Live theater returns to Farmington with TEA presenting Shakespeare classic 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

'Midsummer Night's Dream' runs next two weekends at Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • Brit Ward is directing the production, which is TEA's first live stage play since February 2020.
  • Tickets are $10 and $12.
  • The Aug. 15 performance is sponsored by the Connie Gotsch Works project, and admission is free.

FARMINGTON — As the director of one of the most often-performed stage plays of all time, Brit Ward acknowledged there essentially were two ways he could go with the Theater Ensemble Arts production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" opening this weekend in Farmington.

The first was to put together a traditional and faithful rendition of the play. The second was to do a modern interpretation of the show that remains true to the dialog but changes many of its key elements.

But Ward found a third path.

"I like to play both sides a little bit," he said, grinning as he described his approach to the William Shakespeare classic that is a staple of outdoor summer theater seasons around the world. "I like the traditional stage approach that recognizes a time period, but I like to modernize it with anachronisms and visual gags that make it more contemporary. I think that eases the bridge people have sometimes when they watch Shakespeare."

Ben Burns, left, Rebekah Cochran, Annette DiGiacomo, Menzo Faassen and Arwen Austin rehearse a scene from the Theater Ensemble Arts production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" opening Thursday, Aug. 12 at the Lion's Wilderness Park Amphitheater in Farmington.

As examples of that approach, Ward cited his decision to outfit his fairies in a decidedly glam/punk rock aesthetic, one that relies on fishnet stockings, sliced leather pants, sleeveless denim jackets, Converse All-Stars sneakers, Doc Martens boots, camo T-shirts, elaborate make-up and butterfly masks.

The style is much more late-1980s David Bowie or Alice Cooper than Victorian England or classical Athens. But it accomplishes Ward's goal of shaking up the production's visuals while leaving its foundation intact.

Ren Harris, left, and Rebekah Cochran are featured in the Theater Ensemble Arts production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" opening Thursday, Aug. 12 at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater in Farmington.

It's not a decision Ward took lightly. A self-described Shakespeare scholar, he has spent years studying the Bard's work but had never led a live stage production of it until now. It was important to him to be respectful of the source material.

"This is my first opportunity, actually," he said. "It had never presented itself before. But that blend of naturalistic and heightened acting always spoke to me."

When the TEA board voted to make "A Midsummer Night's Dream" its summer production this year, Ward wasted no time applying for the job of directing it.

Rachel Sitton, front left, and Derek Lovell perform a scene from "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

"I kicked down all the doors I needed to to make sure I got to direct it," he said, laughing. "I unapologetically grabbed it."

Ward said he isn't just a Shakespeare scholar — he's an unabashed fan.

"I love the language," he said. "I love the puzzle and solving the meaning behind it. His work always leaves a lot of room for interpretation, so you can go at it with modern and postmodern perspectives."

Ethan Franklin is featured in a scene from "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Additionally, Shakespeare's work as aged exceptionally well, he said, noting a gag from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in which two male characters get lost.

"So, even then, he was making the joke about how men don't look at maps," Ward said.

Ward said one of the things he enjoys most about "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is that every character has a distinct personality, something that could be brought out in the costuming. He credited costume designer Michelle Holmes for working closely with the cast members to bring out those personalities through the outfits.

"I'm beside myself with how well that worked out," he said.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the production is TEA's first live stage presentation since it performed "Four Weddings and an Elvis" in February 2020. Ward and other TEA regulars stayed busy during the interim by working on a film adaptation of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and producing a series of radio dramas.

Bill Idzerda, left, Charles Holmes, Jeremy Orr and Tim Bagley rehearse a scene from "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

But the director acknowledged there is nothing like returning to a live theater setting.

"I didn't realize how much my heart was with theater until we didn't have an audience to perform for," Ward said.

He described the cast he has assembled for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" as a healthy blend of well-established TEA veterans and new faces.

Saydie Charlie, left, and Ahlula DiGiacomo are featured in the Theater Ensemble Arts production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

"What's been great is that this is maybe the most selfless cast I've ever worked with," he said. "There's a lot of sharing of the stage, a lot of give and take. The veterans have shared their knowledge of Shakespeare with the younger actors, especially Tim Bagley."

The cast features Ahlula DiGiacomo, Derek Lovell, Rachel Sitton, Ren Harris, Ben Burns, Jeremy Orr, Ethan Franklin, Charles Holmes, Tim Bagley, Saydie Charlie, Abigail Gladden, Annette DiGiacomo, Arwen Austin, Avalon Chandler, Bill Idzerda, Chris Spinner, Clara Spinner, Lilly Spinner and Menzo Faassen.

Derek Lovell and Ahlula DiGiacomo are featured in the Theater Ensemble Arts production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

The crew includes Alhanna Valerio, Amanda McCaleb, Amber Glasgow, Bernard Coffey, Ed Hasenbalg, Frank Lawrence, Haleigh Bassing, Ian Anderson, Jessica Chandler, Jonathan Alexander, Karen Brewer, Karen DiGiacomo, Kayden Valerio, Meghan Lexa, Melanie Leeson, Michelle Holmes, Natasha Hastings and Wendy Lexa.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" opens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12 and continues nightly through Sunday, Aug. 15 at Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater, 5800 College Blvd. in Farmington. Performances also are planned at 7 p.m. Aug. 19-20. Tickets are $10 and $12. The Aug. 15 performance is sponsored by the Connie Gotsch Works project, and admission is free. Call 505-320-0101.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.