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Welcome to the online casebook (the caseblog, as it were) for Carnegie Mellon University’s 2010 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Check the sidebar to your right for recent posts and an index of all posts, and please come back often — we’re always adding more information!

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Feedback from Somerset High School

On Friday, Dec. 3, CMU did a special performance of Midsummer for high schools from the Pittsburgh and western PA area. Some students came from as far away as Somerset County. For many of these Somerset students, it was their first chance to see live theatre. Later in the month, we received some great letters from the students. Here are a few of their comments.

Dear Cast,
   I have never been at such a loss for words. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, what an epic production. All of you have stunned me into oblivion. Hello, my name is Emily [H]. I am a senior at Somerset High School. I was fortunate enough to see your production and I am so thrilled that I did. This whole cast was so professional and this really stunned me. I was expecting this show to be well done, but not THIS well done.
   As a senior in high school, I am now applying to colleges. I am hoping to major in musical theater and I am now considering Carnegie Mellon because of how professional this production was.
   After the production, myself, my drama teacher, and a few peers stayed in the lobby and we spoke with the actors and actresses. The student who played Hippolyta was kind enough to give me pointers on my college auditions. She said I needed to show them a spark, the spark that says, “I want her.” I could tell that each individual on the stage, from Puck to the ensemble, had that spark that I needed.
   I admire all of you and I hope to make it in the industry as far as I know all of you will. Good luck in all that you do. I know that I will be seeing many of your faces either on television or playbills. Thank you for having such a great production.
     -Emily H.

Dear Cast,
   You have no idea how many lives you have touched. Most people never get the gift of Shakespeare, but because of your cast you made a whole auditorium fall back in love. My name is Haven and I am a senior at Somerset Area High School. CMU gave us free tickets and an amazing experience. THANK YOU! I am a part of the Shakespeare class and we got to choose a character and I was Portia from Merchant of Venice. We also had a Puck. When the final speech was delivered in the moon I think my world turned upside down.
   It was really creative how Puck used transportation devices. It was really funny and made all of us keep wondering what he was going to use next.
   I think what made the play is the whole cast. There was never a dull moment because I think that everyone had the mentality that there were no small parts.

Dear Cast of Midsummer Night’s Dream,
   I can’t even BEGIN to describe how out-of-this-world AWESOME your production was. Every single actor went above and beyond with their parts, and everyone was hysterically funny. I loved every scene, every actor, every LINE.  The lighting and the set were incredible, and the costumes were gorgeous. Puck, You made my life! You were SO funny, and I thoroughly enjoyed all your epic modes of transportation. You rocked the segway, my friend.
   All of my friends are still talking about how awesome the play is, and we wish we could come back and see you all again.
   Keep being epic!
     Love,
     Anna B.

Dear Cast,
   You’re great. I attended your performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Friday, December 34d. By the way, my name is Rori [M.], a senior at Somerset Area School District.
   Your show was stellar, hilarious, and breathtaking. I’ll admit that I have only briefly studied this play, and the way that you delivered it made it easy to understand, yet true to the Shakespearean taste.
   If I were to choose a favorite performer, it would have to be Ben Ferguson as Puck. Although overall as an ensemble you all did a superb job.
   I’d go into a more detailed review, but I’ll leave you with this. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re great at what you do.

Dear the Cast of Midsummer nights dream,
   I’d have to say I thought the play was fabuluous [sic]. I don’t think I could’ve done the same outstanding job. It was quite different and funny.
   My favorite characters were Puck because of all the rideable things he kept bringing out, Oberon he was so cunning it just made it so excellent, Titania she is so beautiful and at times quite funny. Also all the fairys [sic] that were copying the humans made it humorous.
   My favorite scenes was [sic] when Puck was teasing Demetrius and Lysander.
   From seeing West Side Story and Midsummer’s night dream, yours was the best out of the two. I could watch you guys over and over again.
   Great show and best of luck to you all in the next.
     Sincerely,
     Kristy U.

