We have just wrapped up our first set of design meetings for our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which won’t begin rehearsals until the middle of April.
What, you may ask, happens in an early design meeting? With a play like Midsummer, a big part of the discussion has to center around defining the world in which the play will take place. What are the rules that govern this magical world? What are the normal expectations in this world, and what happens when characters encounter things they don’t expect? The play begins in Athens, Greece, and then quickly moves into an enchanted forest which is governed by fairies. But what are the powers of these fairies, and what kind of a world has to exist in order for us to believe that they are powerful? And what kind of Athens does the performance have to present, in order to allow for the existence of the forest in the first place?
Co-directors Mark Cuddy and Skip Greer, scenic designer Jo Winiarski, lighting designer Anne Wrightson and costume designer Pamela Scofield and I (I’m the production dramaturg on this show) have spent the last day and a half asking each other questions, posing possible answers based on the text and the source material that Shakespeare used to write Midsummer. We’ve thought in depth about the story of Theseus and Hippolyta, the rulers of Athens during this story. The plight of the young lovers captured our hearts, as we discussed Hermia’s dilemma – she is given an ultimatum – either marry the man her father wants her to marry, go into a nunnery, or be put to death. We were enthralled by the thought of the character of Bottom, who doesn’t bat an eyelash upon meeting the fairies – and hardly seems to notice that he’s been turned into an ass. And we reveled in the joy of the Rude Mechanicals and their attempts to tell a love story.
All the while, we looked at pictures, and talked about what in each photo spoke to us. We looked at glorious images of flowers, of snow, of the moon, of light. We talked about the lines of both classical and neo-classical Greek lines. We talked about circles, about snowglobes, about the natural and man-made worlds.
And now, the designers have left, and will begin to create a world based on these conversations. Will there be any semblance of the images we looked at, when the set design comes in? Will the lighting reflect the drama of artist Yayoi Kusama, whose Fireflies on the Water exhibit at the Whitney inspired “oohs” and “ahhs”? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I’ll head back to the library to spend some time researching the fairy worlds of Elizabethan England, and the stories surrounding Robin Goodfellow, Oberon and Titania, as well as the stories of the Athenians and Amazons. And Mark and Skip will continue spending time with the text and the worlds Shakespeare invites us to create. And when we have more to share, you know you’ll find it here…