“Everyone, rehearse courageously and obscenely,” said Woodinville High School drama teacher and director Josh Butchart on his way out of the classroom last week. He was quoting a line from his students’ upcoming fall play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
But while the play may sound familiar, Woodinville’s version of it is anything but conventional.
In fact, it’s pirate-themed.
“Swords, pirate booty, liquor,” explained Kayin Thompson, a senior who plays Oberon, the pirate king.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” includes several different simultaneous narratives, all leading up to the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta.
There’s a love quadrangle, complete with fight scenes. There’s a band of pirates getting into trouble. There’s a character named Puck (split into four different roles) spreading ill-advised love potions. There’s a group of deckhands who are rehearsing a play to perform at Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding. And, there’s lots of comedy.
“I can barely keep myself together while we’re practicing,” said Vivian Balasu, a junior who plays Mutiny the pirate.
While all the students have learned about Shakespeare in school over the years, for most of them, this is their first time performing it.
Memorizing the archaic Shakespearean lines has been a challenge. “I always start to talk in this fancy British accent,” said Aaron Leatherman, a junior who plays Snog the deckhand. “You kind of have to force yourself out of that.”
Portraying the meaning of those lines on stage has proved difficult too.
“With a lot of more contemporary plays, the characters are saying what they’re thinking. In Shakespeare, us as actors have to figure out the emotions that the characters are feeling,” said Ethan Yee, a senior who plays Demetrius, one of the four lovers.
“It really pushes your ability as an actor,” added Luke Preston, a junior who plays Theseus.
The play’s set will also help infuse meaning into the dialogue.
“We’re building a very dynamic set to communicate what the language can’t sometimes,” said Alec Savoye, the stage manager. There will be multiple exits and entrances, big pieces of a broken ship, and a working lighthouse.
As usual, Butchart, or “B” as the students call him, gives his actors free reign when it comes to character development and research.
“He says if you’re too big I’ll reel you back in. For now, just go bigger,” said Cole Parker, a junior who plays Francis Flute, one of the deckhands.
Francis Flute is very energetic and bubbly, something Parker can relate to in real life. “I’ve been known to talk a lot,” he said. “I don’t think my character is me, but I get to play it up a little.”
Other students have found ways to relate to their characters as well. Sonja Marcus, a senior who plays the “nerd” version of the four Pucks, said her role has allowed her to celebrate the nerdy side of her own identity. “Playing the nerdy Puck helps me to appreciate who I am,” she said.
Mesgana Yosief, a junior, plays Titania the pirate queen. “I like her character a lot because she’s very much past feminism. She’s just kind of her own one-woman powerhouse.”
And then there’s senior Torquil Carmichael, who plays Nick Bottom, an overly silly, overly confident character.
“I’m very, very arrogant,” Carmichael said, laughing. “They turn my head into a donkey.” For his role, Carmichael will be making his donkey mask himself.
The different personality types of the actors and characters make for a lively, entertaining atmosphere during rehearsal.
“It’s been really fun working together and finding our characters with each other,” said Gerry Noy, a junior who plays another one of the Pucks.
The students have grown a lot closer and learned to trust each other through the rehearsal process and through after-hours bonding.
“B actually told us to hang out as groups, to do things together to strengthen those bonds,” said Nolan Spencer, a junior who plays Peter Quince, the lead deckhand. “Me and Torquil went ham at karaoke one time.”
Trust and closeness are necessary, especially when swords are involved. “Ethan has to trust that I’m not going to stab him and vise versa,” said Derek Mulkins, a senior who plays the lover Lysander. Mulkins and Yee have a professionally choreographed fight scene with real stage weapons.
“We’re both into the same girl,” Yee said. “It’s such a high school thing.”
Woodinville’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opens on October 18 and runs until October 21. If you’re thinking that you don’t like Shakespeare, or that you’ve already seen one too many renditions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” stop. Put your preconceived notions aside.
“Regular Shakespeare? Honey,” Thompson said. “There’s other levels that B has added to it that make the viewer forget that it’s Shakespeare.”
For more information, visit whstc.org.