Dear Cast,
   Your proformance [sic] of A Midsummers Night’s Dream was amazing. I stayed on the edge of my seat the whole time. The way the fairies always stayed in a constant fluid motion without taking the main characters focus away took talent and practice. Bottom or Tim Harrington acting was great. Always staying in character while being funny and not going overboard and taking away from the story. Helena and Hermia both played their parts perfectly reacting exactly how a girl would and keeping character through all the funny parts. The tech and stage crew did an awesome job on setting the stage and creating al the effects needed to make the show fantastic! Great job everyone.
     Sincerely,
     Cody

Dear Cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream,
   My name is Brandy [H.], I am a student from Somerset Area High School. I attended your performance on December 3rd. It was by far the best performance of Shakespeare I have ever seen, hands down.
   Shakespeare is hard to understand unless it is done well. You guys rocked it! I loved the modern spin that was put into it. And not to mention every actor and actress played there [sic] part perfectly! I must say the set was amazing; plus all of the lights and special effects really set the mood.
   All of you had me sitting on the edge of my seat laughing like crazy. When the performance was over I wanted to watch it again, it was outstanding. Bravo everyone!
     Sincerely,
     Brandy H.

Dear Cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream,
   My name is Payal [P.] and I am writing from Somerset Area High School. I am a senior and fortunately for us our school allows us to go see productions like yours and ocassionally [sic] groups come to perform at our school as well. Out of all the Shakespeare plays that I have seen, this is definately [sic] my favorite. The play was not only humorous but also very easy to follow.
   Some of my favorite things about your production would include how the fairies mocked/imitated the main characters when they spoke and all the small details with the lighting and sound when ever Puck cast a spell. I also liked the Idea of the pool of water in the woods. I did not realize it was there until Helena fell into it.
   Thank you for working so hard to provide us with the pleasure of getting to watch your recreation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I would definately [sic] like to watch another play at Carnegie Mellon, and I hope all of you are successful with your next shows.
     Sincerely,
     Payal P.

Dear Cast,
   My name is Bethany [S.] and I attended your performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I am writing to tell you how much I enjoyed your performance. Wonderful, spectacular, magical, exciting, all are words that describe your performance of this play. Personally I am usually lost when it comes to Shakespeare, but seeing your performance I was able to follow and understand it thoroughly. I was in absolute awe and fascination as I watched the play. To just sit and think about all the work you all put into it, just to make it possible is incredible! The Shakespeare language is not an easy skill to master either, however all of you were fluent and amazing with your lines. I know I wouldn’t have been able to do that without getting tongue tied. The sets, and costumes, and props were all very creative. I loved the modern costumes. the Lovers wore.
   I thank you for your performance of this play as it was mesmerizing, and magical. You all did such an amazing job in your performances as well. I think all of you are amazing actors and I hope that you continue on performing as incredible as you did.
     Sincerely,
     Bethany S.

Dear Cast,
   I thought your play was absolutely amazing! The whole time I was just staring at the stage and couldn’t look away. I loved how you integrated jokes and modern things into it. The settings were just awesome, and I love how the moon changed with the mood of the scene. The lifts were also such a great part of the show.
   Which brings me to my favorite character, Puck. I thought you were just awesome – too great to put into words. The way you talked and the motions you went through were so believable. Also, I loved all the different modes of transportation you used. I also can’t go without mentioning the rest of the fairies as well: The way you all moved looked like you would jump up and fly at any minute. I loved all the stances you took, and how you were never just standing there. No matter what the scene, the faeries added to the movement, and acted like scenery themselves.
   When Demetrius and Lysander were fighting for Helena, I laughed so hard. When you called Hermia “dwarfish” and high-fived, it was great. All four of you were so amazing together I loved that while Helena talked, the two guys were all “♥ I love you” and when Hermia did, they backed off like “…ugh…”
   The construction men were all fantastic. Bottom was just hilarious! I loved when you performed Pyramus & Thisbe. We were laughing like crazy. There were so many great moments (like the wall scene!! haha) I don’t even know what else to say. It was just golden. And “snug” was just so timid and adorable 🙂
   Oberon looked so great for his part, and he just looked perfect for who he was playing. Titania was great as well. I loved how there was like two sides of fairies – the Oberon side and the Titania side. Oberon had such great chemistry with Puck.
   If there’s anyone I forgot to mention, I’m sorry! But everyone was just too amazing for words. From costumes to acting, everyone was just mind-blowing.

Thanks to all the students who came to see the show! We loved having you there.

“Midsummer” reviewed by Pittsburgh City Paper

http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A88377

Lexi Soha and Marrick Smith as Hippolyta and Theseus.

NOVEMBER 25, 2010 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A lightweight but ridiculously tangled comedy, Shakespeare’sA Midsummer Night’s Dream can blossom under numerous interpretations: re-setting, re-cutting, re-imagining. A new Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama production takes its cue literally as a dream, and gloriously unfolds in layers, from base reality to credible vision to a world of sparkling fantasy. But at the last, it is more evanescent than effervescent.

