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McKenna Willis (left) as Hermia, Jennifer Geiger (center) as Puck, and Bryan Arnold (right) in OSU Department of theater's “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Credit: Courtesy of Melissa Lee

OSU theater gives Shakespeare a ‘nontraditional’ twist

The Ohio State Department of Theatre is taking a progressive approach to Shakespeare by minimizing dialogue, using ukulele and guitar instrumentals and incorporating a nontraditional gendered cast in the upcoming production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

This fourth-wall breaking version of the classic comedy uses modern music and aesthetic to engage the audience in the mystical mischief of the play without subjecting it to lengthy Shakespearean prose. The production is playful and intended for young audiences, according to director and theater department lecturer, Melissa Lee.

Lee said the concise 70-minute adaptation is more accessible for contemporary audiences, and the set will be abstract and minimal, primarily consisting of ladders.    

The play is set in a modern metropolitan version of Athens, Lee said. The cast will also be clad in current fashion styles as opposed to traditional Elizabethan costumes.

“Puck in our production plays the ukulele, Bottom plays the guitar,” Lee said. “The production is crafted to be interactive and to engage children in the magic and the imagination of theater.”

Lee made other unconventional directorial choices, including casting Puck as a female played by Jennifer Geiger, a fourth-year in theater. Puck’s character in this adaptation also serves a greater narrative function, moving the action at a more rapid pace than in the original play.

Jennifer Geiger (left) as Puck and Bryan Arnold (right) as Bottom in OSU department of theater's “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Credit: Courtesy of Melissa Lee

Jennifer Geiger (left) as Puck and Bryan Arnold (right) as Bottom in OSU department of theater’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Credit: Courtesy of Melissa Lee

“I was super pumped when OSU was casting Puck as a female,” Geiger said. “Puck is pretty androgynous, his gender does not particularly matter, and it’s fun to create different female roles.”

This will be Geiger’s final production at OSU, and the first play with the theater department for McKenna Willis, a second-year in theater who will be playing the role of Hermia.

Hermia elopes with the character Lysander despite her father’s disapproval. This major plot point inspires most of the action of the play, leading the characters into fairy-infested woods, where other cast members enter the comedy.

The adaptation will tour Columbus elementary schools and high schools after its five-show run at the Lincoln Theatre downtown. The cast will run acting workshops with students after its performances in school cafeterias and gymnasiums.

“It’s definitely been a lot of hours spent,” Willis said about the rehearsal process. “I am a little nervous, but definitely excited. I am excited to workshop and perform for kids.”

Workshops will help develop the young audiences into better actors and educate them about the world of theater. Children will get the opportunity to enhance their skills at embodying different characters, Geiger said.

“When you are performing for kids, it is often their first exposure to theater. I think it is important for that to be engaging and something they want to return to,” Geiger said.

The public performances at the Lincoln Theatre, located at 769 E. Long St., will cost $15 for students and $20 for the general public. Shows will be on Friday at 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

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