Alternative Shakespeare: The unexpected joys of working with the classics


It’s a little difficult to give Puck coherent instructions when your fairy wings are hanging askew and your flowery crown lurches over an ear—even if you are the mighty Oberon—but Chris handled the challenges with aplomb; after all hadn’t he navigated similar obstacles as Bloomington Jefferson’s running back? However, being listed in the program as the “conniving Chris” was a bit much, once he discovered that the word meant “plotting.” Craftily, he changed his descriptor to “stupendous” during the dress rehearsal.

Dress rehearsal was also a taxing moment for Nick. Handed a striped, robe-like garment to wear as Duke Theseus, he exclaimed, “I ain’t going to be no shepherd!” (Now how in the world did he intuit that I had made the robe when I was cast as Isaiah?) Apparently the burdens of office suddenly struck him as too much to bear, because a half hour before curtain call, he abandoned his script and crown by the basketball court and hit the road. Luckily, Tom, all-purpose understudy, was ready to assume his mantle and had no objection to stripes.

Any staging of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is daunting, since the number of characters is huge. And then there’s the language problem, especially if you are a high school student, but the class was ready. Hadn’t they made their way through the blood and guts of Oedipus and Antigone? Time for something lighter.

Finding an ass’s head is always a major problem in staging the play, but, handed three Rainbow grocery bags, Cody knew what to do. Cunningly, he taped one at right angles to the other and then stapled its ends together, making a very broad snout; soon a red tongue dangled from its center and red-lined ears and a yarn mane crowned its top. There was even enough grocery bag left for a tail. Cody’s moment of illumination came when he made the connection between his character’s name, ‘Bottom,’ and the fact he becomes an ass. Shakespeare was so puckish!

6’2″ Jan, wearing grocery bag cones for horns, was adrift—having not been a part of the class reading of the play (which is not to say that those who had participated did know what was going on.) Why did he have to flitter off to find a flower that had been shot by Cupid?—whoever Cupid was.

For the girls, it was about art: there were crowns to construct and fairy wings. As with many winged creatures though, the fairies had trouble: their lovely water-colored wings wouldn’t stay open. Emergency surgery with matboard stiffened them up, and attachment was achieved by white yarn criss-crossed across the chest. Never mind getting in and out of them—just wear the wings all morning.

There could have been no better director than Grace. If there’s one job where bossiness is an asset it is Play Director—although to get 13 alternative school students organized to assume 19 roles, she did resort to pleading—”I will be your new best friend if you’ll be in the play…” When her ‘enter stage left’ direction conflicted with my ‘enter state right’ direction to gentle Hermia, Grace was obdurate, ‘Forget Rosemary’s instructions, I’m in charge of this,” despite the fact that all her written stage directions turned out to be the opposite of what she had intended.

Some liberties were taken with Shakespeare. Rewritten into modern dialogue by Grace and Cody, the script has Helena declare she’s ‘horny’ for Demetrius. Although Will rightly questioned whether that word was in Shakespeare’s lexicon, it remained in the text, since the spirit of the word was correct. Lysander decided to add his own interpretation of the bedtime scene with Hermia, swooping off his sheet toga and laying it on the ground in the hopes that she might join him in slumber.

So, when asked why I remain a teacher, I reply, “Because it keeps me young. Sometimes you just have to sit back and laugh.”