A master of language and dialect, director Don Wadsworth is here burdened with lumps of gimmicks and special effects that never manage to cohere into a solid piece of entertainment. And though trimmed to just under two hours, this brief but tedious Midsummer is still too long to run without an intermission.

Many of the separate parts do very well, especially the polished choreography of the characters, by turns graceful and comedic or both (thank you, Wadsworth and movement coach Catherine Moore). Milim Sung’s lighting and media design, assisted by Erik R. Lawson’s sound, do engender a sense of magic in the theater.

In the large, uneven student cast, the four young lovers shine, particularly Mimi Gianopulous as the spurned Hermia castigating erstwhile friend Helena (Sara Trapnell, deftly turning from spaniel-like to suspicious) for her height. Ryan Melia keeps his charm as Lysander changes his affections, and Corey Scott handsomely transforms from villain to hero.

Alas, once the lovers are reconciled, the Dream stalls and sputters into a Six Stooges skit.

Anne Mundell’s scene design is lovely but misses being glorious. With the exception of a perfectly cut gown for Titania (a purr-fectly beautiful Gabrielle McClinton), costume designer Steve Buechler is not at all kind to the ladies, inflicting upon them painful-looking heels and hideously unbecoming outfits. The fairies look striking, and move like a dream, but present a mixed bag in delivering lines. The perky Ben Ferguson, as Puck, was undercut by a cumbersome running gag of anachronistic transport devices.

I laughed, but not enough. In many years of theater-going I have survived countless Midsummers, some of which are still memorable dreams. This is far from the worst, but not close to the best.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues through Dec. 4. Philip Chosky Theater, Carnegie Mellon University, Oakland. 412-268-2407 or www.cmu.edu/cfa/drama/

Midsummer reviewed on WRCT

Original text can be found here!

Ben Ferguson as Puck and Krista Yu as Peaseblossom. Photo by Louis Stein.

Theatre review: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at CMU to air Sunday 28th November ,2010

Less than a year after Public Theater gave us a colorful, lively version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, CMU’s Drama School give us one even more colorful and lively. As directed by Don Wadsworth, delightful, charming performances come enhanced by fully consistent style with a true sense of ensemble. The words and their essential meanings become constantly clear and, at the same time, the players in comic roles move with panache and personality, well-coached by Catherine Moore. The whole conception has a great sense of fun in a remarkably fresh way, Moreover, Wadsworth doesn’t fool around much with the original concept, taking it out to some new, shaky limb, even though the “real” characters are played in contemporary clothes

Advance publicity says that Wadsworth made cuts and changes. The most noticeable sense of that comes from the fact that the production runs intermissionless in under two hours. Even so, the story and its three-branched developments appear to remain essentially intact. I noticed only one major transposition of the text. It was at the end of the play and in the service of Wadsworth’s intention to emphasize the idea of a dream, in this case making it all seem as if it is Bottom’s dream. Hence Bottom’s bottom is visible on stage throughout all the action, mostly body-doubled. To close the play, no longer recumbent, he says things which, originally, are in a much earlier scene. No great harm there. As for the rest of the concept, it seems immaterial rather than obvious.

Wadsworth and his student cast make the most and best of the two deliberately humorous elements in the play. One is Shakespeare’s wonderful dig at eternally inept theatre folk with Bottom and his buddies and their goofy attempts to put on a show. Wadsworth’s inventions and the cast’s playing do the whole thing hilariously right. The other element concerns the mis-matched lovers losing their way and their reason in the forest. The four students play all of this superbly, full of youthful excess, finding the potential of how the characters behave and speak. Moreover, the playing of straight roles has equal polish and sincerity. You couldn’t ask for better performances, even from professionals.

The third element has always seemed the most problematical, the root of a major plot development. Oberon’s minor dispute with Titania prompts him to have Puck enchant the lovers, which, going awry, creates much merriment. There’s also Titania’s falling in love with an ass, Bottom, a kind of flat-out joke with elemental potential. In other productions I’ve never seen anything done with Oberon, Titania and Puck to make them really interesting. They usually look colorful enough but come across as if they leapt out of a rather standard ballet. In this case Wadsworth and Moore have filled the stage with supple bodies in swirling, gymnastic evocations of ethereal creatures, many of whom come cleverly costumed to look like extensions of the forest and the trees. All of them, including Oberon, Titania and Puck, move adeptly in an intricate, imaginative set. But nothing makes those characters really special. Not an easy assignment for students. For anyone.

