What do you do when you’re staging Shakespeare and you have way more female actors than males?
The answer is that you take what might seem a drawback and turn it into a positive virtue.
That’s the case with Southridge School’s senior play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, coming up Feb. 23 and 24 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., at the school’s Alan Brown Great Hall.
The show, which has a cast of some 17 students from Grade 10 to Grade 12 – plus a few ‘extras’ from Grade 8 – has been in preparation since October.
Faced with the inevitability that girls would be taking boys roles, teacher-director Glen Pope and his enthusiastic cast and crew decided to create a “pantomime-infused,” cartoony interpretation of the venerable classic.
Thus, not only are girls stepping into such traditionally male roles as Theseus (Lauren Andrews) and Oberon (Molly Maguire) and the would-be actor, Nick Bottom (Ella Slaughter), but teacher Doug Barnim is adding to the traditional panto cross-dressing by playing the role of Theseus’ bride, the Amazon queen Hippolyta, as a ‘Dame’ – complete with beard and ludicrous costume.
“There’ll be a couple of contemporary jokes and asides in non-Shakespearian language,” Pope noted.
“There’ll be songs and dances, and we’re going to add in an opportunity for the audience to stand up and stretch. It’s not Christmas, but I don’t think that matters. We want to make it playful and fun and more accessible for the audience.”
It’s not a huge distortion – many of the panto traditions originated in the theatre of Shakespeare’s time, Pope agreed, and in the conventions of Commedia del Arte.
The approach developed through discussions with his theatre students prior to staging the play, he said.
“I like, in the early stages, to have the cast take on different roles in the production and take ownership of it,” he explained.
Georgie Adams, who has been working on publicity as well as playing Helena – one of the Athenian nobles whose love lives are made chaotic when they venture into the forest and the magical domain of Oberon and Titania (Lauren Andrews) and the mischievous Puck (Colin Gottwald) – admits that she was one of those who pushed for a Shakespeare production.
As her last show before graduating Grade 12 (she has been in five altogether since Grade 8, culminating in playing Wendy in Peter Pan last year) she wanted to try Shakespeare – although she acknowledges she was “nervous” about it.
“It’s a whole different genre and you’re learning a lot of lines,” she said.
“It’s quite a complex story,” added Andrews, who is also ‘actors steward’ for the production.
“There are so many different layers – we didn’t want to misinterpret it, but we did want to make it different.”
The key to unlocking the play for both of them, they said, was the panto approach – which came out of a suggestion from Andrews’ mom.
“Once we decided it, Georgie was able to teach us a lot about the traditions,” Andrews said.
Adams has been to see a number of the pantomimes at Surrey Arts Centre (including the Gilbert & Sullivan Society shows) and a number of cast members also researched by attending last December’s East Van panto Little Red Riding Hood, they said.
Adams said she is enjoying playing the “overdramatic” Helena in reaction to the over-accentuated advances of Lysander (Ryan Kniel) and Demetrius (Dolphy Pradhan) – which dismay her rival Hermia (Emma Choat).
“I feel for Helena in every way – one moment she’s looking for love and the next moment everyone’s in love with her,” she said.
Andrews said she’s also enjoying the challenges of doubling as Theseus, playing off the goofiness of Barnim’s Hippolyta.
As a wise Titania she also has fun scoring points off Maguire’s Oberon, she said.
“For Molly, they’ve described him as a child in a man’s body – he’s always trying to be tough, which contrasts well with the sassiness of Titania.”
Both also agree that the Grade 10s playing the ‘mechanicals’ – the Athenian workmen preparing an amateur production of Pyramus and Thisby – have come into their own with this production.
“They’re hilarious to watch,” Adams said.
“And Ella’s really funny as Bottom – she takes it right over the top,” Andrews added.
For more information on the play and booking tickets visit www.southridge.bc.ca or call 604-542-2340.