Ask Philippa… and Aaron!

Philippa Kelly, Cal Shakes Resident Dramaturg and production dramaturg for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, invites your questions about the show, with the assistance of director Aaron Posner.

Picture by Jay Yamada.

“I am amazed and know not what to do…” So speaks Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Wonder, amazement, the perplexities of love…. Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jon Moscone says that “magic” in the forest is like a sped-up version of human destiny: that the magical events in the forest of Athens are a fast-forward version of what ACTUALLY happens when people fall in and out of love. We humans pride ourselves on being the most rational of all earth’s creatures, and yet the strongest compulsion we havethat of loveisn’t about reason at all. Love sends us in directions that may make no sense to anyone else (even our beloved) but we go there anyway.Enter your thoughts and questions in the “comments” section below, and Aaron and I will take turns answering.

How did it feel to experience love’s mystery in the forest with Aaron Posner and his cast?

Midsummer runs through Oct 11, 2009.


0 thoughts on “Ask Philippa… and Aaron!

  1. >My 7th grader is coming to see Midsummer's Night next week. I am concerned about age appropriateness. Is there content or scenes or language that might be too mature for a 12 year old audience?

  2. >Hello Lauren,I wouldn't be worried about the age appropriateness of this production. We are always very mindful, with the two Shakespeares at the beginning and end of the season,of our large student matinee audiences. It is an amazing show, full of magic (sometimes literally!) and wonder. I am so sure your 7th grader will love it that if not I will eat my mouse (the desktop one, not the live one).Philippa

  3. >I have only this to say: Last night's Midsummer Night's Dream performance was magical, incredible, and so very funny. Hubby Ben said he never heard me laugh so hard. Thank you. Thank you all!

  4. >Hi Philippa, We saw the 9/23 production, & it was absolutely wonderful. Often, as my husband & I walk down the hill, I'll say something like, "That was the best one ever!" Then he'll remind me I said that the last time. Question: Was the cell phone ring during Puck's speech at the very beginning part of the director's plan, or was it a fluke? Either way, he handled it brilliantly!Thanks….

  5. >Hi Judy,Thanks for your comment and question. As for the cell phone, it was not a fluke: a cell phone rings very loudly in the middle of Puck's opening speech, inspiring him to unleash an array of impressive descriptions of fairy curses – to all of which the owner of a ringing device might be subject! It gives us another take on cell phones, doesn't it? I was in a queue the other day and three cell phones went off. It struck me once again that, in the modern world, we are all so constantly contactable but that this doesn't mean that we can be truly reached.

  6. >Hello Aaron and Philippa,Can you tell me a little about women in Shakespeare's world? I'm especially curious about choices made for Hermia.Thank you,Jamie

  7. >Hi – we saw the matinee of Mid Summer a week ago and my 8 and 9 year old cannot stop talking about it! My husband and I loved it too! We would like to know if we can get a copy of the song from the finale – we did not see it on iTunes. Is it available? Thanks!

  8. >Hello Jamie,Women in Shakespeare’s England – one of my favorite subjects. Hermia is threatened with death by the decree of her own father. Theseus, the symbol of right rule and good governance, softens this – but only to the effect that she is banished. Banishment is one of the worst things that can happen to any human being – not really much of a comfort to this young woman whose only sin is to love a man not chosen by her father.Upper-class girls in Shakespeare’s England were indeed expected to marry the groom their father picked for them. (Usually lovers’ wills could be controlled via the threat of withdrawal of a dowry.) 

 English women of Helena’s and Hermia’s class (unlike women of a lower class) were almost always literate, and, once married, their household tasks would have involved the maintenance of the household; child-bearing; supervision of their children’s education; sometimes learning how to dispense herbal remedies from physicians so that they could tend to the sick on their estates; needlework, etc. They kept pretty busy, and they ordered an enormous amount of technical books to help them with the maintenance of their households: on husbandry, cooking, medical care and gardening. I find it interesting that the ascension of a woman to the throne some decades prior to A Midsummer Night’s Dream did not make more of a difference to women’s status and opportunities in Shakespeare’s time. This lack of opportunity for women prevailed partly because Queen Elizabeth (who was a real scholar, very bright) found it to be in the interests of her own power to accentuate her WOMANLY features. In Elizabeth’s case, womanliness equaled power (‘I am the mother of the nation, I am the virgin bride of the nation’); but in the case of other women, femininity equaled passivity (nurturing within the home plus the privileging of virginity). Elizabeth also found it useful to accentuate features that suggested that she – uniquely amongst women – possessed the unusual traits of a man: eg her Armada speech, in which she said, ‘I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England, too.’ Indeed, any woman who achieved greatly in Shakespeare’s time was said to have exceeded her sex or to have achieved the virtue of a man. So in this way, too, Elizabeth did not actually champion powerfulness in women as a gender, although she used the associations of gender to her own advantage.

  9. >What a delightful production, seldom do I hear my fellow watchers leave the Bruin theatre singing Shakespeare! I am interested in the introductory by Puck, is this text available?

