One of the challenges when directing a play by William Shakespeare is how to contextualize the story in a way that both honors the playwright and clarifies the story for a modern audience. As a director, it is comforting to note that when plays like A Midsummer Night's Dream were first produced, theatre itself was a new form of media: the actors were in contemporary clothing, and they performed on a stage with little to no scenery. This tells me that the most important thing for us to accomplish this evening is to let these beautiful words do the work for us. We also shouldn't be afraid to deliver them to you in whatever new medium we can. Shakespeare carries a stigma with him today because, for many of us, our first encounter with him was as a piece of work for school. Undoubtedly, some well-meaning teacher forced us to read some 500 year old jokes and assigned us a ten page paper with one inch margins. However, his plays were not meant to be read; they were meant to be seen and heard.
What I like about this play is what I like about all of Shakespeare's work. There are layers upon layers of themes to sift through. On the surface is love. Beneath love is a discussion about marriage, both its virtues and pitfalls. Deeper still is where I pulled our theme for this particular production. One of the great things the Dream shows us is what happens when good things become ultimate things. If you look closely, this production is full of decent people behaving badly because they have let things like financial security, the care of a child, the out-of-reach love object, and yes, even true love itself become greater than the good things they were created to be. When created objects achieve this type of greatness, they cease to be mere objects, and they rise to the level of godhood. A created god is a dangerous entity. Its power to draw is only matched by its inability to be satisfied, and an unsatisfied god demands a sacrifice. Helena sacrifices her friendship, Demetrius sacrifices his first love, Egeus is ready to sacrifice his daughter's life.
I see the same progression in our love affair with the microchip and the screen. Cell phone companies have set us up to pursue new technology every two years. Televisions have become clearer, larger, and flatter than ever. Computers that take 40 minutes to put an informational "girdle around the earth" are considered dinosaurs. It takes milliseconds to send a message out past the atmosphere and back down to the planet thousands of miles away. However, like Shakespeare's work, I think our affair is deeper than plastic and silicon. The main thing these amazing devices offer us is connection - but connection at a distance. The human soul desires to connect with one another while at the same time fearing what responsibilities that connection might bring. We now face a paradox where social networking sites and text messaging offer us instantaneous connection with our friends, while at the same time pushing us further and further away from actually interacting with each other. I would not consider myself an Orwellian alarmist; however, the last few movies I watched with my family came with commercials showing families on vacation at the beach, and each family member was watching a separate movie on their tablets and iphones. Connection and distance.
We should remember that the Dream is just that: a dream. Dreams live below the surface of our conscious selves. They show us our world in both its ideal and its most imperfect forms. There is a spiritual aspect as well. In the Bible, sleeping time is also the stage for visitations and prophecy. Most importantly, dreams are to be interpreted by the dreamer. Therefore, I leave you in the same place Shakespeare left me: to sort these "weak and idle" themes of love and marriage for yourself. Perhaps these words will spur us on to truly connect with the people around us, or offer us a warning about obsession. If anything, my dream is for us all to leave with a bit of hope that love has the power to transpose us from things, "base and vile, holding no quantity," to creatures of, "form and dignity" - a hope that love does have the chance to win in the end.