Thursday, Oct. 16 marked opening night of the Theater Department’s production of the Shakespearean comedy “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.” Students, parents and grandparents alike packed into the Warehouse Theater for the first production of APU theater’s 20th anniversary season, filling the room with boisterous laughter throughout the show.

Through comic misadventures and energetic repartee, the play recounts the tangled love story of Lysander, Demetrius, Helena and Hermia. The production features flapper-evocative costumes from the setting of America in 1920, the same year women were granted the right to vote through nationwide ratification of the 19th Amendment. Director Christopher Manus explained that the era was a good fit for the play because of parallels relating to the female status quo.

“I immediately thought of 1920s Gatsby era, primarily because the show has such strong female characters and it’s a lot about the female characters finding their identity as women apart from male counterparts or parents, or culture and society,” Manus said.

Opening Night of A Midsummer's Night Dream

A scene featuring dialogue between Oberon (Owen Smith) and Titania (Mackenzie Breeden) while the living forest moves behind them Photo by Austin O'Bien

Much of the play takes place in an ethereal forest with revolving set pieces, designed by Christopher Keene, associate professor of technical theater. The enchanted dreamscape was further brought to life by the eerie movements of a living forest played by several actors.

Opening night included a pre-show lecture with the show’s vocal coach, Kirsten Humer, and a post-show talkback in which audience members asked Manus and the actors questions about the production.

In her lecture, Humer explained that many of Shakespeare’s puns and rhymes and the assonance of his writings are lost on modern audiences because of the way vowel pronunciations have evolved. On a larger scale, Humer said that Christians should consider speech an “act of translation” because they are breathing life into words.

“We must allow the text to speak through us,” Humer said, later adding that “the beauty in a sound comes from its inherent musicality, muscularity and expressiveness.”

During the talkback, the director and actors shared their personal experiences with learning to embody physical comedy and to interpret nuances in the play, among other topics.

Having not seen a Shakespearean comedy before, sophomore political science major Carly Bell explained that she was pleasantly surprised by the lighthearted moments of the play.

Enchanted Forest

The ethereal forest set of the play centered around a large tree and was brought to life by actors playing the living forest, pictured here.
Photo by Austin O'Brien

“It made me laugh out loud several times, and I found it to be very enjoyable,” Bell said.

Manus, who has both acted in and designed sets for productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” expressed that directing the play has been one of his longtime desires and he was honored when approached to direct the show at APU.

“It brings together two of my biggest loves — storytelling as well as teaching,” Manus said. “I love having the privilege of seeing the growth in the students.”

From casting in May to opening night last week, the process for the play spanned nearly six months. Manus expressed that although it was difficult at times to maintain energy and focus, preparation for the play offered actors a unique opportunity to collaborate with a broader scope of theater elements than they would in smaller, more minimalist productions.

Senior BFA acting major Mackenzie Breeden, who plays the part of the fairy queen Titania, emphasized that the language of the play was her favorite part of the production process.

To be able to fully embody the words of Shakespeare and speak in such a classical manner is so fulfilling as an actor,” Breeden said.

While the play is considered a comedy, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” also explores more serious topics. Senior BFA acting major Claire Schuttler, who plays Helena, explained that play is a reminder that love is not a cure-all for the challenges of life.

Love requires some hardship, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth working for,” Schuttler said. “And even though this theme is put into a comical situation through the plot of this show, I think it reminds us well of this fact.”

Manus remarked that plays such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that were written for a different time period and culture still retain their relevance today.

“We just need to keep doing the classics, because they still speak to us today,” Manus said.

The play continues to show at 7:30 p.m. from Oct. 23-26, with 2 p.m. matinees on October 25 and 26. Tickets can be purchased at the door, online or at the ticket booth adjacent to Felix Event Center. The Theater Department has numerous other shows scheduled for this school year, including “Spitfire Grill,” “Picnic” and the upcoming Holocaust play “Kindertransport,” opening Nov. 13.