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BWW Interview: Shane Stewart of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Playmakers Baton Rouge

Shakespeare's finest comedy brought to life in the park

Despite the challenges COVID-19 has created for theatre artisans, Playmakers Baton Rouge will see a return to live theatre in its outdoor production of William Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.

One of Shakespeare's most popular and acclaimed comedies, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" tells the tale of love and marriage, order (and disorder), perception and reality. The play consists of four interwoven plots, connected by a celebration of the wedding of Duke Theseus of Athens and the Amazon Queen, Hippolyta, which are set simultaneously in the woodland and in the realm of Fairyland, under the light of the moon. The show runs May 15-16 at Pointe-Marie Square on River Road.

Director Shane Stewart sat down with to talk about how Shakespeare endures, who would be, a Quince or a Bottom, and how he is letting women take the lead in this production. What do you think makes A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM so enduring as one of Shakespeare's "most popular comedies"?
Stewart: It's the themes of love and longing that do it for me. Take characters like Helena and Bottom. They just want something they can't have. Helena pouts and Bottom fakes it till he makes it, but in the end they get what they want. Whether that is good or not is for us to decide. The theme of wanting is strong in this play.

BWW: Tell us a little bit about your vision for A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. How are you keeping it fresh?
Stewart: What I wanted to do with this play was give female actors and women in general strong voices. I have switched around a few characters, giving Oberon Titania's lines and vice versa, switching Hippolyta and Theseus, and making Bottom a female. This play should be seen as women taking charge.

BWW: Why did you choose this show in particular to direct?
Stewart: Midsummer has always been near and dear to my heart. I've directed it five times but never got to act in it! Before Covid we were supposed to perform Taming of the Shrew then of course everything got shut down. When it was finally decided we could perform live again a year later, but had to do it outside, there were really only two choices in my mind. As You Like It and Midsummer. And I greatly prefer Midsummer so that cemented it!

BWW: What's your favorite part of the play?
Stewart: There are two scenes I've always been in love with. One is the scene where Helena and Hermia fight. Shakespeare had so much passion and feeling in those particular lines and the other is the Pyramus and Thisbe scene. It's literally Shakespeare poking fun at theatre! What's not to love?

BWW: How does it feel being in a theatrical space again?
Stewart: The first in-person rehearsal we had I thought I might cry tears of joy! Virtual theatre has been great, but it's like comparing beef jerky to filet mignon.

BWW: Tell us about your cast. How have rehearsals been going so far?
Stewart: My cast is AMAZING! Some I am meeting for the first time and some I've worked with for years. Regardless, they instantly created a bond! I am most proud of my Helena and Hermia. These two kids, I wish I had half the talent and passion for theatre that they do at their young age.

BWW: One thing that directors and designers love about Shakespeare is the freedom it gives to setting and design. Tell us a little bit about the design and the setting of your production.
Stewart: We kept it straight forward. It was set in Ancient Greece, so we stuck with that. I am by no means a traditionalist as I have seen Shakespeare in places like World War 2 Hawaii and 1920s New York among others. But I think sometimes people try to get to clever with it and forget it's the words that matter. Slapping a theme on top of Shakespeare doesn't help it. It hinders it. Directors need to be mindful when resetting Shakespeare because if you don't do it right you end up with a mess or just simply Shakespeare in period dress for no reason.

BWW: Which character from Midsummer are you most like?
Stewart: Obviously, Quince the director, *laughs*. Honestly, I'm probably most like Bottom. Not a fact I'm necessarily proud of.

BWW: What are your COVID-19 safety precautions?

Stewart: Since we are outdoors for this play, we are performing mask-less, but during indoor rehearsals we have been careful to follow all state guidelines.

BWW: What are you looking forward to about the show? What can audiences expect?

Stewart: I'm a watcher so I'll probably be looking at the audience to see if they like the play. But I am looking forward to just being in the presence of people enjoying an experience. As far as what people can expect? Stomach cramps from laughing so hard!

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