Shakespeare reborn in Bellingham
In a hot, cramped dressing room in Old Main, chaos ensues. Various student actors whiz by the door, holding different props and pieces of costumes over the sea of backpacks lining the floor.
As someone shouts, “places in five,” a hush comes over the room. The main theater lights up to reveal a man and woman standing center stage.
The typical old-time story takes place on the streets of Bellingham in the reimagination of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” directed by senior Greta Miller.
Instead of the expected tights, gowns and puffy sleeves, characters are dressed in attire seen around campus today: denim, flannel, Birkenstocks and beanies. The show features modern music, with heavy hip-hop beats, and a modern set with vintage couches, shag rugs and twinkle lights.
The play centers around two lovers, Hermia and Lysander, who are hopeful to get married against the wishes of Hermia’s mother. In an ultimatum, Hermia’s mother gives her the option to either join a nunnery or die.
Amongst other love triangles, Hermia and Lysander are one of many complicated relationships within the play, and the right to marry whomever one wants is a major theme. The play turns Bellingham into a fantasy land, incorporating elements such as fairies and magic, Miller said.
The Shakespearean classic, this year performed in the Old Main Theater from Nov. 20-22, is what enticed Miller to pursue theater in the beginning of her education. It would only be appropriate to end her education with the same production, but this time, with a Bellingham twist, Miller said.
Junior Cory Briar was recruited to write music for the production during a jam session with some coworkers who were involved.
“One of the prompts I got was to write a punk mandolin song in Shakespearean rhyme,” Briar said.
Miller knew exactly what she had envisioned for the piece and placed a lot of trust in her actors to add their own creative twist, Briar said.
“Just meeting with her and hearing about the direction she wanted to take the play, it was really fresh and really creative,” Briar said.
Although originally wanting to do the production for fun, Miller found that the play could fill the requirement for a senior project; it was the perfect opportunity and it gave her the opportunity to work with people more her own age, she said.
“Directing your peers is a whole new thing rather than directing younger kids, which I’ve done in the past. You know your peers, you look up to them, as well, and it’s a new experience, but it’s really cool,” Miller said.
Shakespeare has been with Miller since childhood, as she used to take class trips to Ashland, Oregon, to the Shakespeare festival.
“We’d see all these renditions of Shakespeare done in different eras, and different times and with different concepts and we were really inspired,” Miller said.
Since she knows the play so well, an opportunity was presented to her to direct through the department, Miller said. She decided to take advantage of the learning experience while she’s still a student.
Senior and stage manager Perry Moore has been on the production since September.
Miller approached her with the idea of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and had a lot of different ideas on how to do the production differently, Moore said.
Never having been a stage manager before, Moore found there were a lot of rules she didn’t know about the role. Stage managers are required to run the technical aspect backstage and set production meetings, things Miller had been doing before Moore knew the rules, she said.
“The set was built, the lights were happening and people were getting their costumes, and finally watching the ideas that Greta [Miller] had in September finally come together was definitely my favorite moment,” Moore said.
Senior Sammy Orrey, who plays a weaver character named Bottom, is part of a theatrical group in the story performing a play within a play. Orrey said it’s been challenging portraying his character in a more modern light, going as far as saying Shakespearian lines with a Southern drawl.
“It gives me a lot of liberty and a lot of opportunity to make more of the characters and to explore the characters, and really explore Bottom,” Orrey said.
As the first full production she has ever directed, Miller said she found it to be a great learning experience.
As far as offending people with such a modernized take, Miller isn’t too concerned. “It’s just telling a story. It’s good for everyone to see that story in a different way and to reflect on it in a different way,” Miller said.
Miller hopes she provoked thought in people through some of the themes in her production, she said.
“We really hope people saw our vision and kind of perceive Shakespeare in a new light,” Moore said.