By: Sydney Vollmer
Last week, the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company said hello to their new home at the Otto M. Budig Theater with performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was fortunate enough to be invited to their Media Night on September 7, when I got a first look at the space and the show.
Located at 1195 Elm Street, the new theater features a modern style of architecture one might not expect for a company boasting Shakespeare’s name. There is a large lobby area for everyone to gather before the show and during intermission and it is peppered with Shakespeare quotes and play titles everywhere you turn, from the steps to the seating. I personally am a fan of the bathroom sinks which read, “A little water clears us of this deed” – a direct quote from Lady Macbeth. When you go to a performance, see how many you can find! Upstairs, an open room is used for classes and meetings for various presentations. During Media Night, Jeremy Dubin, Director of Creative Education, gave an informative presentation on the costuming and set design for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The theater itself is unlike any other performance venue in Cincinnati. The stage is surrounded by seats on three of the four sides. Only having six rows plus a gallery, no seat in the theater is farther than 20 feet from the stage. This allows for unique performances where characters immerse themselves in their world, rather than making sure their faces are always pointing directly at the back wall.
In the attendance confirmation email from CSC, the listed time of the play had Act 1 at 70 minutes and the second act at 75 minutes. I was a little daunted by length. Though I have an appreciation for Shakespeare’s works as well as a love for performance, I was worried that two and a half hours might exceed my attention span. I was pleasantly surprised to find I was engaged throughout.
For those of you who don’t know this comedy of Shakespeare’s, first performed in 1605, a summary of the very complex play is as follows:
- Theseus is to be married to Hippolyta
- A young woman named Hermia is in love with a man named Lysander
- Lysander loves Hermia
- Hermia’s father wants her to marry Demetrius, whom also loves her
- Another young woman, Helena, loves Demetrius…who does not love her
- Hermia and Lysander decides to elope in the forest
- Helena tells Demetrius, hoping he will love her for helping him
- They all wander into the forest
- A group of tradesmen are also in the forest to rehearse an original play for Theseus’ wedding
- The King and Queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania, are arguing about who is the rightful guardian of a human child the fairies stole
- Oberon and his tricky servant, Puck, plan to humiliate Titania by sprinkling her with a flower that will make her fall in love with an ugly creature
- Oberon instructs Puck to use the same flower to make Demetrius love Helena
- Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, causing Lysander to fall in love with Helena
- Puck also enchants Demetrius, however Helena thinks they are both playing a cruel trick on her with their affection
- Hermia is devastated at losing the love of Lysander, and blames Helena for her misfortune
- Titania falls in love with one of the tradesmen, Nick Bottom, whose head has been turned into a donkey
- Oberon, learning of Puck’s mistake and having had enough fun with Titania, instructs Puck to make them all fall into a deep sleep
- Oberon instructs Puck to reverse all magic, except the spell to make Demetrius love Helena
- Bottom becomes human again, Titania and Oberon make amends, the four lovers are married to their respective partners and they take part in Theseus’ wedding
- The tradesmen put on their unsuccessful play at the wedding, but everyone is otherwise happy
Got all that? Great. It’s understandable why they need so much time to fit that big story in. The set is beautiful and well utilized by the cast. Fairies fly through the air and lovers jump over rocks in pursuit of one another. The costumes of the lovers are a mix of classic Grecian and Elizabethan garb, while the fairies are styled after David Bowie and the mechanicals sport modified lumberjack uniforms. Creating a new and more modern twist, the designs breathe new life into this classic play.
My favorite performance was by Caitlin McWethy, who portrayed Helena. She took Shakespeare’s words and made them her own through playful expressions and intense inflection. Every time she took the stage, she stole the show. That being said, all actors gave top-notch performances.
You know the plot of the play, but I guarantee you don’t know a Shakespeare experience like this one. The show runs through September 30.
And how does all this relate to the Archives & Rare Books Library? For the past two years, we have been celebrating our Shakespeare holdings through a special website and local research about the place Shakespeare holds in Cincinnati heritage, https://libapps.libraries.uc.edu/exhibits/shakespeare400/. We are currently collaborating with the Cincinnati Museum Center on a special “Shakespeare and the Queen City” exhibit, http://www.cincymuseum.org/content/coming-soon-shakespeare-and-queen-city-, in which several of our rare books and archives are on display, and all of this has led to greater engagement in the community. The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company plays a big part in this wonderful exhibit as well, so it was fitting that we were all able to come together in celebration of CSC’s new theater and its first Shakespeare production.
To learn more about ARB’s Shakespeare holdings, please visit our website listed above. For information about our various archives and rare book collections, we invite you to call us at 513.556.1959, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit us on the web at http://www.libraries.uc.edu/arb.html, stop by on the 8th floor of Blegen Library, or have a look at our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/ArchivesRareBooksLibraryUniversityOfCincinnati.