Waking the Dream

By Aliya Charney

This past Wednesday marked the beginning of the end of Cal Shakes’ historic 40th anniversary season. This summer alone, our audience has travelled back in time and around the world onstage: from segregated Southside Chicago, to the circus-inspired ancient port city of Ephesus, and now to Edwardian London. In this season alone, the Bruns has reached new heights and hosted a series of transportive and transformative theater. And we’re not quite finished yet.

Enter renowned director (and former Assistant Artistic Director) Shana Cooper, directing the final installment of our regular season, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cooper’s journey with Dream began when she was nine years old and living in Ashland, Oregon. As she sat in on a technical rehearsal for their production, Cooper witnessed what she describes as “a magical moment.” The nine-year-old Cooper watched in awe as a mischievous Puck gracefully climbed atop a tall Elizabethan pillar—and forgot his line. In one swift moment, Puck was transformed form a Fairy to an actor, and when the line was recalled and a colorful comment made, Puck was back again. It is this spirit of transformation, of the subtle differences between what our eyes perceive and what may be lurking just below the surface of reality, that contributed to Cooper’s desire to direct Dream.

A photo of the costume design sketches for Puck, by Katherine O'Neill.

Dream has remained one of Cooper’s favorite plays throughout the years because it serves as a gateway to an unseen world, a glimpse into the characters’–and even the audience’s–subconscious minds. According to Cooper, in Dream, the untamed landscape of the woods, where the lovers flee to and the Fairies live, “is filled with mystery and danger” due to its potential to disturb the status quo. The Athenians live on the outskirts of this liberated wood, and in Dream, we enter into a world that is wild, violent, and dangerous: the world of our subconscious desires–the world of our dreams. As Cooper so rightly states: “within fantasy lurks madness.”

During last Wednesday’s Meet & Greet with the show’s cast and creative team, we learned that Dream will take place in “a world in which the perspective shifts with the dreamer.” This lends itself naturally to the theme of transformation, hopping from one “reality” to the next, as if trapped in someone else’s fantasy. Scenic designer Nina Ball (The Comedy of Errors) joins Cal Shakes once again this season with Dream’s duel set: the oppressive, civilized Athenian landscape, slowly peeled away to reveal a “poetic representation of a forest,” complete with an exploding arch of twigs, sustained–mid-air–by a seeming lack of gravity. By the end of the play, the arch bursts to life, sprouting blossoms that carry over to, and transform, the once-stale Athenian aesthetic.

Dream photo shoot

Erika Chong Shuch, Daisuke Tsuji, and Danny Scheie in the Midsummer Night's Dream photo shoot. Photo by Esther Ho.

Also joining Dream for her second Cal Shakes production this season is Movement Director Erika Chong Shuch (Hippolyta, Tatiana). As Cooper reasons, “this play demands a need for movement and dance to transport us from one world to the next [in order] to tell the story.” In Dream, movement will serve as a vessel to infuse the production with magic. And it is safe to say that Cooper’s vision of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be magical indeed.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens September 6th. Buy your tickets online or by calling 510.548.9666.

Aliya Charney is a dramaturgy intern and Cal Shakes Patron Services Associate. You might have heard her answering Cal Shakes’ phones, giving Grove Talks before our Shakespeare shows, or in her occasional stints welcoming patrons at the new Welcome Center.


Meeting and Greeting the Story Inside Us All

Marketing Intern Jessica Reinhardt offers a look into the Spunk meet and greet with Director Patricia McGregor and cast.

“There is no agony like hearing the untold story inside of you.”—Spunk

Spunk Costume Photo

Spunk costume design by Callie Floor.

The rehearsal space at Cal Shakes was abuzz with laughter and smiling, eager faces. I settled into my seat within the sea of interns, all excited to see what a Meet and Greet entails. The story of Spunk unfolded as director Patricia McGregor captivated the room with her moving language and an enthusiasm that everyone could feel. A key theme in Spunk is home, and Patricia began to connect her concept of what it was like to grow up in the South to the show. She explained how her hometown inspired a sense of community by focusing on the meaning of sharing and storytelling.

 She then began to bridge the gap of time by bringing everyone in the room back to the good old days. Her vivid descriptions of drinking ice-cold lemonade on your granddaddy’s porch was accompanied by Anthony Peterson, A.K.A. Tru, (Guitar Man and musical director for Spunk) improvising bluesy rhythms on his lap steel guitar. Everyone was rapt as Tru set the mood of the story, sculpting the emotions of the Deep South right there in front of us. 

 Patricia quoted an old adage: “Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” There are bumps in the road in every person’s journey and one of the things that get people through is the simple feeling that someone cares; everyone needs to feel appreciated and loved and this is one of the beautiful themes of this show. The audience even gets to feel the love by actively participating and engaging with the actors just before the show begins, at the top of the first act.

 We got to hear from Paloma McGregor, Patricia’s sister and choreographer for Spunk, who gave her perspective on how movement and dance are incorporated in the show: The lively nature and movement mixed with dynamic character roles is definitely something to look forward to. The cast themselves sure had a lot of spunk, the type of actors whose chemistry you could see just as they sat around their table. The cast was sure not afraid to laugh, and this was just part of their magnetism.

 Patricia talked about how it was important for her to honor Zora Neale Hurston’s vision of giving a voice to the voiceless. This theme is something every person can relate to, regardless of skin color or age or any of the other categories designed to divide us. Everyone has their own personal story and should embrace where they have been in order to get to where they are going. I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait to see these characters come to life and “git to the git with some pain n’ some spit n’ some spunk.”  

 Spunkthree tales by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by George C. Wolfe, music by Chic Street Manplays at the stunning Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, CA July 4-29, 2012.