Incidentally, advance publicity says that this production has original music by Eric Lawson, a CMU Drama School MFA candidate. The otherwise superbly annotated program book says nothing about that.

Surely, though it be not summer, this entertainment brightens the hours.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reviews Midsummer

Original article can be found here.

CMU mines ‘Midsummer’ laughs
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
By Sharon Eberson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” conjures Shakespeare at his most whimsical and mischievous; you can easily imagine the Bard having an LOL moment as he put quill to parchment and transformed a pompous would-be actor into an ass.

The Carnegie Mellon production directed by Don Wadsworth and performed by a merry band of grad students works hard for the comedy and mines a lot of laughs for their trouble. They bring a modern attitude to the court of Theseus, Duke of Athens, in particular the young lovers who could have marched right out of “Gossip Girl” if not for the 16th-century language. They punctuate conversation with cruelty and kisses and giggles and shrieks as befits lovestruck teenagers.

The dreamscape that these foolish mortals stumble into and that serves as habitat for forest fairies, from the royal Oberon and Titania to servants with names like Mustard Seed and Cobweb, has been rendered with simple beauty by designer Anne Mundell.

There are no sharp angles here. A huge full moon with shine that fades and brightens stands guard behind an elliptical platform with a pool at the center. Feathers flutter about like autumn leaves. One of the trees, like a wrought-iron fence tube, serves as an elevator for the mischievous Puck to exit and enter.The only person who seems to be still for any length of time is the guy curled up in the corner of the stage. That’s supposed to be Tim Harrington’s Bottom, who we gather is dreaming, but of course, he’s in his dream as well, at once cursed with a donkey’s head and hoofs and at the same time granted the love of the charmed Titania. She is being taught a lesson by the fairy king Oberon in this tangled tale of who belongs with whom and how they get to where they are supposed to be.

This production works best in the central dream sequence within the forest, where barefoot fairies glide with easy grace and Ben Ferguson’s impish Puck is in constant motion, prancing, tumbling or rolling on wheels, escalating from a skateboard to a Segueway.

Some of the biggest laughs come during the confrontation in which spellbound Lysander and Demetrius fight over Helena, with Hermia literally hanging onto Lysander to try to bring him to his senses.

A woman scorned is not someone to trifle with, and Sara Trapnelli plays Helena with determined comedic outrage as she is at first rejected by her beloved Demetrius (Corey Cott) then adored by him and Lysander.

With Ryan Melia as Lysander and Mimi Gianopulos as Hermia, any lines lost in translation over several hundred years were compensated for in delivery, and the audience on opening night laughed heartily at the funny bits, just as Shakespeare intended.

First published on December 1, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10335/1107396-42.stm?cmpid=newspanel0#ixzz16uXR6zy4

“Midsummer” featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette!

Check out the video here!

We also have a trailer on YouTube, created by directing major Stefan Dezil. Check it out!

Playing With the Moon

A very cool slideshow from NPR. The artist’s website is here. Click on the pictures for bigger versions!

Europe and India in Shakespeare’s time

[Expanded from “The Changeling Boy.”]

Europeans had been trading with India for centuries, starting with the Greeks and Romans, who traveled through the Middle East to sail to the west coast of India. There they traded for Indian spices, incense, and silk. A hundred years before Midsummer was written, European explorers started searching for a way to sail directly to India to make trading easier. Before that, the only way to get to India from Europe was either to sail through the Arabian Gulf – which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire, who didn’t take kindly to letting Europeans through – or to take a long, difficult trip over land through Persia.

The spice routes.

Columbus sailed west from Portugal in 1492 in search of a direct route to India (he found North America instead), and Vasco de Gama sailed around Africa in 1498, successfully opening an alternate sea route. Exploration and colonization were increasing in Shakespeare’s time.  A few years after Midsummerwas written in 1600, the East India Company was founded to trade spices between England and the Indies.

India was a fascinating place in the English consciousness: a place of riches and luxurious goods like spices, and a very foreign religion and culture. It was also one of the farthest places most people could imagine.

In spite of how far away India is, Titania has followers there, like the Changeling Boy’s mother. She and Oberon are able to travel very quickly from “the farthest steppe of India” to Athens for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding. Shakespeare is telling his audience that these are characters of far-reaching influence and high status — and the changeling boy, an Indian prince, is a worthy addition to their court.

From a 16th century German book of "native costumes" of the world.