With every school year comes two productions, a play, and a very much anticipated musical. And because of that, each year,
me and many others are introduced to two new productions. And every time I fall in love with them! They’re certainly always hidden gems. For example, prior to the last school year, I hadn’t heard of Big Fish. Turns out it’s saddeningly underrated, everything about it drew me in! From the soundtrack to the overall energy, it’s just fantastic. What’s not to love? Moreover,
with each show that I view I feel more and more upset that there’s an odd stigma around theater, and being a ‘theater kid’. Moving onto a specific production in mind, this year’s play was
A Midsummer’s Night Dream. In short, A Midsummer’s Night
Dream is a comedy written by William Shakespeare that revolves around the idea of love. Honestly, when I first went to watch it I was skeptical because I struggle to get behind anything
that has to do with Shakespeare, (apart from Romeo and Juliet
because it’s a classic yet tragic love story.) Though, by the end of the night, I stood corrected. Oh boy, Midsummer sure is a play to rave about! In fact, once I got home I wouldn’t stop talking about how good UMAHS’s version of it was! Despite struggling to understand the dialogue at times, I stayed very
intrigued. All of the actors were phenomenal, no matter just how ‘important’ their characters were in terms of the plot.
Apart from the cast members, all of the stage crew really outdid themselves! The way that they manipulated the new tech, and in turn set the scene tied so beautifully with the actor’s performances. Both aspects truly amped up the watcher’s
experiences, I know that it did for me, and for the people that I talked to after the night came to a close. Furthermore, those part of the overall crew who did prop work also had a huge hand in everything coming together very nicely, which shouldn’t be forgotten. And now, without further ado, most of the rest of this piece will be dedicated to interviews with various members of the team, enjoy!
For the first interview, it was a no-brainer that I had to talk to Mr. Barash, the director.
Q1: Why was A Midsummer’s Night Dream chosen for this school year’s play?
Mr. Barash: Because we didn’t know what the new building would look like, or if we would be able to perform in the new theater, we had to pick a show that was adaptable to any space and didn’t require a big, complicated set. But we also wanted to pick a show that could show off the new technology in the theater if it was ready, so Midsummer was a perfect choice, because it can be done very minimally, but there are also the magical elements that would allow us to use some special effects. It also has a big cast, which meant that a lot of students would be able to participate. I also love Shakespeare and Midsummer is really funny.
Q2: In a brief summary, what was A Midsummer’s Night Dream about?
Mr. Barash: Midsummer is about a couple, Hermia and Lysander, who are going to elope because their parents don’t want them to get married, so they run away into the forest. Another man, Demetrius wants to marry Hermia; and another woman, Helena, wants to marry Demetrius. They all chase each other into the forest, where Demetrius and Lysander are bewitched by fairies to fall in love with Helena, so they both begin chasing her through the woods and hilarity ensues. Eventually, the fairies undo the spell on Lysander, so both couples, Lysander/Hermia, and Demetrius/Helena live happily ever after. There is also an acting troupe that performs at their wedding, and they are hilariously bad. So like all Shakespearean comedies, it ends in a funny wedding.
Q3: Since Midsummer was the first show to be performed in the new theater and the new high school building in general, how excited were you?
Mr. Barash: Very! This was a really exciting opportunity to explore a brand new, state-of-the-art theater that has a lot of really fun features. Obviously, it was a little daunting and difficult that we ended up having only a couple weeks to learn and get used to the space, but it’s such a professional room. I know that I personally have been lookinging forward to the new theater opening and getting to play with all the new toys, and I think the students were, and still are, looking forward to learning how to use all of the new equipment.
Q4: How were you feeling going into it?
Mr. Barash: At the start of the process, I was a little worried about the theater getting finished in time for our show, but just like with every show I’ve ever done, it always all comes together at the last minute. By the time we opened, I knew we had a really great show that audiences would enjoy, so I was able to step back during the performances because students were ready to run the whole show on their own!
Q5: What was it like getting a feel for the new stage, and the new environment as a whole?
