It was the era of leg warmers, Cabbage Patch Kids and Whitney Houston. Toto was singing about the rains down in Africa, and E.T. was looking for a way home. It is also the setting for Dartmouth Players’ production of Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with music, costumes, and dance numbers inspired by the 1980s.
So you have these classic teen and early fantasy movies that align really well with the two main thrusts of the plot within Midsummer Night’s Dream when you blend them together. – Tamara Smith.
Choosing the 80s to set her version of Shakespeare’s most popular and widely performed comedies, director Tamara Smith saw the correlation between the characters and themes of the play and that of the 1980s teen movies that invariably included the pretty, popular girl, the preppy jerk, the cool guy that parents would disapprove of and the nerdy girl who can never find love.
“It all started to sound a lot like the characters from The Breakfast Club and the misunderstanding between the lovers [in A Midsummer Night’s Dream],” she says.
At the same time, Smith began thinking about the emergence of fantasy movies during the same decade, including Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal and The Never Ending Story.
“So you have these classic teen and early fantasy movies that align really well with the two main thrusts of the plot within Midsummer Night’s Dream when you blend them together,” she says. “As an aesthetic, the eighties are fun. You’ve got bright colours, upbeat music, and silly comedy. So, when you put the text together with the aesthetic of the period, it works well on a couple of different levels.”
But while Smith’s vision for A Midsummer Night’s Dream draws from the pop culture and aesthetics of the 80s, she has chosen to leave Shakespeare’s words, with a few exceptions, as is.
“We didn’t change the text, so it was more about finding the places where it resonates naturally,” she says. “We’ve cut some lines and removed some references that didn’t age well, but for the most part it is Shakespeare’s original text.”
Beyond the setting, Smith and producer Elizabeth VanGorder agree that A Midsummer Night’s Dream will also be a fun night out.
“Launching into the fall of 2023, with its big cast and big music it is a great way to spend an evening,” VanGorder says. “It’s also a great way to get past what we’ve gone through in the past couple of years.”
“I would say A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the most accessible of Shakespeare’s plays,” adds Smith. “So if you’re new to Shakespeare, it’s one you can get your teeth into and enjoy, even if you’re a first-timer.”
Dartmouth Players are also making it accessible with its ticket prices.
“With the cost of everything, with community theatre, because we’re all volunteers, we can still sell theatre tickets for real, live theatre for $20 a ticket,” says Smith. “And you can’t get that anywhere else.”
Dartmouth Players presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream at St. James United Church Hall (183 Portland St, Dartmouth) from November 17 through December 3. Visit dartmouthplayers.ns.ca for tickets and information.