre-show group talk with the directors, they pointed me out as being one of the loudest in the cast. Finally!

We did a group warm-up, the fairies ran through our lullaby harmonies, I ran through my mini-monologue, and Helena, Hermia and Puck squatted and made very low frog sounds. Everyone has their own warm-up. Don’t judge.
My costume was easy as I didn’t have any changes during the show. It was a green bodysuit with “seaweed” all over it (but I am not a frog and will not respond to ‘Froggy’). The lovers and their entourage all had to change into formal wear for the last act however, and the rude mechanicals had to get into their play-within-a-play costumes. The fairies helped by putting lipstick on a man and helping the lion get his roar on. Always fun.

This show was particularly nerve-wracking as my sister and our choreographer were coming. But it went well! No major slip-ups and I projected the hell outta that stage!

Third Show (Friday)

Another sold-out crowd, another standing ovation!
It’s a little weird sitting side by side with my boyfriend while we both do our make-up. I guess that’s show business, but it’s still weird. Once when I was half-way through my make-up, with mostly browns on my face, he turned to me and said, “You look like I beat you.”

We did our group warm-up, which ended with everyone shouting “came in her eye!” before separating. Immature maybe, but it’s an actual line in the show.
Not actual lines include a game sometimes played while everyone did their make-up: replace a word in a line with ‘butthole.’ Also immature. Also fun. (“Now the hungry butthole roars...” “You juggler! You canker-blossom! You butthole!”)
The lovers had a bit of a flub during their scene, when a line was missed and the rhythm stuttered until they got back into it. It was a tiny flub, but Shakespeare is so particular that there’s no ad libbing possible.
Near the very end of the show, Puck has a monologue where she whispers spookily, “Now the hungry lion roars, and the wolf howls at the moon.” Tonight, she said, “Not the hungry lion roars,” and immediately a speedboat off on the water started up its engine making a huge roaring sound! So perfect it sounded rigged!
After the standing O, we ran offstage after the bows, into the greenroom, and everyone danced and chanted, “Bergomask!” over and over again until we were happily exhausted. A perfect ending to a great night!
Fourth Show (Saturday)

It was much breezier tonight, meaning more waves and therefore more background noise to overcome. But fewer mosquitos!
With the wind came some angry clouds but—luckily—no thunderstorms. Even light rain would make the show difficult as there’s no cover between the greenroom and any entrance to the stage. But any lightning would mean the whole show would have to be canceled because our tent is held up by lovely metal poles.
The audience was absolutely fantastic, very responsive. They laughed right at the start of my scene with Puck and again at Puck’s acorn cups. They’re funny moments but it’s the first time the audience sees fairies—any fairy—so often they don’t get many laughs. But not tonight!
Puck was played by a woman—not entirely uncommon—who was incredibly flexible and could contort herself into the oddest positions. She clapped with her feet, leaped fearlessly, and made a green spandex bodysuit look good (I know, I didn’t think I could be done either). The bows were originally staged to have the lovers bow last but this was changed after a few shows—on recommendation from the lovers—that she take the last bow. And from the audience’s reaction to her, they agreed.

Unfortunately, during the last act during the wedding entertainment tonight, one of the lovers’ goblets of water was knocked over. There wasn’t much water in it, and nothing they could do about it at the time.
In itself, not a big deal. Until us fairies came on after them to dance, and one of us slipped. Not me! She was up in a snap but the thud gave it away. In other news, we got a review praising the entire show, including the fairies lullaby for our harmonies!
Closing Night (Sunday)

The end is nigh!
We got to set super early for the cast photo and so we could do our make-up in the squishy greenroom (seven mirrors, twenty odd cast members…) in peace. I ended up spending most of the afternoon talking with my Fairy Queen, who’d I gotten to know fairly well, and taking many, many pictures.
The stage manager played 90’s rock hits over the speaker while our other stage manager danced with us—spontaneous dancing was her specialty—as we got ready. My hair doubles in size when I backcomb it. Sad, yet impressive.
During the show, we can hear what’s going on through the speakers and we can sneak behind the tent and peek through to watch. I usually only watched a few scenes a night, depending on when I was ready and what else there was to do. Some of the others played Headbands backstage, and Philostrate used to read Plato (and she finished it too!).
There were a few scenes that I just loved to watch. The opening where Theseus chases the giggling Hippolyta onstage and attempts to steal her apple. The lovers fights—between Lysander and Demetrius, and between Hermia and Helena—were so much fun and a prime example of why Shakespeare should be seen and not just read (ahem, every English department ever).
Near the beginning, Helena tells Dementius that she is utterly willing and would be happy if he treated her merely as a dog. It’s a scene I never particularly liked until Helena brought out her puppy dog eyes and looked so adorable imitating a cocker spaniel that how could you not want her! There was also a scene where Lysander—under a spell—takes a look at Hermia and is so disgusted with her that he almost vomits as he exits. Priceless.
The play-within-a-play scene was utter ridiculousness. I still don’t know what ‘loam’ is and suspect the others don’t either, but it must be impressive. Plus, the Wall got both his ears kissed by men. Always fun. Meanwhile, the Director character mouthed along the lines with the actors in the corner, the lion roared, the man used falsetto, the woman (but not the woman character) snapped, and Bottom died. Insanity.

A wonderful way to spend the summer!