“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” comedy opens May 4 at college’s theater

Published in the May 2 – 15, 2018 Issue of Gilroy Life

Photo by Marty Cheek
Several members of the Gavilan Community College Drama Department’s cast of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” perform a comic scene for third-graders at Barrett Elementary School in Morgan Hill.

For Mikayla Acevedo, April 23’s Celebrate Shakespeare! workshop at Barrett Elementary School was a homecoming of sorts. For about 75 third-graders, the Gavilan Community College student performed with other actors a wildly hilarious scene from the drama department’s upcoming “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The students sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the multi-purpose room stage, laughing at the actors’ antics.

Acevedo recalled performing on the stage at Barrett as a child. Monday, April 23, the Bard’s birthday, brought her back to share a love of theater with the next generation of school children. She performed as Hermia, the young Athenian woman caught in a comical romantic entanglement where she loves one man, Lysander (played by David Pequeño, but is being courted by another, Demetrius (played by Tyler Hudson), whose feelings she does not return. Gavilan actress Chelsea Simmons performed as Helena, who is love-sick for Demetrius, who, because of magical potion, spurns her affections.

“It’s so awesome because I did the shows here,” Acevedo said. “It’s a wonderful feeling because I remember watching people come out on the stage, I remember being on the stage, I remember wanting to do theater and being a little bit scared and just having the experience of being here and showing the other kids that, hey, look I took a chance, I did it.”

Photo by Marty Cheek
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” actor David Pequeno instructs students in theater games.

Earlier in the workshop, the students learned from the play’s director, John Lawton Haehl, the secret to the poetic beats known as iambic pentameter. He showed them how William Shakespeare’s use of cadence of words imitated the rhythm of the human heartbeat. He read to them Sonnet 18, Shakespeare’s most famous poem, and had them beat out the rhythm of each syllable on their chests.

“It’s all about rhythm. ‘Shall I — compare – thee to – a sum – mer’s day,’” he said, quoting from the sonnet’s first line and pumping his chest with his fist. “Now when you get scansion in high school, you’ll know what it’s all about — a heartbeat.”

Lawton Haehl believes it will benefit the third-graders later in their academic endeavors to introduce them to Shakespeare early so they won’t later as freshmen and sophomores be intimidated by the non-modern words and phrases used in his play.

“I’m lucky that I fell in love with Shakespeare at an early age,” he said. “The first time most people get introduced to Shakespeare is in high school in an English class where they’re not even reading it out loud. They’re trying to read it as literature, and it’s not literature. It’s meant to be spoken, it’s meant to be heard in a performance.”

Introducing young people early to theater helps them appreciate the magic of the stage and might even inspire them to consider performing as actors, Acevedo said.

“Once you get into theater, it definitely builds your confidence,” she said. “You develop skills that are definitely important later on in life, such as job interview skills and putting on confidence and not being worried about anything else about what other people are thinking. It’s a great feeling.”

And growing an appreciation of Shakespeare and his world of words in the third-graders was the goal of Celebrate Shakespeare! “Midsummer Night’s” length at two hours (including an intermission) and its slap-stick comedy and clever poetic word play make it an easy play for a first-time viewing of Shakespeare.

“He shaped so much of what we have today. So much of what we see today is Shakespearian,” she said. “A lot of words and phrases that we say today are from Shakespeare. The writer has shaped so much of the modern world. He’s not just some old dead guy that no one cares about. He’s something important.”

A Gilroy resident, Simmons was impressed by how the Barrett students took to Shakespeare and how quickly they understood what was happening in the emotional scene of love and seeming betrayal the actors dramatized from “A Midsummers Night’s Dream.”

“Oh, my gosh, it was so enjoyable and such a treat. There’s nothing like performing for kids. It’s a different type of experience and it’s just such a blessing,” she said.

After the scene was performed, the students were divided into four groups and led by each of the actors in games that helped them develop their stage movements and dramatic voices.

“When I got into my little group, I was talking to one of the girls. And she said, ‘I love the drama,’” Simmons said. “And I had to tell her, ‘Yeah, Shakespeare is full of drama and a good story and a great plot. It’s got lots of stuff going on.’ They really liked that drama and the energy — and who doesn’t love a love story, even third-graders.”

Simmons encouraged parents to take their children to see the Gavilan production, which opens May 4. To encourage families to come, a special ticket package is offered at $35 for two adults and two children.

“Shakespeare is like nothing else. There’s nothing else that ever came close to him,” she said. “He’s so legendary with his work.”

Pequeño compared performing in Shakespeare to the athleticism of sports.

“The language is pretty tough. That’s why we try to act everything out with our hands and try to use our bodies as much as possible to also get the message out,” he said. “It took me about two or three weeks to understand my lines. I had them down (memorized),  but to actually understand them was difficult.”

Hudson, as the Athenian Demetrius, was impressed by how quickly the third-graders began to appreciate the genius of Shakespeare, the first time most of them had ever been exposed to the playwright poet.

“It was exciting and fun. It was great to see that they understood what we were doing up there and laughing at all of our jokes and enjoying the tense scenes,” he said. “I was a bit worried. But they got it and they were busting up.”

For Lawton Haehl, Celebrate Shakespeare! served as a successful experiment in how young minds can learn the complexities of the Elizabethan style of word usage.

“I’m interested in this as a possible opportunity for Gavilan to go out into the community and inspire students with literacy, Shakespeare, theater – all of those good things,” he said. “It was wonderful when we got the email inviting us. I thought this is a great opportunity.”