Midsummer, Theatre Students Join Shakespeare Company
- By Lee Ann Cox
Mercurial skies teased picnicking theater fans, sitting in an arc around the edge of Shelburne Museum’s circus lawn, an intimate, enchanting setting for the fairy-filled forest of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But not until the moment UVM junior Ceara Ledwith, in a lead role as Hermia, uttered the line “Belike for want of rain,” did drops from a passing shower unmistakably hit her upheld palms. With the merest hint of wonderment, she continued, “which I could well beteem them from the tempest of my eyes.” Magic and comedic mischief -- staged and per chance -- delighted the multigenerational audience. At the laughter of rapt children, with a setting sun soon glowing between clouds, someone whispered, “This must have killed at The Globe.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream has, in fact, been a perennial favorite, making it a logical choice for The Vermont Shakespeare Company to perform for its first year working in collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Department of Theatre -- and its first time since the company was founded in 2005 that they’ve performed both indoors and out, rehearsing in Royall Tyler Theatre and ending the run there over this past weekend with a Saturday evening performance and Sunday matinee. With five UVM students and one graduate acting in the professional company, and alumni working as the production stage manager and the lighting designer, it’s an affiliation that Gregory Ramos, professor and chair of theatre, considers a “win-win.”
“We’re seeing this as a really good opportunity to create a bridge between the course work and the production work students get during the year,” Ramos says, “to working with a professional theater group during the summer.” But it is an opportunity and not a given. Students had to audition along with more established actors, part of the process of getting the job. “I think it speaks well for the training they get that the Vermont Shakespeare Company folks felt that they were ready and that they were capable of carrying these roles in a Shakespeare production.”
Affiliation with an academic institution is a common model for Shakespeare festivals, notes Jena Necrason, the company’s creative director. It’s one she hopes to leverage to make Vermont a nationally recognized destination for Shakespeare, eventually growing it to the point that they could run two plays in a summer, performing one outside while simultaneously rehearsing a second to perform in the theatre.
Shakespeare performances in Royall Tyler are not a new thing, both Ramos and Necrason realize. There’s great community nostalgia for the Champlain Shakespeare Festival, which opened in 1962 and ran for 18 years. They’re proud to bring back that cultural tradition.
“There’s a real crossover of resources,” says Necrason. “It’s providing educational opportunities for the students and providing a creative home and a structural facility support for the company. For us it’s thrilling.”
Not least because she finds UVM’s students so well prepared. “They’re incredibly professional,” Necrason says. “They’re generous, they have great ideas and they have been fantastic and important contributors to the process. They’ve integrated themselves into the company pretty flawlessly. And the thing I love about working with them is that they seem intrigued by the overall process, watching how it all comes together, rather than just seeing it as an opportunity to build a resume. They’re artistically curious.”
That’s not a small attribute when you rehearse a play indoors and then take it to an outdoor venue, requiring spatial and timing adjustments, entrances and exits in a natural environment, on grass and not a floor. But it’s a challenge they loved, Necrason says, which showed at Shelburne Museum as the other UVM actors -- in the parts of the First Fairy, Peaceblossom and Mustardseed, the tailor and the tinker -- flitted with the ensemble amongst the audience, over the rock garden and through the Circus Building’s central stone arch. It looked like pure fun, but it comes with a greater purpose.
Even in a play this fantastical, Shakespeare was exploring the multifaceted nature of love with actors bringing it to life. As Ledwith says, “It’s an art form. Actors show people what the human experience is like.”