The Nebraska Repertory Theatre will open its 2021-2022 season with William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Directed by Christina Kirk, director of the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film and executive director of the Nebraska Repertory Theatre, the performances will take place Sept. 29-Oct. 10 in the Temple Building. Kirk said the play is a fitting opener for the Rep season, whose theme is “Journey.”
“These characters go on a pretty dramatic journey as they figure out what it means to love one another and to be a community. They’re sorting that out,” Kirk said. “One of the things we’ve been exploring in the rehearsal process is just how big a journey it is from when we first encountered these humans in Athens, and how dramatically altered they are after their journey through the woods. The woods are magical and alter everyone’s perspective. They come back very changed when we see them again in Athens in the final act.”
One of Shakespeare’s most popular works, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” portrays the events surrounding the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta. Those events include the adventures of four young lovers and a group of six amateur actors, who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies inhabiting the forest in which most of the play is set.
Kirk chose to set the play in modern times.
“I think this story really resonates with now,” she said. “And one of the things we’re exploring is the issue of climate change. One of the most famous moments in the play is Titania’s speech to Oberon, when she talks about how the seasons have altered. There are floods, frosts and all of this chaos in nature. Nature has been altered. And Titania tells Oberon that it’s because of ‘our dissension, our debate.’ We can’t figure out how to talk to each other and cooperate with each other and love each other, and therefore, we’re destroying our own planet. That is a very powerful statement.
“That makes it sound like this is going to be a heavy show, but what we do is we take a really comical approach to that, to say, ‘OK, what is it that we are doing that is getting in our own way as humans?’ The character of Puck is the one that takes us on that journey; he helps us to laugh at ourselves and to see our own foibles and mishaps and to say, ‘Look, we need to forgive ourselves and each other. And the only way out of this is if we give.’”
The cast includes three guest artists: Rafael Untalan, assistant professor of practice in the Carson School, as Theseus and Oberon; Renea Brown as Hippolyta and Titania; and Kent Joseph as Bottom and Egeus.
“We have these incredible students who are working alongside these professionals,” Kirk said. “And that’s one of the beauties of Nebraska Rep theatre. Here, you have this professional theatre where our students get to work alongside these professionals. They’re doing a marvelous job.”
Mia Hilt, a senior in theatre performance, is playing both Puck and Philostrate.
“Puck and Philostrate essentially serve the same function — to provide entertainment for the ruling force in their respective realms,” Hilt said. “The difference between them is that Philostrate is mortal and serves the mortal Duke Theseus, and Puck is a magical sprite that serves Oberon, king of the fairies. Since the purpose of both characters is to provide joy and fun, I am having quite a joyful, fun time playing them. Rehearsal feels like recess, where I get to experiment and play, engaging with other characters and with the set to find the most exciting way to tell my part of the story.”
The set is designed by Grace Trudeau, who received her M.F.A. last spring and is now working for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., as an assistant exhibit specialist of design.
Trudeau began working on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the winter of 2019, when the original show was set to open in October 2020.
“The show was intended to be my thesis production, as a completion of my graduate studies requirements,” she said. “Due to COVID-19, the show was postponed twice, ultimately resulting in an opening date past my graduation date. Fortunately, my advisers and the school were flexible and able to work with me so I could finish my thesis and graduate prior to the live performance, and provided me the opportunity to return post-graduation to finish the show I had begun almost two years prior. Needless to say, the show has been chaos, which is also a thematic quality of our production: the beauty in chaos, chaos being nature opposed to the order and structure of society.”
Kirk, who is making her Nebraska Rep directorial debut with the production, said she’s enjoying the opportunity to see students blossom and realize their potential during rehearsal. And she’s especially eager to welcome live audiences back to the Nebraska Rep for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“One of the beauties about doing a Shakespeare play and a Shakespeare comedy is it’s all about the audience,” she said. “The audience is our partner throughout the entire production. We just can’t wait for the audience to come, because they’re the last link in the puzzle.”
“Live theatre simply cannot be live theatre when we aren’t doing it together and sharing it with one another in person,” Hilt said. “After what feels like an eternity of being online, this performance, in addition to other live performances I have been fortunate enough to do recently, has come as a true, deep sigh of relief.
“We have lots of magic up our sleeves, ready to unleash for our audiences.”
For showtimes and ticket information, visit https://nebraskarep.org.