Rachel Baez is Tatiana and Darius Canty is Oberson in the BRIT Program's adaptation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Photos by Bryce Womeldurf | USF College of The Arts
TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 18, 2016) – Their friends let them know how lucky they are to be away from London’s cold and blustery weather. This year’s British International Theatre Program’s (BRIT) directors Richard Beecham and Alice Malin are enjoying our area’s far milder climate while they mount a modern-day production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” set in a quintessential Tampa Bay locale, the beach. And not just any beach –a beach in Theatre 2.
It all makes sense in Beecham’s reimagining of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays where the young lovers, fairies and amateur actors in his mysterious forest are replaced by young cheerleaders and basketball players, beach party ravers and a chain gang of petty criminals.
Both Beecham, born in Northeast London, and Malin, originally from Wales, are free-lance theatre directors now based in London have been involved with several Shakespearean productions over the years – sometimes strictly classical, sometimes modern adaptations.
This time around, directing this incarnation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Beecham said, “I kept all of the story but removed a lot of the poetry. This is so that it’s more connected to contemporary life.”
Shakespeare’s character of the Indian changeling boys now has a local connection to Florida’s Seminole culture, thanks to a suggestion from USF School of Theatre’s and Dance Director Marc Powers. Another key element of the story, the moon, is given a contemporary twist by being presented as a giant disco ball at the beach rave.
The result is a lean, quick-moving version of the play trimmed 90-minute play that still keeps the beauty of the Bard’s use of language. At the same time, Beecham has become enchanted with his cast’s “modern American accents” which suit this version of the play.
Enjoying the contributions from the cast, Malin said, “Character inspirations have been pulled from diverse pop culture sources, from rap music and the Netflix series, ‘Orange is the New Black’.”
When it comes to Shakespeare, Beecham said he feels free to takes such liberties because, “Our generation of theatre-makers is much less reverential though we have enormous respect.”
Malin, who is serving as associate director, pointed out that, “People forget that Shakespeare’s spirit was quite anarchic. He was willing to shake things up a bit and I think he would be quite happy to see us do the same.”
What still comes through is Shakespeare’s essential story.
Director Richard Beecham
“We focus on what the story is really about,” Beecham said. “It’s about young love and the madness of infatuation. It’s a comedy and we want the audience to have a good time and re-experience this classic like it’s a new play. Love does indeed make you do crazy things.”
Associate Director Alice Malin
Beecham and Malin are two of the latest of the professional directors and choreographers, leading actors in theatre, television and film, voice and speech experts and top rated designers the BRIT Program seeks out each year. They bring their knowledge and experience in British classical theatre and contemporary cutting edge theatre to USF’s students who work with them in master classes and workshops.
In the English-speaking world, there are two significant centers for the development of theatre – New York City and London. New York has held that status for about 100 years. London has held that status for over 500 years. If one considers that Shakespeare remains the most produced playwright in the world every year, the importance of the British theatre to what we do is obvious.
Now more than two decades old, The BRIT Program’s founding artistic directors are philanthropists Hinks and Elaine Shimberg, British theatre producers Lisel and John Gale and Emeritus Professor Denis Calandra, PH.D. The Shimbergs provided financial assistance along with British theatrical producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Tampa businessman Dan Dolye and the State of Florida Matching Grant Program.
“The BRIT Program and the generous endowment that supports it is a rarity in higher education, and the envy of many university theatre programs,” Powers said. “It is the type of program one expects to find at an elite private school or conservatory, not at a public institution and especially not at one where the entire focus of the theatre program is on undergraduate students.”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is the fourth play of the 2015-2016 season and runs from Feb. 18-20 and 25-27 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 21 and 28 at 3 p.m. In Theatre 2, Tampa, (3829 USF W. Holly Dr.). Tickets are $10 students/seniors/active military and $15 general admission. Purchase tickets at www.arts.usf.edu or the box office (813) 974-2323.
Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563