“Good thing we’re doing The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)”, I told the thirteen Grade 8 students as we gathered on the Thursday before Spring Break to say goodbye. “If we aren’t able to start rehearsals right away after the break,” I continued, “we can always ABRIDGE the play even more.”
The Grade 8 Capstone Play is a longtime Park tradition. Die-hard drama kids decide in their sixth grade fall that they will be doing it in a few years. (Some decide even earlier!) It offers beloved Park actors a chance for their swan song, and it gives a few brave souls the courage to try out drama for the first time in the safety of friends. The Grade 8 Plays are often some of the richest material of the year, with multi-layered plots, sophisticated themes, and acting that asks the students to dig deep. Plays in the past few years have included The Diary of Anne Frank, Sense & Sensibility, and a murder mystery or two.
As I considered this year’s Grade 8 ensemble, I knew they would be ready to bring the wisdom, grit, and wackiness needed for The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged). The play is a combination of all Shakespeare’s known works boiled down to an insane, two hour romp. It is utterly hilarious, a real tour de force, and just what we needed with the unclear waters ahead.
Alas, little did I know how true my words would become. “Abridged” is putting it mildly. More like thwarted, ruined, wrecked, and yet possible. When the news of quarantine came – first for two weeks, then longer, then the whole spring – I knew that no matter what, I had to make sure that Drama of some kind was still going to happen for the Grade 8 actors.
Thus, Virtual Rehearsals – aka “Virhearsals” – began. First they were just as a check in and a few games, then as time passed and the quarantine lengthened, they became about forming a more purposeful group and mission. Through surveys and conversations, the ensemble settled on a highly compressed adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (we kept the Shakespeare and the Abridged!) that was subdivided into as many chunks as we had actors. Each of us was charged to create the scene using whatever forms necessary to tell the story through the screen: sock puppets, animation, self, or more.
At the time of this writing, the actors are all hard at working creating their bit. Some have sent 17-plus short clips to edit together, some are trying their scenes in one take. Some are using character creators, some are teaching themselves how to do animations, some have built sets out legos and their own backyard, and still others are trying things I can’t imagine at this moment. These will be edited together to form the bulk of the play, then we will begin the final act – the play within a play – which we will attempt to record as a Zoom performance that will include everyone.
Honestly, this feels like the most open, malleable, and raw theater project I’ve done since my college days. Back then, I felt like theater was a living thing that would literally take shape based on the people and space. And while my journey since then has included over 35 plays at Park, and has been completely delightful, creative, and fun, there is a kind of routine that exists through calendar, space, and choice of material. Funnily enough, this motley ensemble has helped revive that thought: that theater can be anywhere and anything. This rush of adventure and discovery is positively inspiring in this challenging time.
This project is not without its questions, however. Will it be good? Will it be done on time? Will we feel satisfied? And yet these are the questions of any production, and every production I answer all of this doubt with YES. Even if this is not what we would have envisioned when we set out to do the project, even if it turns out completely farcical and wild, this production will still be something we created during this time of incredible instability.
We can always create. Since the dawn of time we have been making and doing and trying, and we will continue to do so even in quarantine.
A MidQuarantine Night’s Dream
Adapted and Abridged from Shakespeare by Members of the Class of 2020