*Some Spoilers below*
The Stratford Festival: One of the most iconic theatrical institutions of my childhood. Living only 20 minutes away from such a cultural monument has allowed my life growing up to be enriched with creatively thought out plays from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the musical West Side Story. It became tradition to at least try to go to one play a year, and even my high school graduation involved a gift of two Festival tickets for all graduates. Beloved to all, the Festival was a summer haven of artistic creation.
This year, however, I feared the worst. Since graduating from university and moving to Toronto, money has become…a little tight. Spending $45 on tickets to the Stratford Festival just wasn’t an option anymore, and Play On Weekends for those under 25 are limited and not always feasible when you don’t know when you’ll be home next or have the available time.
But…a new phenomenon happened, the Dream Deal of all deals and Play On exclusive—the chance to be a guest at the “wedding” of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My friend, Melanie, and I decided it was too good to pass up (and she had loved the production so much, this was her second attendance).
As “wedding guests,” we were expected to dress up in fairly nice picnic attire, and I, of course being me, had to go one step further. I wore my 1950s vintage frock with a crinoline and 50s-inspired high heels—I received quite the compliments on the entire ensemble. I also fit in with the actors’ clothing (Hermia was also wearing a 50s-inspired circlet skirt with a crinoline underneath).
Upon arrival, we were directed into a private room to wait and then a group of cast members entered and gave us the down-low about what would be happening and the part we’d be playing. Afterward, they led us to our makeshift seats of pillows and cushions at the bottom of the stage, which were surprisingly comfortable. Other cast members came over to say hello before the play started. This was definitely the dream (pun intended). There was also the cutest little girl playing the changeling child that Titania refuses to give to Oberon, which starts some of the shenanigans the play is famous for. She was a doll before and during the play, twirling around and making faces with the other child actors in the play. She was definitely a favourite with the audience as many awed whenever she took the stage, often carried by Titania or another fairy.
The Stratford Festival’s newest version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream lived up to the play’s reputation and then some. The hilarity remained with a progressive angle involving two grooms (the play was performed by the wedding party in honour of the married couple) and a female Lysander in love with Hermia. Titania (the male that played Oberon would sometimes exchange roles with the male playing Titania for different performances) was also played by a male. It was quite comical to see the burly arms extending from a dress with attached fairy wings (see first image). As much as I love the classic Shakespeare play as is, I appreciated the new contemporary additions that added to the comedy and allowed the play to resonate with a modern audience.
Aside from simply “attending” the wedding and allowing our laughter and applause to join the actors’, we were also permitted to join the “dance party” started by Bottom (a particularly funny incarnation of the character, which was artfully played). However, one downside about wearing a fairly poofy dress and heels is it is a little difficult to manoeuver one’s self into a standing position when you are sitting so low to the ground. Thank goodness for the actress playing Lysander and my own friend, who both offered me their hands, pulling me up onto the stage to join the revelry.
Overall, the play was a great success, and I highly enjoyed myself. I also have to give a brief shout out to the lovely usher at the bottom of the aisle who helped my friend and I up the fairly steep drop to the lower level of the stage area. He was quite the gentleman offering his hand as support to each of us. I certainly felt transported in time in the best possible way, and I was almost sorry the experience as a wedding guest had to come to an end; it made the play more personal and exciting. It isn’t every day you get to be a part of the action at the Stratford Festival!
I do hope the Festival considers this option again for future plays. Not only is it great for publicity, but it a great way to generate new fans and re-inspire old ones.