Most Shakespearean plays don’t open with an a capella rendition of Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again,” but UM’s recent production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was nothing but ordinary.
Perhaps one of the most performed works of Shakespeare, behind titles such as “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet,” the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) musical theater students staged the production entirely outdoors from March 31-April 3, strategically located in the shade behind the university’s School of Architecture and adjacent to Lakeside Village.
Complete with a modern twist, including popular contemporary songs like Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again,” Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” and Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” the show was updated to properly fit the space the students had to perform in. High energy and high-paced, the production combined laugh out loud comedy with brilliant acting performances.
Dressed in a mix of costume pieces from both today’s fashion and older times, the theater students acted their hearts out, with the direction of professor Jessica Bashline.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” follows the stories of several groups of lovers who come to emotional turmoil when they are lost in a forest with fairies who use their powers to manipulate the lovers’ interests. As the couples fall in and out of love, a mischievous spirit Puck, among others, guides and manipulates them in their conquests.
Allegra Rosa, a senior BFA who portrayed the role of Hermia, discussed the production experience with TMH.
“It really allowed us to immerse ourselves in the world of the play,” Rosa said. “It’s written for parts of it to take place outside in the woods. We can actually run through the trees, so the audience is actually sitting in the world of the play.”
“You could watch actors technically offstage behind trees but they were still actors playing characters and it really made it feel like an immersive experience,” Rosa continued.
Luciana Ragolia, a fellow senior castmate of Rosa’s who brought the role of Titania to life, agreed with Rosa’s explanation.
“It allowed us to establish the given circumstances of the play,” Ragolia added. “You don’t have to rely on lighting and set.”
Rosa discussed how performing outside isn’t always the most convenient strategy for staging.
“Being outside we don’t have mics so it’s really hard to pull focus when you’re speaking with all of the outdoor sounds,” Rosa said. “We aren’t in a space where the sound can really bounce off. The biggest downfall for me was projecting and really learning how to get my vocal technique under wraps to project.”
Using the outdoor space to their advantage, the Shakespearean production was staged in a triangle rather than the more popular “round” formation.
“We were able to block it in a triangle, which in theater you normally can’t do. It was easier than being in the round because you have three points of focus,” Ragolia said. “It was cool and it was so different.”
Unfortunately, due to unpredictable weather concerns over the weekend, not every night of performances took place outdoors and it was relocated to the Lakeside Auditorium.
Ragolia addressed the production’s decision to add modern music, technology and fashion, telling TMH how the decision improves audience awareness.
“Nobody wants to sit through a five-act play anymore,” Ragolia said. “You have to put things in it that are going to catch people’s ear so that they actually know what’s going on. It’s easy to not understand Shakespeare because you don’t know the language because it’s so heightened. By adding in little snippets of contemporary technology, it helps the audience to follow along.”
“At times, it felt silly, but ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is a comedy,” Ragolia further explained. “I realized people are going to find this funny because it is funny. It’s not embarrassing. It’s campy.”
Referencing a specific romantic stage moment where Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” is played on violin, Rosa laughed along with the director’s decision making.
“When the violin was playing ‘A Thousand Years’ it was hilarious,” Rosa said. “Everyone gets that meme of that song being chosen. Society understands why this song is hilarious to be playing. I love our director. It’s been such an amazing experience with her.”
Sadly, as both performers are seniors, this is the last time each of them will perform at UM as students. With emotion, Ragolia gushed about what a pleasure it’s been working with Rosa.
“We did our first show here together and now we are doing our last show here together,” Ragolia said. “It’s full circle and it’s sad. I could cry at any moment.”