Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Livingstone School's presentation of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' well played

Livingstone School and Theatre Prospero breathe new life
into the old bard's play

C. Davis and T. Lucas photos and video

Toni Lucas

The words of the immortal bard rang strong and true throughout the gymnasium at Livingstone School on Thursday, November 25, which was set up for a theatre in the round style of presentation.  Students had four days to work with the the Prospero Theatre (PT) troupe from Edmonton, and they made the most of it.

It was explained at the beginning of the play that many of the roles would be played by more than one person at different times to allow a part in the play for all the students that wanted to perform. For example, the major role of Puck, a mischievous sprite, would be played by three people all wearing the same hat.

To use Shakespeare's own words: "The play's the thing."  The students threw themselves into the faerie filled woods of Shakespeare's imagination with abandon.  They auditioned for and received their parts before the Prospero group arrived.  The students took their obligation seriously. They were costumed with makeup in place and excited to make their entrances before the play began.  There were few miscues or faltered lines from the youngest actors to the oldest professionals on stage.  The play was very engaging, well staged, well acted, and with the exception of multiple actors playing the same role quite true to the original.  They really brought it to life, suspending reality for a while.

The humour that has always been a part of this play was not lost on a generation that is perhaps more familiar with Ipods and MP4s.  Guffaws greeted many of the funny moments. Close to thirty of the students had speaking parts, and according to TP Artistic Director Mark Henderson close to one hundred students took part in total.  Fairies danced, sprites frolicked, and humans were bewitched by Puck to fall in luckless and doomed love. Alas for poor Bottom who, wishing only for the best role in the play to be performed before the Duke, was enchanted to have the braying, fuzzy, long eared countenance of an ass.  At least he was well cared for in his equine state.   The Faerie Queen Titania was also under enchantment and believed him to be her true love.  Titania instructed her Faerie handmaidens to wait upon the donkey eared Bottom until Faerie King Oberon removed the enchantment from her eyes, and set all the spells aside.

Henderson has been with TP since it's inception in 1996.  As one of the founders of the company, he was thrilled to come again to Livingstone School, having worked with the school previously in 2005 for Hamlet and in 2011 for Romeo and Juliet.

"It gives a lot of students the chance to shine and excel and stand up in front of their entire peer group and community and become somebody outside of their role in that school," he said.  "That is the whole point of doing a play is to temporarily change the whole social order.  They learn more about the English language.  There is no better way to learn about the English language I think than to get inside of Shakespeare.   A lot of the students we work with have had their English scores go way up.  It gives a chance for the whole school to come together to do a larger project across all grades.  That's art."

The seven people from the PT played various roles, guided the students, and helped with all aspects of the play.  During this process the students learned more about drama, sets, stage direction, and working individually towards the support of the whole group.

Grade 12 student Taran Findlater was enthusiastic prior to the play's presentation.  "Ready to see the best performance of your life?" he asked. "I'm playing Bottom, one of the townsfolk as we call them 'Mechanicals".  In the beginning  we get together and we decide to do a play within the play.  It's for the Duke and Duchess, it's going to be really good."  This was Findlater's second experience with Theatre Prospero.  "They help us get through everything," he said. "They teach us nice little tricks to get us pumped and ready, help us memorize our lines a lot better and it's just amazing what they do."

"It was fun," he continued.  "I like not having to worry about people thinking 'oh, he's just being an idiot out there'.  They know it's in the play, and I can go and act like an idiot, which I love doing!"  He prefers comedic roles because "

"You don't have to hold back.  You can go all out, and people love this."  Findlater has been involved in drama for 7 years, playing numerous roles in that time.  "Bottom, I've been in Dracula, Friar John, in Romeo and Juliet, a chef, I cant remember them all."  When asked which was his favourite so far he said "Dracula, definitely.  That one was just ridiculously funny, and amazing."

Theatre Prospero has a full plate ahead of them.  They are planning to expand on their work with school groups with longer residencies.  They are hoping to do a tour through communities in southwest Alberta and British Columbia, performing Romeo and Juliet or Midsummer Night's Dream.  "Shakespeare and art is not rarefied and out of reach, only for certain people, it's for everyone, about regular human life,"  Henderson said.  The group will also be putting together the Thousand Faces Festival in Edmonton.

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