A Mid-semester Musing: Acting with Seniors

We have our Hermia! Our Lysander and Demetrius! Our Puck, and our Bottom! And, the rest of the characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 

After hearing everyone read for different characters during our previous sessions, I was confident that each senior had a role they could own. The cast is comprised of the seniors from the Abington Memory Fitness Center and fellow students from my Shakespeare with Seniors class. Our first two rehearsals with the seniors started with small-group work. One senior and a handful of Arcadia students ran lines together, with the students coaching the seniors on their roles. My group worked with Lionel, who plays Lysander. As I’ve mentioned before, Lionel is a fun fellow. He doesn’t hold back and can usually be found complaining about the temperature of the room being too hot or too cold before we leave. He also is a jokester, telling us how his wife will react when she finds out he’s marrying Hermia and making snarky conversation with the students around him.

Up until this point, I hadn’t interacted with Lionel closely and during the small-group work, he was hard on himself. When he had a frog in his throat, he apologized repeatedly, insisting that he would not be a raspy-voiced Lysander on the day of the performance. Whenever he struggled to pronounce a word, he would throw his head back and curse at himself. He was taking the work seriously, but after those moments passed, he was back to his playful self.

After running lines for a while, my group joined the students working with Grace, who plays Hermia. Lysander and Hermia are young, true lovers in MSND and share key scenes. Lionel assumes his role in jest, making Grace (and the rest of us) laugh along the way. When his character was in love with Hermia, he reached for Grace’s hand and wore a dopey expression on his face. Grace told us that she wasn’t going to speak to him at all after rehearsal, teasing him for his actions. When Lysander was in love with Helena instead, after Puck mistakenly enchanted his eyes with a love herb, Lionel growled (yes, like a dog) at Grace and promised to defend poor Helena.

Putting the goofiness aside, the seniors obviously want a great performance—it shows in their work. While discussing the progress we’ve made, my fellow students were aware of the significance of it. Damien Figueras ’16, a theater major, was surprised by how quickly the seniors engaged with the material. Sarah Kwiecien ’14, who has studied and loved Shakespeare, thought that the rhyming in MSND might have helped establish a flow when reading the lines. If you’ve ever had to read Shakespeare aloud, you know how easy it is to trip over the words and fall into a messy delivery. The seniors individually have their own strengths and weaknesses, but no challenge has gone unmet. Todd struggled with the material due to vision issues and a decline in his reading ability. But, to calm his nerves, we gave him the role of Snout and had a student read his lines to him bit by bit. Before our first rehearsal began, though, Todd hid his face in his script. When he revealed his face again, he chuckled and said he couldn’t handle it. The point isn’t to be a great actor, though; it is to participate. And, he does that eagerly.

The seniors have held their own, never feeling defeated by the Shakespearean language. Even Clint, who has only been with us for one session, is amazing to watch. His booming voice fits his broad shoulders and military haircut. He has taken the role of Quince, presenting the character as a commanding director of the play, Thisbe and Pyramus. We also expect a sixth senior cast member to join us for rehearsals. As for my part in the performance, I’ll introduce the play to the audience as one of a few students who will explain scenes that aren’t being performed. I’ll also be one of several students who blows a kazoo and runs around the stage with a sword in our last scene. It’s going to be thoroughly entertaining! And fun, because how often do I use a kazoo? (Never. I never use a kazoo.)