Kampfire Kuestions for Jonathan Hopkins, Director of Smith Street Stage's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'
1-In your own words, describe the production. Including key themes and conflicts…why is this the right time for this production?
The production is set in New York City in the year 2018, so a big theme of the show will be locating these characters among the people who populate our city. Our mission as a theater company is to reveal the relevance of classical literature to contemporary times, so this choice aligns with that mission and will also foster a sense of familiarity between the audience and the characters, and the characters' conflicts. The play is very much about the madness of love and art and the magical properties that exist in love and art. And the play takes place in the summer (or, more probably, May - but it FEELS like summer). I've always found New York in the summer time to be a magical place with a very distinct energy and atmosphere. I think our production will capture that quality: the fun, the risk, the liveliness, the wildness of the city in the summer time. There's something about it that is just bursting at the seams.
Additionally, it's a play about change and the conditions under which people are changed or change themselves. I think the play will be heartening, and maybe even a bit illuminating, in showing the way that people can be transformed and in some cases made better by their experiences. This is a theme that seems timely to me. I think it's a good time to think about why we're stuck where we are, and what can help us move past where we are.
2-Who are your collaborators and what do you like about working with them?
Katie Willmorth is the assistant director and has been my primary collaborator in preparing and rehearsing the play. I've worked with her as a fellow actor and have directed her, but this is my first chance to direct with her, and it's been a real gift. She has such a high level of preparation and sensitivity to the circumstances of the play, which really helps us stay focused on the human event of a scene. She has an incredible ear for Shakespeare's language and such a keen perception about what helps make a scene work best.
Our designers, Bevin McNally, Joe Jung, Conor Mulligan and Andrew Diaz have really worked to understand the concept of the show and the parameters of our outdoor playing space. Their initiative has been impressive, and they've all been creative with their design and flexible in working around the aesthetic of the show as a whole. So much of their work is going to actualize the magic of the play in a thrilling way. Chris Montgomery's publicity photography, under the direction of our Artistic Director Beth Ann Hopkins, helped articulate and display what our production was aiming to accomplish in a way that helped me get closer to understanding exactly what that aim was.
The cast is so strong, and everyone is working on such a detailed and committed level. I think a lot of the success in producing Shakespeare's comedies is presenting a varied set of characters, so it's important that the actors stay fully invested in their own character so the production can present a diverse group of people, and a diverse set of behaviors and attitudes. It should feel like a full, wild world. So much of our rehearsal has really just been fostering the great ideas the actors come in with. It's been a privilege to be in the room with these actors.
3-Who is the typical audience for the production? What do you want audiences to get out of the show (ie: feel when they leave the theater)?
We see our audience as being everyone. We have people I'd consider Shakespeare experts come see the plays, and we have people who have never seen a Shakespeare show come see the plays. Our belief is that a really good production can serve both ends of this spectrum so long as it's specific and focused on the people in the story and their conflicts.
This year, I hope people feel that something in the play has lifted them above the ordinary. I hope they feel there's something special in living in this city with all of its wildness and variety of characters and backgrounds. I hope they feel that there's something in the power of art that can invite them to look at their own experiences and lives from a slightly different viewpoint. I also hope they feel happy.
4-Who is someone (or something) who has inspired you?
Our company of artists, certainly. Our audiences for being so generous with their attention and willingness to be open for experiences and show consistent year to year support. Our Artistic Director Beth Ann Hopkins, for making a company that so fervently protects the artist's ability to explore, risk, and pursue what the artist feels is most important in a piece of drama. And for making a company that places such a high value on community, respect and collaboration.
5-Why theatre, when did you know you wanted to be a director?
I love the live experience of theater, and the bond that's shared from actor and audience experiencing something together and in real time. It has such a rich immediacy. I love the idea of lots of different people experiencing something together, because I think that there is a sense, even if it's unconscious, that we are sharing a simultaneous experience, even if our interpretations of that experience differ, with a group of people who are likely very different from ourselves, and that sense of shared experience brings communities closer, and exercises our empathy. Being in the space together is very important, and stories are very important, as they help us assign meaning to our lives and personal histories. Fostering this is something that I think is very important in all times, and to me seems of especial importance in our current times.
SMITH STREET STAGE
A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT DREAM
For Lovers, Leaders and Madmen
Written by WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Directed by JONATHAN HOPKINS
JUNE 20 – JULY 1, 2018 IN CARROLL PARK
JULY 11 - 15 AT THE ACTORS FUND
TICKETS AVAILABLE NOW AT SMITHSTREETSTAGE.ORG
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