Mr. Barash: It was definitely an adjustment! The old auditorium was, well, old. It was a multi-use auditorium whereas the new space is very much a dedicated performing arts theater, and a very professional one at that. We are still getting used to it and there are still some features that are not quite ready to be used, but it felt really good to be able to use a new space and start to define the Drama programs’ existence in the
new building. It will take us a couple years to really get used to it and figure out how we can best work in there, so even though we’ve already done a whole show in there, we are still learning!
Q6: Did you face any challenges leading up to opening night?Mr. Barash: I mean the biggest challenge was that we were not able to get into the theater until about 2-3 weeks before opening night. Normally we would be in there for 2 months! But the students were really patient and flexible. Both on and off stage, they are all really talented and were able to adjust like pros. Once we were able to get on stage and had a set, lights, costumes, and microphones, everything came together.
Q7: Do you have a favorite memory from the days leading up to opening night?
Mr. Barash: That week is always such a blur, so it’s hard to really pin down one specific thing. But watching our final rehearsals and seeing the students and the whole show run without me is always really nice. Students work so hard for so long and its exciting to see them find a groove and make it look so easy in performance. I love to see actors tweak little things about
their performances in those last couple days of rehearsal to keep making the show better. I did have a moment where the enormity of opening a brand new stage really hit me. I was talking to the cast and crew right before opening night, and it just hit me how we were setting the tone of the performing arts at Upper Merion for the new building and the legacy that this group of students would leave as the first ones to use the theater.
Q8: What will you miss the most about that show?
Mr. Barash: Directing a comedy is always just so much fun. We’re constantly looking for ways to make things funnier so it’s always a lot of laughter as we try out more and more ridiculous ideas. This was a very talented group of students who knew how to be funny, so rehearsals were just fun. Midsummer is one of my favorite shows ever, and the cast and crew did such a good job with it, so I will miss watching them bring this show I love so much to life.
The second of the three interviews is with a member of stage crew, Milli Patel.
Q1: In a brief summary, what was A Midsummer’s Night Dream about?
Milli: Well, Midsummer is already such a well known production, but basically there’s four lovers running through the woods and while they’re sorting out all their drama there’s a group of fairies that decide to mess with them. That’s like the crudest description I can give, but the play is hilarious!
Q2: Since Midsummer was the first show to be performed in the new theater, and in the new high school building in general, how excited were you? How were you, and the rest of the stage crew members, feeling going into it?
Milli: I was extremely excited! I think more so than the actors, the crew was just thrilled to have a new stage and equipment to work with. Going into it, I was really really hopeful, but as the production progressed I realized we wouldn’t have nearly as much time in the theater as we wanted. Overall, I think we made the best of what little time we had
Q3: What was it like getting a feel for the new stage, and for the sort of new environment as a whole?
Milli: The new stage and walking around on the new stage was BIZARRE. Yeah it was cool, and the tech stuff was hard to figure out for our director and for our crew, but as stage manager, I’d been at pretty much every rehearsal. We used to practice in the third floor LGI so I’d gotten used to that small space! Seeing the actors perform on our stage for the first time was so exciting. Of
course for the run crew it was a little weird at first because our previous stage last year had places to put and organize all our props. Even though we lacked that this year, I believe our run crew made the best of what they were given!!
Q4: Did you, or any stage crew members, face any challenges leading up to opening night?
Milli: 4. There were tons of challenges, for the crew especially. I think every department of our crew had to deal with some technical problems. For example, literally half an hour before the doors opened for one of our show nights, we realized there was something wrong with our speakers. While we were able to fix it, it was super stressful. The build crew originally built large columns for our Athens set, but the whole thing had to be scrapped because we couldn’t rig it up onto one of our flies. The run crew had to deal with headsets not working, and during one performance one of our actors was locked out of the theater right before he was supposed to enter for a scene.
Q5: Do you have a favorite memory from the days leading up to opening night?
