Several Brainerd seniors wanted to cap their high school theater careers in memorable fashion. So did John Wanninger, who will direct his last play after seven years at Brainerd High School. This weekend, they'll either go out with a blaze of glory or down in flames.
Their ambitious subject: William Shakespeare's fantasy/comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
"It's one of the biggest productions in a long time," said junior Chris Derby, who plays Moonshine. "Compared to (the fall play) 'Our Town,' it's a monstrosity."
About 40 students comprise the cast and crew of "Midsummer," which marks Wanninger's first stab at Shakespeare. He wanted to get the Bard on his resume before pursuing a master's degree in film and literature at Northern Illinois University.
So he scheduled a two-week Shakespeare workshop in January and later pushed the play's opening day from April to May. In rehearsals Monday, the director was witnessing the results of the extra research and practice time: "I knew they could do it," he said.
Senior Alicia Weagel, the play's assistant director, described "Midsummer" as "all about the absurdity of love and the mix-ups that happen in a dream world." It represented a different challenge for every actor.
"It's how the words are arranged that's difficult to comprehend," said senior Matt Capelle, who plays Oberon.
"It's not just the speaking, but the acting, too," said senior Vincenza Spagnuolo, who plays Helena. "As a Shakespearean actor, you have to express the gestures a little more because everyone in the audience isn't going to understand what you're saying."
"It's the body language and the tone of how you say your lines," said senior Trent Wallin, who plays Theseus.
Shakespeare's stories are sometimes given a modern update -- a 1999 movie moved "Midsummer's" events into the 20th century, while the BHS version maintains the ancient Greece setting. Weagel believes if "Midsummer" was translated into modern English, its style would be destroyed. A few long-winded speeches were all Wanninger excised from the original.
"Shakespeare was stylizing it," said Weagel, who designed and fabricated the play's costumes. "He wrote most of his plays in rhythm. We don't really say 'wither are you going' instead of 'where are you going,' but it's still proper English. It's a lot more like poetry."
"The pauses and the commas were definitely big obstacles to get over," Spagnuolo said. "You don't end at the end of a line. If there's not a comma, you keep going. And in a lot of scenes, the characters bounce lines back and forth so you have to say your line really quick after the other person."
Of course, mastering the meaning and rhythm of Shakespeare is one thing. Improvising Shakespearean dialogue on the spot is another.
"It'd be very difficult to ad-lib," Capelle said with a chuckle. "There's a lot of long speeches, so if you screw up, you're basically out of luck."
No worries. They still have one more day to practice.
Other principal cast members are seniors David Miller and Erik Hukriede, juniors Tara Ritter, Ginny Mueller, Ashley Griggs and Max Karnowski and sophomore Logan Mohs. BHS and Central Lakes College graduate Matt Cummings designed the set.
JOHN HANSEN can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5863.
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