Each September, Eastern’s theatre department features a play involving a variety of alumni, students and staff. This year, the campus will be treated to a very artistic showing of A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by alumnus Justin Poole.
Poole, who graduated from Eastern in 2002 and is currently working on a doctorate at the University of Maryland, developed the show through his own theatre company, Cross Cultural Theatre Initiative.
His mission through CCTI, as stated on the company’s Web site, crossculturaltheatre.com, is to expose new audiences to theatre pieces from various cultures in such a way as to spark interest in those cultures.
With a talented cast and a lot of creativity, Poole has managed to do just that. According to Poole, the show will feature “a juxtaposition of styles from neoclassic to surrealist.”
There will be four major dance pieces choreographed by alum Josh Landis with original music composed by alumna Jessi Ruhf.
Professor Mark Hallen, director of Eastern’s theatre program, has kept in touch with Poole since his graduation and when he heard about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he was intrigued.
“I started going to rehearsals [at the beginning of the summer],” Hallen said. “By the end of June, it was clear that [Poole] had the right stuff.” From there, Hallen offered Poole the chance to “re-mount the production” and bring it to Eastern’s campus. “It’s exciting for students to see an alum come back like this,” he said.
Senior Dani Mione is the lighting designer and student technical director. She said that she was called one night to help with the show and just kept going back. “I think it’s an amazing play,” Mione said. “[Poole] took a different approach, but it’s still traditional Shakespeare.”
The show had its debut this past August at Upper Merion Baptist Church.
“The church was very open to new ideas,” Poole said. “I was given so much artistic freedom in the church that I never had to tell my actors to hold back.”
With a cast of nine people playing 20 characters, they have their work cut out for them. Rather than focusing on the language intensity typical of Shakespeare, Poole’s vision is to draw out the attitudes and feelings of the characters. He will use the actors’ movements and vocal tones rather than their words and without the help of elaborate costuming and scenery. As Poole said, “the actors are the scenery.”
The show will be playing Sept. 27-29 at 8 p.m. and Sept. 30 at 2 p.m. in McInnis Auditorium. Admittance is $10 or $5 with an Eastern ID.
And for those who are nervous about understanding Shakespeare, according to both Poole and Hallen, it may take a while to fully understand what’s happening, but it will be well worth the effort.
“You’ve landed on planet Shakespeare,” Hallen said, “so sit back, relax, and don’t beat yourself over the head about it.”