Open your heart to enjoy a 1970s interpretation of A Midsummer Nights Dream at the University of Victoria’s Phoenix Theatre this month.
“You want to come with an open mind, with an idea of revering Shakespeare’s themes, but enjoying them with the backdrop of the late ’70s,” says director Fran Gebhard, “scored by the music of the decade and images of the time period.”
Virtually all the original wordsmith’s text is there, she promises, though references to Athens become “the city” and other minor alterations.
“I like this play very, very much and we’ve all seen traditional productions of it. I just started listening to the music of the ‘70s … I started with the idea that rather than being fairies, I would think of those gals as sisters in a white which coven.”
Harnessing her own experiences from a summer in NYC, and some of the 1970s most iconic music, Gebhard found New York a perfect setting for, as it’s affectionately called, the “Dream”. The two pairs of lovers – Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius – wander from the safety of Park Avenue to Central Park, and find themselves at the mercy of powerful forces (and their own passions) as clashing gangs manoeuvre for control. As Gebhard points out, in the late 1970s, the 700-acres of Central Park could be dangerous to some, but enticingly exciting to others.
“I thought, here was an environment where Titania and her hippie coven, Oberon and his punk gang, and the lovers fleeing the tyranny of parental law could all believably coexist – and collide through one bewitching evening.”
She has been having tons of fun working with the 24 theatre students in the cast, her colleague and set designer Allan Stichbury, and the other students on the creative team.
“We’re having a really good time and the students are enjoying themselves. For me, I want to make this learning experience a positive one, for them and for the audience,” Gebhard said.
The setting also allows for a show beyond the acting, allowing for some “rock lighting.”
“We pay to see our favourite stars not only because they sing well, but because they provide a show that’s evocative,” she said. “I like to make a production work on all kinds of levels for all kinds of audience members.”
“We have a loyal following of season ticket holders who are 50-plus, there may be some purists who won’t like the choices,” she said, taking full ownership. “I take full responsibility for some of the quirky choices.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is onstage at the University of Victoria’s Phoenix Theatre now through Nov. 22.
Details online at phoenixtheatres.ca or call 250-721-8000.