Milli: I have a lot of favorite memories. I think of my time with the production, because as stage manager I’ve gone to almost every rehearsal! For the beginning half of production I spent most of my time with the actors, because we were rehearsing and blocking the scenes; and I got to know them all very well. Because of how often I was there for rehearsals, if an actor was absent for one, I’d fill in for them since I eventually memorized lines. One time I had to fill in for Lily, who played Bottom; who was
the Donkey character, and also the character at the end that’s the super dramatic actor. I remember finding it hard to keep a straight face while stabbing myself because the actors thought it was hilarious that I was filling in, and- oh man, it was hard. I also vividly remember Ann and her numerous paper birds, and how
everyone would draw on the whiteboards in the LGI when we would practice there. A favorite one also has to be the slap-scene shenanigan where I was on headset one time during one of the performances, and I opened up my channel then went, “Chris Rock and Will Smith are quaking right now”. I loved working with the crew, honestly, I have a lot of great memories!
Q6: What will you miss the most about that show?
Milli: I’m not sure if I’m going to miss much from this production. Yeah it’s fun, and at the end of every production I think everyone feels a little sad, but- I honestly was just glad to get over that learning curve with the new theater. There’s so much that we didn’t expect, and we had to be so flexible, SO FLEXIBLE- that was really difficult.
Lastly, a joint interview with actor Dash Durning and actress Aileen Lutz.
Q1: First of all, what character did you guys play in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and can you give me a rundown on who they are, and what their role in the show was?
Dash: I played Puck, also known as Robin Goodfellow. He’s a punk fairy that serves his fairy king Oberon, but loves to have fun and entertain himself.
Aileen: I played Hermia. Hermia is one of “the lovers” and the daughter of Egeus. At the start of the snow, it is revealed that her father wants her to marry Demetrius, but she wants to marry Lysander. She runs away with Lysander to the woods and becomes entangled in the magic mishap. Lysander falls in
love with Helena, and Hermia pursues her love. After a few fights and a magical remedy, Lysander falls back in love with Hermia, and they get married.
Q2: How would you two describe your characters using three words? And if you don’t mind, could you explain your answer?
Dash: If I had to use three words to describe Puck, I’d have to say twitchy, mischievous, and fun. Puck’s actions are very twitchy,
Puck does what he feels entertained by, causing mischief in making the wrong people fall in love out of humor, and is overall an extremely fun character to watch and perform as.
Aileen: I would describe Hermia as lovesick, strong-willed, and fierce. Her love for Lysander is a very defining part of her character. As for her confidence and strength, as Helena says “tough she be but little, she is fierce.” While she is assumed to
be a very delicate person, she has a fiery temper.
Q3: In a brief summary, what was A Midsummer’s Night Dream about?
Dash: Midsummer Night’s Dream was about four lovers caught in
the crossfires of the fairy king and queen’s arguing, causing them to fall in and out of love in a goose chase while the fairy sprites do their masters’ bidding.
Aileen: There are four main plot lines in the play; Theseus’ wedding, the fairies, the rude mechanicals, and the lovers. Overall, the basic plot is that the four lovers run away to the forest, and fall victim to the fairies’ shenanigans. Things are
sorted out by the end between all of the couples, and they join Theseus’ wedding. The rude mechanicals perform.
Q4: Since Midsummer was the first show to be performed in the new theater, and in the new high school building in general, how excited were the both of you?
Dash: For the first show performed in the new theater, I was ecstatic to be able to show our new space off and let the audience experience the new show and theater for the first time. The whole cast came together and brought their best to make sure
we could make a show to remember, especially with the constantly changing rehearsal spaces in preparation for the new theater.
Aileen: I was very excited to perform in the new theater, I know
many shared this sentiment. I was nervous because it was a lot to adjust to, but overall just thrilled to work in a state-of-the-art performance space.
Q5: What was it like getting a feel for the new stage, and for the sort of new environment as a whole?
Dash: The new environment is stunning, and is much improved in comparison to our old stage. The amount of ideas and visions that we can share and have the audience experience through this environment is truly an exciting prospect.
