It has been a bloody two summers in Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park.
“The past two years have been a lot of death on stage,” said Rick Dildine, artistic and executive director of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis. “There is a high body count. Henry IV, Henry V, Antony and Cleopatra … I wanted something that ended with marriage and happiness.”
The logical choice? William Shakespeare’s arguably most famous comedy: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
It also helps that St. Louis audiences “ask for it all the time,” he said. It’s been 14 years since the last production of the play and there are some distinctive changes this time around.
There’s original, folksy music scored by Peter Mark Kendall (you may know him from The Americans, Chicago Fire or Girls), which was recorded by St. Louis’ own Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra.
There’s also a specially-crafted beer, 1616, produced by Schlafly especially for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
There’s a set of mischievous identical twins pulling more hijinks than the beloved character of Puck usually does. Read more about that here, from the Cut & Paste podcast.
And you’ll see something that’s becoming a burgeoning trend in theater: actors providing their own accompaniment on stage.
“It creates that kind of campfire feel where everyone is participating,” said actress Nancy Anderson, who plays the role of Titania, the queen of the fairies.
Anderson made her premiere in St. Louis in the late 1990s with the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and, later, with the Muny. She says she’s no stranger to St. Louis’ quick changes in summer weather.
While this is Timothy Carter’s first time performing in St. Louis, he’s no stranger to outdoor Shakespeare. He’s performed in Colorado and Nebraska. In St. Louis, he’s playing the role of Oberon, Titania’s love-to-hate him husband.
“There’s something so special about putting that huge language, that extraordinary language in the sky with trees,” Dildine said of the festival’s outdoor setting. “They match up incredibly well.”
This is Dildine’s fifth time doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but his first time directing it. A year and half ago, when he reread the play, he was drawn back to the universality of the words.
“The amount of love, the desire to love, what happens when you’re not loved…400 years ago or today, that’s something we all share,” Dildine said.
There’s other modern themes that come to light as well — especially in the middle of Titania and Oberon’s fighting.
“Titania gives this very famous soliloquy about how their fighting has caused the seasons to alter,” Anderson said. “It is eerie how much that mirrors what’s happening to our environment today.”
Anderson said that’s what particularly makes Midsummer a special Shakespeare play: people can easily find connection to it.
“What I think Rick does so beautifully with his company is that he comes into the room the first day of rehearsal with the kind of energy that Shakespeare approached it with himself,” Anderson said. “It is a fun, crazy convoluted story that should be understood. Our production has that great spirit, ebullience and the clarity to show you how emotions 400 years ago are the same as they are the day. Love is the same. The way it makes you crazy is the same. I think we communicate that in a very modern, accessible way.”
What: Shakespeare Festival St. Louis Presents "A Midsummer Night’s Dream"
When: June 3 – 26 at 8:00 p.m. every night but Tuesday
Where: Shakespeare Glen on Fine Arts Drive east of the Art Museum in Forest Park
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