William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream
Directed By Michael Butler~
*Member of Actor's Equity Association
About The Set Design:
Through modern interpretation, Center REP revives and reinvigorates a Shakespearean classic.
Growing up in a household of five sisters and two brothers, Center REPertory Company Artistic Director Michael Butler admits that he was a somewhat mischievious character. His mother often declared, "You are an instigator," after watching him wrangle his siblings into devious plots. Upon graduating from The Julliard School, Butler used those playful energies to influence his portrayal of Puck in a version of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Lincoln Center, directed by the Tony Award--winning Jack O'Brien.
Butler will continue to stir the pot with his eclectic interpretation of Shakespeare's classic this spring at Center REP. "It's Shakespeare's most wildly original and imaginative play," says Butler. "And it's a real playground for creativity." Drawing on the musical talents of Bay Area composer Marc Ream to create the score for the production, Butler hopes to take his audience on a visual and auditory journey through the play.
In Shakespeare's tale, love becomes tangled in knots. His character Lysander claims, "The course of true love never did run smooth," and the story certainly chases some confused hearts. Hermia is a noblewoman who loves Lysander, but whose hand is promised to Demetrius. Egeus, her father, is determined to hold her to the marriage by citing an old Athenian law that states his daughter must marry her betrothed, or face death or a lifetime of servitude as a nun. Hermia rejects the outdated law and escapes into the woods with her lover. Her jilted fiance soon follows with his devotee, Helena in tow. Meanwhile, Oberon, the king of the fairies, orders the impish Puck to use love-inducing flower juice to draw the four into devious affairs. A succession of confused couples and an evening of debauchery ensue.
To Butler, "the idea that people leave the confines of social structures, go off into the woods, and go berserk with mixed-up lovers chasing one another with passions unleashed offers a titilatting opportunity to juxtapose human desires, reality, and dreams." Visually, Butler is just beginning to devise his approach to the play. "it might be a Victorian dream box, a crazy pop-up card, or a pure white room in which colors would be introduced to create a rainbow of hues once the characters are liberated by the amorous frenzy."
He adds, "If I could figure out how to do it, I'd love to have the whole play like a giant finger painting."
Butler's Abstract Expressionist vision draws inspiration from a past performance of his own at the Whitney Museum of American Art. During his performance, Butler attached a brush to the neck of his guitar. The brush was then dipped into succeeding buckets of paint. As he played, the surrounding white set was splashed with color through the motion of his guitar. "Live theatre and live paint," he says. "It was messy and wonderful." Butler always looks to the visual arts for inspiration for his productions to create "a place that can only exist in theatre ... something unusual and still something everyone can enjoy."
With Butler toying with ideas for creating a visually stunning set, he also knows that the music for the production must be equally strong. Ream's digital score will reflect Shakespeare's exploration of dreams. His idea is to take the audience through altered states of reality, calling on ethereal and Celtic-inspired sounds. He will feature "rhythmic segments, and fairly hard pulse with lots of drums."
His eclectic style combines driving music, highlighted by haunting sound effects, and an energetic train-like beat. Ream's work is created almost entirely on the computer using synthesized orchestral instruments. For this production, he also hopes to infuse the score with live singing that will add a sense of warmth. Though his music is essentially modern, Ream wants to merge its sounds with elements that convey the timeless themes of the play, accentuating the complexity of Shakespeare's story. "Marc is a mad scientist at the keyboard, mixing elements creating beautiful musical explosions," says Butler.
A Midsummer's Night Dream will present the first collaboration between Butler and Ream. However, Ream hopes that it will foster a future creative alliance. Currently, Ream is writing an off-Broadway musical with his partner, Sara Moore, entitled Supers.
The play is set in New York City and interweaves the stories of three building superintendents who harbor secret lives. Like an opera, much of the dialogue will be sung. Butler was Ream and Moore's first choice to direct the production. Ream says, "I can tell that he knows what he is doing."
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