Téa Franco

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — The Winthrop University Theatre and Dance Department will present its rendition of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, with a slight twist this week.

The production is a bit unique because the cast is mostly female, featuring several roles, which have historically been played by men, that will be played by women.

Sarah Provencal, director of the production and an adjunct professor of theatre, said there is a large female population in the theatre department.

“A lot of times, we end up doing these shows that have a 50-50 male-female cast ratio, which sounds equal, but it’s not equitable when you think about the makeup of gender of our students,” said Provencal.

“Basically we wanted to just give the roles to the best actors for the part, regardless of what sex they were assigned at birth. ‘Midsummer’ was a nice vehicle to do that with, because it is a comedy and so there is already some gender play happening anyway in the play, so we just added that next layer on,” she said.

“For Shakespeare it’s not that crazy, because with Shakespeare, his plays were originally performed with all males because it was illegal for females to perform, so it’s not that crazy to have some cross-gender casting.”

Shakespeare is often a point of tension for many students, who had to sit through classes deciphering the difficult words and phrases that the Bard is famous for. However, the theatre department wants to change that perception.

Provencal said one of her goals is to create a performance that anyone can understand.

“So many people that enjoyed (Shakespeare’s) plays the most, when they were performed during his lifetime, were people that didn’t necessarily get all the language, they just enjoyed the really hilarious physical comedy and the truthfulness of the characters,” she said.

“When you come, you’re not going to understand every single word the first time you see it, but you’ll get the story, because the way we are staging it is highly physical, highly energetic. Even if you didn’t speak English you could watch this production and you would still know what’s going on and could have a good time watching it.”

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” follows four main plots, which makes it stand out amongst Shakespeare’s other plays.

In one plot, the characters Thesueus and Hippolyta plan their marriage. Another plot follows the four lovers Hermia, Helena, Demitrius and Lysander, as they navigate complications because Lysander and Hermia love each other, but Helena loves Demetrius and Demetrius loves Hermia.

Meanwhile, a third plot follows the rude mechanicals, which is a theatre troupe made up of six laborers, and the fourth plot follows the fairies, who attend to Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairies, as they interfere with the lovers.

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Emily O’Regan rehearses for her role as Demetrius in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which will run on the main stage in the Johnson Theatre Feb. 19-22 (photo: Téa Franco).

Emily O’Regan, who is cast as Demetrius, said she was “ecstatic” when she learned the theatre department would perform “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” because it has been her favorite Shakespearean play since middle school.

In order to perfect her role, she said she picked her monologue in May and practiced it over the entire summer to prepare for auditions in the fall.

“To make a Shakespeare play really good, it needs to be really physical and dramatic and over the top and comedic, so I really like those different aspects,” said O’Regan.

“This show has a lot of magic involved and some of the stuff that happens in it doesn’t make sense and that is what makes it so fun. There’s parts where we sleep out in the woods sometimes and fairies bring us little pillows, which is funny having that happen on stage.”

Allyson Baumgartner said she considers it “a dream role” to portray Hermia on stage.

“She is super feisty, she’s been very sheltered in her life, because she is upper class. So her dad kind of shelters her and uses her as a pawn in his life, but she’s turning rebellious and the whole story is sparked by her rebellion,” said Baumgartner.

However, she said the show will provide the audience with a story that transcends the style of language, commonplace in Shakespeare’s works, which tends to leave some confused.

“Shakespeare is its own beast, but Shakespeare creates this incredible road map for us to use. He has this iambic pentameter and this verse that the lovers use,” said Baumgartner.

“Movement is such an important part of Shakespeare, as well. Shakespeare would be super boring if you just stood and talked. (Provencal) has created this awesome dynamic of moving within the piece that makes Shakespeare so much more interesting and it helps people, that don’t understand Shakespeare, actually get it. The actors will guide the audience,” she said.

“It does take a second to get used to but it’s a story that you can follow along. Us as actors, we are giving the audience the story and as long as the audience understands the story, the language is just like the icing and sprinkles on top of the cupcake.”

Provencal said she considers “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to be Shakespeare’s best comedy.

“I think if you like laughing, that you’ll like this show. You don’t have to know how to do iambic pentameter, you don’t have to have visited the Globe Theater before. If you think that humans can be over dramatic and you think that is fun, then come see it because it’s a lot about the drama of love and lust and how ridiculous love can be,” said Provencal.

The show will open Feb. 19 and it will run through Feb. 22. Tickets are $8 with a Winthrop ID and $15 for the general public.

* The podcast in this report was produced by Kersey Hanna.