It was a cold, cloudy day, but when I arrived at the Abington Memory Fitness Center with my “Shakespeare with Seniors” classmates, it felt much brighter. A lot had happened leading up to this day and our performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with five senior citizens. Clint dropped out of the project due to scheduling conflicts. The same happened with another senior, Victor, who had joined us briefly. And then, we added Harrison to the cast. Inside, we made the conference room into a performance spaces—tables folded and stored away, chairs for the cast arranged in a semicircle at the front of the room, and rows of chairs for the audience in the middle of the room. Costumes on and large-type scripts in hand, we were ready to put on the show we’d worked on for six weeks with the seniors.
Most of the roles, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, were reversed in terms of age. Though all of the characters were played gleefully, a few stole the show in my opinion. Lionel and Grace have such an adorable friendship and made Lysander and Hermia, the young Athenian lovers, pop. They sat next to each other during rehearsals and often made us laugh. They would tease each other and carry on their own conversations while the rest of us worked around them. Their interactions brought my favorite part of the play to life.
In Act I, Scene 1, Lysander proclaims, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” This is a popular line and though I understand why, it’s what that line triggers that gets me. The couple goes on to list all of the common ways love is challenged: a difference in status, a gap in age, friends, then war, death, and sickness. But, Lysander seems to describe them calmly in comparison to Hermia’s “O cross!,” “O spite!,” and “O hell!” Knowing that Lionel and Grace playfully bicker offstage added personality to the scene without too much effort on their part.
Another favorite pairing was Oberon, played by Harrison, and Puck, played by Damien Figueras ’16. With Harrison sitting down, accessorized with a flowy red scarf, and Damien standing eagerly beside him, certain qualities in their characters were heightened. Oberon seemed even more regal than in rehearsal, and Puck was sprite-like with quick energy. And, I can’t forget to mention Bottom, played by David Glass ’15. The class spent weeks finding just the right prop to make him look like a donkey during the performance. Celeste, our professor, managed to find a children’s mask that worked very well. David went a step further by braying throughout his lines. Imagine a slight, dark-haired man with a Boston accent (what is really a marriage of a Philly accent from his mother and a New York accent from his father) saying, “I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me—hee-haw!—to fright me if they could!” It was definitely a highlight of the performance.
As for my role in the MSND, I introduced the play to the audience, blew my kazoo, and ran around the room with a toy sword as a huntsman. I thanked and apologized to the audience right before Puck’s closing monologue. For the most part, I got to sit down and enjoy the seniors in their full glory, which I was looking forward to all semester. Though the course was described as having a service learning focus, it was much more fun than I expected, including the final project. Celeste asked that we do something creative—anything but a paper or a run-of-the-mill slideshow presentation. I decided to create a centerpiece to honor the seniors.
Using the large-type script, I created paper flowers: cherry blossoms for Victor, day lilies for Clint, dahlias for Lionel, harebells for Morty, cornflowers for Harrison, tulips for Grace, and roses for Todd. For each senior, I picked a flower that in some way reminded me of them. For instance, Todd could say such intriguing things but never expanded on any one thought enough to come full circle; so I chose a rose that has a twisty shape for him. I used an old cardboard box from the mail and an old oatmeal container to arrange the centerpiece with the flowers. Even though our time at the facility is over, I still have this project sitting on my dining room table in my apartment, prolonging not just the life of the script but also the experience I had.