.. ng the two film versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I envisioned something much more casual and lighthearted, even funny, for our own performance of Act III, Scene ii. Because of this, and probably because of the nature of the cast in general, our group took on a more youthful, somewhat ridiculous approach to the play. Demetrius was played by a woman, Lysander dressed in ruffles and knickers, Helena victimized and shrewish to the extreme, and Hermia was more often than not stepping into violen!ce. Nevertheless, in some ways we found ourselves doing exactly the things that we saw in the films. For example, once performing, it was not difficult to see elements of the characters we play in us; specifically, we more often than not felt and appeared like the Rude Mechanicals.
We were not unlike them, coming together with nothing but a script, none of us actors. (Heather the Grant Writer, Tricia the Administrator, Giselle the Grader, Matt the Director, all of us students.) Beginning with nothing but bare Shakepearean text, we assigned roles, gave out scripts, rehearsed, and performed. At Swanton Ranch, The Dream Team stood in a forest to practice our play, hearing Puck recite, A crew of patches, rude mechanicals, that work for bread upon Athenian stalls, were met together to rehearse a play. (Act III, Scene ii, MND) We were much the same. We even had some hard-hat rude mechanicals accidentally appear in the background as we spoke! Even before we arrived, though, a place was sought out f!or us, our director no doubt having thoughts much like these: Pat, pat; and here’s a marvail’s convenient place for our rehearsal. This green plot shall be our stage, this hawthorn brake our tiring house.
(Act III, Scene i, MND) Once done, like the lovers in the scene, we return to the real world, away from the forest, back to the realities of work and school: When they next wake, all this derision shall seem a dream and fruitless vision, and back to Athens shall the lovers go. (Act III, Scene ii, MND) And so we did. Although we for the most part succeeded in building our own version of the play, some similarities like these could not be escaped: I could not help but notice that the actions taken in the play were mirroring what was going on in reality. Through Shakespeare s ability to create a-play-within-a-play-within-a-play, I found being a rude mechanical broadening to my overall impressions of the play-buildi!ng experience. Seeing our forest performance on film gave an entirely different perspective still. Some members of the faculty, some friends, and some strangers came to our screening to see the fruit of our creative weekend in Swanton Ranch.
We put a lot of time and practice into our scene, making sure that we had our lines, that they flowed right, that we looked right. We brought the scenes from just a text, clear through to performance, and were now able to look back over the whole creative process. In the theatre, however, just before our showing, our performance somehow seemed less serious to me. I was so afraid that we were all going to embarrass ourselves! The lines I said when I was Philostrate suddenly came back to me. No, my noble lord, it is not for you. I have heard it over, and it is nothing, nothing in the world; unless you can find sport in their intents, extremely stretched and conned with cruel pain, to do you service. (Act V, Scene i, MND) Much like Bottom’s company, we were good not because of any phenomenal talent, but because we tried, because we were simple people trying to do Shakespeare. Like them, we were not actors, but were still able to experience the fullness of the creative process, bringing to fruition our own comedic rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare I believe that it is not by accident that our play turned out as it did.
It could not be but that Shakepeare intended for us, the actors, to relate to Bottom s company, to everyone who ever put on A Midsummer Night s Dream or any other production. This is part of Shakepeare s genius: to be able to write into the play a reflection of ourselves, to see our own creative processes being mirrored by those of the characters we coarsely attempt to play. Even now, when the actual performance of our scene is over, I look back through the t!ext and still see my group in it: when I read the word, Demetrius, I no longer picture the old Demetrius I first imagined, or even those I saw in film. Now I see Tricia in her funny pseudo-masculine hat. The play has somehow become ours.
Even if we hadn t put on the play, though, and felt none of it for ourselves, reading about the rude mechanicals and their creative process gives a reader valuable insight. Shakespeare did not just hand down to us a script, expecting the layman to figure out how to make it happen. Instead, it is as if he included his own little instruction manual in the play, teaching all who will learn to bring it from the mere green text to the ripe fruit of performance. Personal Notes The class in retrospect was a very good experience. Before the quarter began, when I first learned that our class would be taking a field trip together, I was hesitant. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend a weekend away from home, in !a cabin in the hills with my Shakespeare class.
I was not convinced that it would be more than an uncomfortable experience. I didn’t at all expect what actually came out of it, something that I praise God so much for, which had virtually nothing to do with Shakespeare at all. The contact that I had with my group has become invaluable to me this quarter. I got to know people that weekend that I otherwise would hardly have talked to had I not been required to spend so much time outside of class with them. Tricia, Giselle, Matt and I are good friends; how could we be otherwise when we rehearsed together so often, rode 8 hours in the car together, left Matt’s clothes behind, shopped the sales together at Macy’s, ate meals, and hiked 20 minutes into the forest together? I learned about three people who share my faith, shared a candy bar with Joel, and did my classmates’ dishes.
I saw them from morning to evening in lights and places so different from the norm. They seem to me pe!ople now, and friends, not just bodies with mouths in chairs.par Besides being purely social, going to Swanton Ranch really opened up my educational experience. Although our actual film isn’t going to win any Academy Awards, it felt like we were doing something real, and not just commenting on everyone else’s work. The air was great, the change was great, and bringing a play from text to performance gave me a whole new attitude towards theatrics in general. I learned how much work goes into doing even just a scene, how many elements there are to look after, and how much effort it takes to make everything look somewhat believable and real.
Being at the end of the process now, being able to see where we started from clear through to the finish, I feel like my understanding of Shakespeare has really broadened. Not so much Shakespeare himself, of course, but rather what he did, what he tried to accomplish; I have a much greater sense of what all actors and crew go through to put a play together, text to performance, start to !finish. There is a small part of me that wants to keep doing Shakespeare, to do all of the play, or at least do it again. Another part of me, the more persuasive and logical part, wants to just keep it all right where it is in my mind, remembering it fondly, as A Dream.