  10. >Hello Jeff,It is so lovely to get feedback like this. I have asked for a recent version that is not PDF – check the site in a day or two.warm wishesPhilippa

  11. >Hello Philippa, thank you for your answer to my question about women in Shakespeare's time. (Glad I'm living now!)I was also wondering about what people ate back then. Was the diet of the upper classes very different from the lower?Jamie

  12. >Hi Jamie,Yes, the diet was very different for the different classes. Lower class people lived largely on vegetables, with onions being plentiful and cheap. This reminds me – remember Bottom's rwquest to the Mechanicals to eat no onions or garlic before they perform before the Duke? This ws not just a plea for personal hygiene: it also provides Shakespeare with the means of making a little dig at the social class of the Mechanicals – indeed, he sometimes has his upper-class characters make quips at the expense of the stinking populace, who were compelled to eat a lot of onions as opposed to meat (an upper-class food). Incidentally, Holinshed, in his Chronicles, wrote about the enormous amount of meat consumed by the upper classes: 'sith there is no day in manner that passeth over their heads wherein they have not only beef, mutton, veal, lamb, kid, pork, cony, capon, pig, or so many of these as the season yieldeth, but also some portion of the red or fallow deer, beside great variety of fish and wild fowl, and thereto sundry other delicates.'

  13. >Hello Philippa,More a comment than a question, as I just wanted to thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions in person after the grove talk last night. We thoroughly enjoyed the play again and the guests we brought were just as enchanted by it as we were the first time. Seeing it for a second time, I noticed and appreciated many new things. Clearly the attention to detail that went into the music and sound design, the lighting, the physicality of the acting (including the slight of hand!)are a big part of what made this such a fun, fresh and truly magical work. I'm sure this is one production CalShakes audiences will be talking about for a long time and it will certainly have us back for more!Thank you and the CalShakes staff for all you do.Jon

  14. >What a lovely comment, Jon! Participating in the making of these productions is a privilege in itself, but the appreciation you have expressed is like opening a beautiful and unexpected gift. By the way, just as a point of interest, did you know that the word 'love' occurs in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' 100 times? Also, do you know who has the greatest number of lines in the play? (Helena). The second greatest number? (Bottom). I was surprised to find this – about the preponderance of lines – when we started working on the play.Philippa

  15. >Hi, Philippa. I am sorry we didn't have time to connect at the performance on Saturday. (I did shout out a question to you from the darkness.) I loved the interpretation, the editing and even the additional speeches. My big, burning question is: Was the play within the play largely a creation of the director or did the actors contribute a lot of the business, e.g. the mechanical dog, the prompter on the skateboard, etc? And most of all, who came up with the idea of Bottom and Flute hooking up on the kiss through the wall's hole? Michael

  16. >Hi Michael,The play within the play is a fascinating element of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' It hilariously shows up the instability of all things human. Tragedy can so easily turn to comedy, just as love can so easily turn to disdain.isn't that a great scene where they try to kiss through the chink? The Mechanicals played this up so beautifully. I can't remember who conceived of the fingers for the chink, etc. – so many things emerged from a convergence of Aaron's fertile brilliance and the talented improvizations of the actors in rehearsal.philippa

  17. >I was one of the students at the Thursday October 8th student matinee showing of a mid-summer night's dream. I stayed for the Q and A session and through one of my questions, learned that the general auditions are approaching soon, but I can't find them on the website where I was told to look. By the way, that was one the most amazing things I have seen in my 13 years of being alive.:)

  18. >Our class loved the show, thanks so much. One student wanted to know about the design and construction of the donkey mask. How did this come into being?Mr. Vaughn. Berkeley High

  19. >Philippa,That is interesting! I’m not too surprised by the many occurrences of “love”, as the central theme of the play, but I never would have guessed that those two characters (poor, self-abasing Helena and the ridiculous, jack-donkey Bottom) were given the most to say on the subject! Perhaps that was another way of Shakespeare’s illustrating that the many states, including suffering and folly (Helena and Bottom), that love can bring are just as important to note as the joy and happiness?Jon

  20. >This is Ben, thanks for responding so quickly. Also, to tell you the truth, I never have been interested much in theatre, but now that I saw that play, I'm really into it. Do you think that you could tell Puck (Doug Harras I think?) that he really inspired me to get interested. Tell him I'm the kid who asked about the age requirements at the Q and A session. Thanks!!

  21. >FOR JONThis comment is in response to Jon's new one about having two outliers comment on the mysteries of love. What a beautiful thought!I also love Titania's line, 'The moon, methinks, looks with a watery eye,And when she weeps, weeps every little flowerLamenting some enforced chastity' – the idea that the moon causes the flowers to 'weep' dew every single day because of someone whose love wasn't returned; or someone whose love wasn't permitted; or someone who perhaps didn't dare express their love, and who therefore remained 'chaste'. We all deserve love: we just might not think we do (or perhaps others sometimes don't think we do – which is why they might return that precious gift of our love.)Philippa

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