“I love Shakespeare because of the language,” Stage Left Director Devon Kasper said. “He really wrote for actors. It’s all so juicy and wonderful to get your mouth into. I also still get extremely excited at how his beautiful work stands the test of time and continues to be universal and poignant.”
For the seventh summer in a row, Stage Left is bringing Shakespeare in the Park to Salida’s Riverside Park. Past productions included the Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. This year A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the chosen play.
“The first time I directed a Shakespeare play was A Midsummer Night’s Dream for a high school in Augusta, Maine, when I was just out of college,” Kasper said. In that production, Kasper set the play in the 1960s. This time the play is set in present day, 2017.
Kasper has performed the role of Helena professionally three times and said one of Helena’s lines is among her favorites: For ere he looked on Hermia’s eyne, He hail’d down oaths that he was only mine. “I think we can all relate to that,” Kasper said. “This play is about love of all kinds – unrequited, requited and dream-like.”
Recent Salida High School graduate Greta Hooston will perform the role of Helena this summer.
“I love playing Helena because she’s very unapologetically emotional throughout the play, so it gives me a lot of room to play everything she does very big,” Hooston said.
Hooston’s enjoyment in her given role is quite apparent in rehearsal. Her lines are clearly delivered and her passion, anger and confusion are obvious. Even if you don’t understand everything Shakespeare writes, you’ll have no problem knowing Hooston’s emotions.
“I love decoding the language and actually being able to understand what is being said. I never used to be able to do that in the past,” she said.
While some directors may run from Shakespeare, Kasper prefers it.
“His plays are so full of life and energy; performing them or watching them makes me feel alive,” she explained. “You have to remember, if you think Shakespeare is boring it might be because you’ve never seen it performed; his work is meant to be watched and for you, as an audience member, to participate in – not just read.”
Because Shakespeare is “constantly giving you clues,” Kasper said she finds his works easier to direct and perform.
Kasper suggested that her attraction to outdoor productions might come from some nostalgia, as her first professional company performed in a Boston park. “But what better place to perform Shakespeare! I think since he has this gift of capturing the most heightened of all emotions, the only fitting backdrop to his plays are the natural elements themselves. It’s perfect.”
Riverside Park’s challenging elements, Kasper said, include the wind, river and perchance rain. To counteract this, the actors wear body mics, which are sensitive and expensive.
Three distinct social groups are featured in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the aristocrats, the working class and the fairies, Kasper explained.
“And the worlds collide, and when they do they get messy and crazy and scary and almost deadly and then order is put back; and because each world or class has known the other, each is smarter and healthier, lovelier and kinder,” she said. “At least this is how I see it.”
Typically Shakespeare in the Park debuts in Salida during ArkWalk weekend later. However, this year the performance will be at 6 p.m. June 10 and 11. Kasper made the change to be able to attend a close friend’s wedding. Even though it meant a tighter rehearsal schedule, Kasper said this year’s cast is the “dream team” and they could handle it.
She said, “This play is just so beautiful to listen to and yet so powerful, wise, passionate and hopeful.” What else do you need?