Select Dates

Come dream with us

ASC’s New-Orleans-flavored production of Shakespeare’s magical comedy wades into a bayou of masked hobgoblins, enchanting nymphs, and imps who sing the blues. “Spellbinding storytelling…perfect for children and adults alike.” (C-Ville Weekly)

DONATE TO ASC


Stuff That Happens In The Play

 

Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, plan and prepare for their impending wedding.

Egeus interrupts to accuse his daughter Hermia of disobedience, because she has fallen in love with Lysander and won’t marry Demetrius. Theseus orders Hermia to obey her father and marry Demetrius; if she refuses, she will be killed or sent to a convent.

• Hermia and Lysander plan to escape to the woods that evening, elope, and seek refuge with Lysander’s wealthy aunt. Hermia reveals the scheme to her best friend Helena, who, harboring unrequited love for  Demetrius, promptly reveals the elopement plan to him.

Nick Bottom and his fellow blue collar workers (“rude mechanicals”) meet to cast a play to perform at  Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding celebration.

• Hermia and Lysander have lost their way in the dark woods, and decide to rest for the night. Demetrius searches for Hermia and Lysander, and Helena chases after Demetrius.

• Elsewhere in the woods, Puck, who is a sprite and hobgoblin as well as jester/lieutenant to the fairy king, recounts the conflict between King Oberon and Queen Titania. The pair arrive and cross paths, quarreling
over the custody of a human boy. Unable to reconcile, Titania leaves with her fairy attendants.

• Oberon sends Puck to find an ingredient for a love spell, in order to use it on a sleeping Titania so that she will fall in love with the first creature she sees when she awakes.

• Having witnessed the lovers’ chase and Helena’s despair over unreturned feelings, Oberon also commands Puck to put a spell on Demetrius so that he will fall in love with Helena. However, Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius.

• The mechanicals gather in the woods to rehearse their play, unknowingly near where Titania sleeps. During the rehearsal, Puck places a donkey’s head upon Bottom. His fellow castmates run away in fear, and Titania wakes and promptly falls in love.

• Chaos, confusions, corrections, celebrations, and  play-going ensue.


Dr. Ralph Brief

Notes on the play from Professor Ralph Alan Cohen, our co-founder

1. When was the play first performed?
1595-96.

2. Where was the play first performed?
The first performance may have been at a nobleman’s estate in honor of a wedding, but the play certainly appeared at the Theatre and later at the Globe and probably the Blackfriars.

3. How does this play fit into Shakespeare’s career?
Toward the end of his early works, probably after Romeo and Juliet, which he lampoons in Pyramus and Thisbe, the play the “hard-handed men” perform before Theseus and Hippolyta “on their wedding day at night.”

4. How is this play like Shakespeare’s other plays?
As in his other early comedies, you’ll find rhyming lovers, sexual confusion, a comic subplot, and a happy ending.

5. How is this play unlike other Shakespeare plays?
Shakespeare didn’t avoid the supernatural. He put some demons in The First Part of Henry VI, some dream ghosts in Richard III, some real ghosts in Julius Caesar, Hamlet and in Macbeth, which also features the Witches. He didn’t mind calling in an occasional god from the machines— Hymen, Time, Jupiter, Diana — and Prospero enlists Ariel, his personal genie, to run his island in The Tempest. But the play in which  Shakespeare goes full Disney is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where he creates an entire fairyland.

6. What do scholars think about this play?
Even famous grouch Harold Bloom declared it Shakespeare’s first “undoubted masterwork, without flaw.” Other scholars like it, but with less proclamation. Few dislike it, and my advice to those few is that they go see it and watch the kids in the audience; they become instant Shakespeareans. Take it from someone who saw an outdoor production when he was five years old: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the gateway drug to a love of theatre.

7. How does the play speak to our contemporary world?
In a divided time, the play reminds us of the joy of a collective imagination, of the fun of being amazed together, and of the value of laughing at ourselves, with—instead of at— one another.

8. What scene should I especially look for?
The scene in which the “rude mechanicals” meet to rehearse their play is not only funny, it’s also the closest we get to seeing what a rehearsal might have been like in Shakespeare’s day. No, probably the scene in which the Queen of the Fairies falls in love with a bewildered, ass-headed weaver. Or maybe the scene in which Hermia and Helena go from best friends to ultimate enemies. Just look anywhere in this play and
you’ll find rich merchandise in a perfect trifle.

9. What characters should I especially look for?
Bottom. The embodiment of imagination—of course he wants to play all the parts.

10. What is the language like?
When well spoken, a buffet of desserts.


Director’s Note

A New Form of Comedy

By the time Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1595/96, he was a thoroughly established young playwright who had already written or co-written 11 successful plays, including Romeo and Juliet, his “greatest hit” to date both in popularity and—at least arguably—quality, the year before. He was also, by that time, an acclaimed actor and a stakeholder in The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the most prestigious acting troupe in London.

