Back in late 2005 one of my best friends, Kate, directed Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in which I played Helena. I had acted with Kate and the others before, but something about this play was different. Midsummers came into my life right when other sections of my life were falling apart. A death and disaster caused my family life to be thrown into chaos and me to be uprooted and ostracized from almost my entire social group. One of my rediscovered friends who was soon to become a boyfriend was moving very far away. All of the other realms of my life were experiencing earthquakes and sadness.
But in the midst of all that turmoil was this play at this little church. Our rehearsals were held at a small, white church with a steeple not far from my house. When I walked through the metal door in the afternoons for play practice, all of my problems melted away because I was with a group of people who were completely detached from the rest of my life. They were not entrenched in grieving or part of the group I was in process of being alienated from. As theater nerds are wont to be, this new group of friends contained some of the oddest but the most creative people I’ve ever met.
There’s a warmth and elation that comes with working hard on a creative project with people like that for long periods of time. I entered the world of fairies, kings, queens, the mischievous Puck, and people that cared enough to offer arms to fall back into when I needed them. Midsummers became a sanctuary for me.
During our weeks of rehearsing I laughed so hard I cried at my fellow actors. The twelve-year-old boy who played Nick Bottom was shy about saying his lines with swagger, so in order to get him to add some attitude to his scenes, Kate told him to say “And I’m awesome,” after every line. So after this tiny boy said “[the ballad] will be called ‘Bottom’s Dream,’ because it hath no Bottom. And I’m awesome,” we were sent into fits of giggles at how adorable and brilliant it was.
The first day we performed it was bright, but slightly overcast outside. The windows in the chapel where we performed were glowing with frost. Our dress rehearsals had gone well and I was feeling radiant in the long, light purple dress with a perfect V neckline I was wearing on stage.
I remember being holed up in the kitchen before the first show. The anticipation was palpable. The day of the first performance, the guy playing Demetrius came down with the flu. So, being the only available understudy, Kate jumped in and filled the role. She wore her jeans and a slightly fluffy red shirt as a last minute costume and she played a smashing Demetrius. As the show went on, each performance made us all happier. Our lines came out smoother, our entrances got better, and by the end were all shining in the height of comfort onstage.
There is a play within the play, so my character and the other three main characters come out and sit on the front of the stage and “watch” near the end of the show. Casts tend to gel and get funnier just like good sitcoms the more often they are shown, so by the time our third performance rolled around, I, Hermia, Lysander, and Demetrius/Kate were nearly falling over laughing at how well the younger actors and Nick Bottom were doing.
After the play was over and we took down the sets, I felt what I can only explain as euphoria. The show had gone so well, I was feeling so grateful for my incredible friends, and I was smitten from on-stage romance that later turned into a real (though short-lived) one. The head fairy and the girl playing Thisbe went crazy with the lipstick and within minutes everyone’s faces were covered in bright pink lip prints.
Still glowing from our post-production adrenaline we took the customary trip to Big Boy’s and filled up a set of tables and stayed long into the evening. And in the moment of my “I’m powerful and sexy and I’m an actress!” boldness, I smushed chocolate ice cream onto the face of a boy who had been bothering me. (Who knew “smushed” isn’t actually a word?)
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” connected me with people I would have never met otherwise. And they were weird, but those weird people loved me!
This is how a Shakespeare play saved me and what theater has always been for me: people loving me for exactly whatever I am, loving me for and encouraging me to express myself when I am feeling most alone.
Photo credit: Flickr / sarniebill1