In the Dalhousie Arts Centre, a web of bare steel scaffolding is being erected by workers in hard hats. It’s hard to believe this stage will host fairyland when Dal’s fourth-year theatre students present A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the completed set. In this brisk-at-best Nova Scotian spring, it’s even harder to believe that Dal Theatre’s production of Dream will be set in Halifax — at Dalhousie, to be precise. Professor Peter Perrina’s set is based on the chemistry building.
PHOTO ESSAY: Photos of A Midsummer Night's Dream by Nick Pearce
And that’s not the only eyebrow raiser: this Dream version takes place a quantum-leap into the future. “How can I make this last show as fun as possible for a graduating class?” says director Rob McClure with a wide grin. “2015. Let’s try that!”
It’s an irreverent approach, but Shakespeare wouldn’t mind. The Bard and the acting professor go way back. One of Prof. McClure’s first professional jobs was as Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and since then has performed in theatres as diverse as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and Second City.
“It’s wonderful for me to see how much they’ve grown,” says Prof. McClure, who directed A History of American Film last year. And, where Shakespeare hasn’t anticipated the needs and talents of the students, Prof. McClure has helped him along, inserting elements of belly dancing and drumming into the production to showcase the actors’ abilities. He’s still looking for a spot in the script to sneak in some martial arts. Besides that, “I’ve made Flute the bellows-mender into Flute the coffee-maker. He’s a barista.” Similarly, a tinker is now a drummer; he imagines the human characters of Dream as some of the many craftspeople in Nova Scotia.
But for all the fun, a serious undercurrent runs under all the innovations. “I think there’s a yearning for the spiritual,” he says. “The Greeks had it right… the gods lived amongst them… We’ve lost that now.”
A change in scene hasn’t made the material any easier. “I think Shakespeare, especially with Dream… is always a challenge. It’s a challenge to make it real.”
Still, Prof. McClure’s unconventional approach is evident in how he’s taught the students. “I had exercises where we kicked boxes on the final word of the line,” he laughs. “The important information in a Shakespeare line is often at the end.” The fact that he’s taught the students before, however, gives him an edge. “We have a shorthand.”
I half-jokingly opine that the DalTheatre production – “Blade Runner meets Ancient Greece,” in Prof. McClure’s words – sounds very entertaining. At that, he breaks again into his infectious grin. “Yeah,” he chuckles. “I’m looking forward to seeing it myself.”
Rebecca Schneidereit is a second-year arts student majoring in English.
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