This security of his artistic and professional reputation perhaps explains Shakespeare’s odd and creative turn in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Before Midsummer, Shakespeare’s comedies, while successful, had been relatively straightforward affairs dealing with classic comedic tropes of mistaken identities (Comedy of Errors), misogyny (Taming of the Shrew) and love at first sight (Love’s Labour’s Lost, Two Gentlemen of Verona). A Midsummer Night’s Dream represents a stylistic sea change, a growth spurt, as it were, bridging the gap between the earlier funny but sophomoric comedies to his later, vastly more mature, output (Merchant of Venice, As You Like it, Twelfth Night, etc.).

In Midsummer, there are no easy solutions, no black and white, no good guys or bad guys. In Midsummer, love is not a thing to be won, but is rather a thing to be lost, to fight for, and to regain. As Lysander says to Hermia after she has been told she cannot marry him,

Ah me, for aught that I could ever read
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth

Lysander and Hermia go on to conclude that ‘true love’ is their cross to bear, and they resolve to bear it with good will and fight to be together. Thus begins the journey into the woods.

Meanwhile, the second pair of lovers face an even more convoluted path. Demetrius has betrothed himself to Helena before the events of the play but has reneged on those vows to pursue Hermia. He is aided in that pursuit by Hermia’s father, Egeus (Egeus is the embodiment of misogyny in Midsummer but, unlike in Shrew, his character is treated as an antagonist, not a hero). Helena, meanwhile, pursues Demetrius aggressively despite his protestations that he does not love her. What are we to make of this? Is Demetrius an evil young man with no redeeming qualities? If so, why does he not simply kill Helena later in the woods as he threatens? Is Helena just a pathetic and manic stalker, following a man with no interest in her? Or are there shades of grey, depths of relationships previously unexplored, truths that can only be revealed through supernatural tests of love and hardship in the woods? 

I choose to believe that Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream precisely in order to explore these shades of grey. The characters he writes of in Midsummer are real people, with real feelings and depth of thought never before seen in his comedies.They are characters whose understanding of their own feelings and the true meaning of love grow and evolve throughout the course of the play. 

The Fairy World

But what of the device Shakespeare chooses to lead these lovers along unknown paths? What of the woods? What of the fairies? If Shakespeare seeks to show us every-day truths about ourselves through the lovers why use such supernatural plot devices? 

I believe the answer lies in an understanding of the significance of the fairy world in Elizabethan England of four hundred years ago. Today, if you meet someone over the age of twelve who truly believes in fairies you nod and smile politely while discreetly checking for the nearest exit. In today’s world, the idea of wandering into the woods at night and meeting fairies is fantastical bordering on the absurd. Not so in Shakespeare’s day. 

The people of late 1500’s England were a mostly illiterate bunch with a true and utter belief in the supernatural. While much of this belief was centered around the Church, old superstitions died hard, and science as we know it today was nascent. When a door was opened in one part of the house and another door slammed, there was no explanation for that. When sleep was disturbed by the nocturnal screams of various insects or animals, there was no explanation for that. Or rather, there was one.

Fairies, far from being fantastical, were seen as the only logical explanation for such otherwise inexplicable phenomenon, for everything from a slamming door to chain lightning. Indeed, the first fairy describes Puck by naming many of these superstitions, asking if he is indeed the fairy  

That frights the maidens of the villagery;
Skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern
And bootless make the breathless housewife churn;
And sometime make the drink to bear no barm;

Puck confirms that the fairies are indeed responsible for this and more. Later we find that Oberon and Titania, the two most powerful of the fairies are responsible for the weather and the seasons, phenomena that the people of this age, most of whom did not know the earth was round let alone tilted on an axis, had no other explanation for.

That this fairy world was also able to affect humans, for better or worse, when they ventured into the fairies’ realm (the night and the woods) was a logical extension of the Elizabethan worldview, one that would have rung all too true for Shakespeare’s audiences.

It is, of course, much harder for audiences of today to accept this worldview, but I believe it is essential for understanding the underlying truths of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was not interested in creating a fantasia. I wanted the fairy world to be real. For this reason I sought out a setting that was closer to our world, a place that we still accept as holding both magic and ‘civilization,’  just as Athens and the Woods did in Shakespeare’s day.

That is how I came to look to 1930’s New Orleans as my inspiration: A time close enough to ours to latch on to, but one where magic (voodoo) lives side by side with ‘civilization’ as we recognize it (the city itself). Here was a place that was a salad bowl of cultures and beliefs long before that was the norm in urban centers, a place where you could step out in your white tie and tails, yet you were always one street away from the swamp and Baron Samedi or Mamon Brigitte watching you from the edge of your view. 

New Orleans is a mental bridge for modern audiences. We cannot put ourselves in the shoes of Shakespeare’s groundlings, but New Orleans of yesteryear is just close enough to our own experience that we can grasp it, can sense what it might have been like to know that magic existed, to fear it and wonder at it, perhaps even to be it. It is a place where this story and this audience can meet together and dream.

Come Dream with us.