After two Cottage Garden performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the children had the honor of presenting the show at a local Museum and formal Garden. As you will see from the photographs below, the setting was perfect for our frolicking fairies, with lush lawns, a glassy pool, and even a Greek Theatre.
A Woodland Fairy:
[HT for this last lovely photo: MacBeth]
My friend, Almamater, of the lovely blog, Soul of the Home, was kind enough to write:
Absolutely gorgeous! I hope you will offer more commentary on how all of this was organized...how often were rehearsals, how were roles assigned (auditions?), etc. A hearty congratulations to ALL involved with the production!
Many thanks for asking, Almamater! Here is the long version, told I fear, in about as many words as the unabridged play itself:
In late September of 2005, we collaborated with four or five families to put on a skit called "Comus." My friend Kari had read that this play is presented every year at Ludlow Castle on the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel and thought it would be a wonderful tradition to begin with our children. Kari wrote our version based on a fabulous picture book adapted from John Milton's original work by Margaret Hodges and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Kari directed, MacBeth created the scenery, and I hosted the practices and performance. We called ourselves "The Front Lawn Players," with a humorous tip of the hat to my front lawn. Our oldest cast member was then about twelve. The skit, which took six weeks to prepare and perform, was so enjoyable and successful, that we planned to repeat it as a yearly event.
Then in the Summer of 2006, Kari suggested we try instead an adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream from the out of print book, Shakespeare for Young Players: from Tens to Teens by Gertrude Lerner Kerman. She assigned parts to the original Front Lawn Players without audition, expecting to prepare and perform in the same six week time frame as Comus. From start to finish, the play would have taken about twenty minutes to a half hour to complete. Puck was the central character in the abridged version, and my daughter Margaret, the perfect eight-year-old imp for the role, learned her lines in a day. This made Kari wonder if we might not be able to do a longer version, particularly when we realized that the play had not only been cut down in the abridgement, but also altered significantly in form and language. Who wants to perform Shakespeare that isn't really Shakespeare?
The other mothers and I were all for performing the full length version, but this changed matters significantly. We would not be able to work in the planned six week time frame, but would need the entire school year to practice and learn the parts. One or two cast members could not make the commitment and dropped out, but we managed to fill all the roles with children from our local homeschooling group. We met weekly at our house from October 2006 to the time of our performances in May, with all the mothers helping to bring the production together. Mary Smith and a group of the children designed and created the wonderful costumes. MacBeth and another contingent worked on the sets and program. Caroline, Mary Ellen, Tracey, Julie, Tricia, Patrice and Patty helped behind the scenes with everything from sewing and snacks to props and baby-holding. The talented Libby Derham, Ryan Barrett, and Sean Tuffy provided the music. It was an amazing collaboration and group effort with each person offering something unique and necessary.
In the end, we performed twice in the Cottage Garden and once in the gracious setting pictured above. Each and every time, the cast was applauded by a large and appreciative crowd. It was amazing to see these young children put heart, soul and effort into their performances. The cast lived and breathed Shakespeare for a year, and what an experience it was! [Does anyone remember six-year-old Marie's Spoons from last year?] From October to May, the children grew into their parts and soared, putting on a memorable and heartfelt performance defying their young ages (averaging about ten, with the roles of Puck and Nick Bottom pulled off by two nine-year-olds). The Museum was only too happy to host the final production, welcoming us with open arms and even sending a PR person to photograph.
I cannot stress enough what a delightful, edifying, and worthwhile project this was for all of us, and the children--already close friends--are as affectionate toward one another as cousins after this shared experience. Best of all, everyone in my house from thirteen to three is able to quote Shakespeare and quote it well. Maureen, our three year old, makes a plucky miniature Puck if ever there was one!
From now on, my prayer is that Springtime will always mean Shakespeare in the Garden!