Aileen: It’s definitely very different from the old stage. Being on
the stage feels different, due to both the perspective change (the
old stage was off-centered and the room was bigger), and the changes in sound and lighting. Your voice carries a lot further, even without mics. As for the lighting – the room is much better lit, and the colored lights make performances look really phenomenal.
Q6: Did you, or any of the cast members; including those in stage crew, face any challenges leading up to opening night?
Dash: There were some difficulties during the rehearsal process for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but this whole cast and stage crew were the most adaptable people I’ve ever met. Understanding the Shakespearean language, being able to adapt to the ever-changing rehearsal spaces, and sticking with the process of learning our new stage, cues, and other factors were complicated, but I can’t give enough credit to how talented all of our cast and crew is.
Aileen: Definitely. Aside from the usual issues that pop up, people
getting sick and last-minute changes, we had an issue with the lights in the theater. The “house” lights, which are located above the audience, wouldn’t turn off. This made rehearsals feel very odd, because the room was bright and you could see every individual chair.
Q7: Do you have a favorite memory from rehearsals? Or maybe even one from during a night that you performed?
Dash: For me personally, my favorite moments were being able to interact with the audience through every night, and seeing how they reacted and were engaged with the story being told, even in Shakespeare’s tongue.
Aileen: While there were many funny and enjoyable moments from rehearsals, my favorite rehearsal
memory was our “fun run”. A fun run is when you have to do all of your lines and blocking, but you can change the way you do them, and add to things as well. There were several dance breaks and improvisational lines added. As well as accents and character personality swaps. The result was hilarious and chaotic.
Q8: What will you miss the most about that show?
Dash: I feel that the thing I’ll miss most about this show is the fun and joy that it brought everyone. Being able to enjoy the first show in our new theater is an experience that’ll only happen once, and I’ll definitely miss that sense of wonder and excitement.
Aileen: I will miss rehearsals. Performing and practicing scenes was fun, and so was hanging out backstage. Some of my favorite rehearsal memories are of jokes and mishaps from the wings.
And now, a final question for everyone. Why should students and staff members come to watch the musical, Once Upon A Mattress?
Mr. Barash: Well now that we have one show under our belts and more and more of the theater is completed every week, we can really start to expand how we can use the space to its fullest. Once Upon a Mattress is a great, family show and is a fun twist on the classic story of “The Princess and the Pea.” It’s a funny show with a great cast and is an amazing chance to bring the whole
family, especially kids, to enjoy the talent at Upper Merion as well as experience the new theater for its first musical.
Milli: Students, and staff, and just people in general, should come see Once Upon a Mattress because it’s going to be awesome! We have amazing actors. I’m so confident. I know they say like, every year, “oh, we love our cast this year”. But I truly really think that this show was made for our cast. Also, when it comes to the crew, who doesn’t want someone to come to your new theater? And of course we might have the pit open, so we might have the orchestra sitting in there and you’re just gonna get the full
experience. Hopefully by then- I mean, it’s gonna be March, so by then we’re gonna have everything ready. And for a lot of us, this is the closest thing to a professional theater that we’ve ever worked in. So it doesn’t feel, especially for me, this doesn’t feel like a school play or school musical. It feels like an actual production that we’re putting on. And that’s awesome. And I
think everyone should really get the chance to see that, even if you’re not into theater
Dash: If you can, students and staff, come to our spring musical Once Upon a Mattress, it’s a spin on a classic story that’s fun for all ages and we have a great cast that’ll make it worth your while!
Aileen: It’s the first musical in our new theater – it’s going to be incredible! We will have an orchestra in the pit, an incredible set, and amazing actors onstage. Everyone puts so much effort into the show, and it would be amazing to see more people come out to support it.
You heard them, folks, clear those schedules to watch Once Upon a Mattress in the next few months! Shoutout to those featured in this piece for allowing me to interview them, and to everyone else in the club who’s just as valuable.