BYU Youth Company puppets to present ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

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Mark A. Philbrick
1501-15 034 Play “A Midsummer Nights Dream” publicity Titania (Macy Hanson) with Bottom while Oberon (Jacob Tubbs) and Puck (Mary Beth Bosen) look on. (Photo courtesy of BYU Photo)

The Young Company of BYU Theater will debut an unusual performance of William Shakespeare’s  “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” featuring a cast of puppets, Feb. 4.

The Young Company is made up of eight actors directed by Nat Reed, a BYU professor who teaches puppetry. A hybrid cast consisting of traditional actors as well as wooden puppets manned by actors took their places.  The stage included regular backdrops as well as a long, raised podium built specifically for the miniature puppets, so they stand closer to the heights of their actor counterparts.  It is unlike any version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” previously performed.

A hybrid cast consisting of traditional actors as well as wooden puppets manned by actors took their places during a dress rehearsal Jan. 29. The stage included regular backdrops as well as a long, raised podium built specifically for the miniature puppets so they stand closer to the heights of their actor counterparts. It is unlike any version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” previously performed.

Reed constructed each of the puppets used in the play. The puppets are made of wood and painted so each has extreme features, adding to the comedy of the performance. For most of the cast, it is a new experience working with a puppet.

“It’s a challenge because as an actor the best way to connect to other cast members is through eye contact, but here the puppet doesn’t make eye contact,” said Emily Rose Simons, who plays Hermia.

“You have to make sure all of your movements are big and that you have a lot of vocal variety,” said Bryce Revelli, who plays Demetrius.

Chandra Lloyd, who plays the role of Bottom, pointed out the contrast of acting versus puppetry. “Actors always live for that moment when they die, but puppets desire to live. You have to focus everything into their (the puppets’) living,” she said.

The puppets provide an element to the play that would otherwise be impossible, as the actors give life to the puppets. One line, spoken by Helena, who is played by Lindsey Houseman, is particularly comical in light of this fact: “Fie, fie! you counterfeit, you puppet, you!” All of the puppets freeze, staring at one another for a moment, surprised at the irony. The subtle puns about the puppets continue as Simons returns, “How low am I, thou painted maypole?”

The cast said Shakespeare, and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in particular, remains popular because of the magic in the story and the rich, unforgettable characters. “Shakespeare is timeless because it was originally written and performed for ‘groundlings,’ the regular people,” Simons said.

The Young Company is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Rehearsals for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” began last November.  In addition to its campus performances, the company performs regularly at elementary schools. The puppets adapt the play to appeal to a younger audience.  They are constantly moving to keep children engaged; however, the lines are consistent with the traditional script. The play has a total runtime of under one hour, truly a feat considering it consists of five acts. It is a play within a play, and the entire dialogue is Shakespearean poetry.

The plot of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is all about love run amok. The tale of meddling fairies and bewitched lovers is especially timely since it is being shown the week before Valentine’s Day. The cast invites both old and young to come see this performance. “It is a show that everyone can enjoy,” said Aaron Fisher, who plays Lysander.

Houseman added one stipulation to those who choose to attend, “Wear socks, ’cause we are going to knock them off.”

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be performed Feb. 4–7 and 11–14 in the Nelke Theater of the Harris Fine Arts Center. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office of the Harris Fine Arts Center, or online at byutickets.com.

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