Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Last Saturday at midnight, a crowd waited eagerly at the mouth of the trail that leads to Crum Meadow. A little after midnight, a band of merry men made their way down to the crowd and led the audience with boisterous singing, twinkling fairy lights, and paper lanterns.
Homemade lanterns lit by candles lined the road, as well as brighter guiding lights. The procession made their way down winding trails to a large and brightly-lit tent in the distance for the midnight showing of The Fall 2013 Production Ensemble’s performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The show was also performed on November 14th and 15th at 8 PM and November 16th at 4 PM.
Mismatched rugs and space heaters warmed the tent, which seated a large capacity comfortably. Ushers offered cozy blankets and worn pillows for more comfort.
Directed by K. Elizabeth Stevens, Swarthmore Professor of Theater, A Midsummer Night’s Dream ran for approximately two and a half hours into the night. The unusual choice of setting the show in the Crum Woods ended up being beneficial to the mystical and earthy nature of the play.
Stevens deliberately used the dark backdrop of the woods to enhance the organic aspects of the play. Contrasting layers created an interesting depth, such as the placement of actors in the woods against the placement of actors in the tent. The deconstruction of the barrier between the contained stage and the woods behind it introduced a sense of drifting between the physical world and fantasy.
“What was fun was that performing in the night, it was able to create a really nice contrast between the dark nature of the Crum and the brightness of the tents,” said Andrew Gilchrist Scott ’16.
The costumes, props, and setting created an ambiguous zeitgeist. With a muted and paled color palette for the Athenians, who were dressed in various shades of white, all black for the Mechanicals, and a brighter, more colorful wardrobe for the fairies, every choice seemed to be deliberate, yet completely natural in its own way. One distinct thread was a bohemian aesthetic.
“The tattered bohemian style reminded me of a traveling circus band and the fairies were inspired by pictures of moss, lichen, and natural stuff,” said Rosie McInnes ‘16, who is a Bryn Mawr College student. “The colors were intentional.”
Stevens, the cast, and the crew added a freshness to this traditional Shakespeare play. Bottom (Scott) broke into a song from the musical Chicago, Demetrius (Patrick Ross ‘15) pulled out his phone in a moment of idleness, and the Mechanicals arrived in what looked like a Toyota Prius blasting songs like Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”
“We didn’t want to make it set in any particular time period […] we put in anything that seemed natural and it automatically led to something modern,” Scott said.
The production turned out to be a large time commitment for the actors. Working extensively on the project allowed for a sense of familiarity between the actors and helped to strengthen relationships they built with their individual characters.
“It was much more about us as actors and everyone interacting as an ensemble and creating a world where we can be comfortable,” said Scott. “It enabled me to realize that every one of my actions on stage had to [be what] a real person would do. You’re representing someone who had reason for doing anything. In that kind of individualization, you’re [able] to develop relationships and a history between characters.”
McInnes said of the experience, “[We were] really creating a work of art […] a lot of tenderness and care was put into it and I felt like something alive was being created. Elizabeth [Stevens] was very clear about the feeling she wanted to evoke.”
The chimerical and fantastical play ended with a scene of revelry as the actors swung through the woods and tent, dancing and singing in line with the free-spirit attitude of the production. The audience rewarded the actors with seemingly enthusiastic applause, evidenced by the scattering of hoots and whistles.
“I personally was so thankful to have been able to share [the show] with people. It’s such a gift to be able to share that work with other[s],” McInnes said.
Photos by Elena Ruyter/The Daily Gazette