A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Classical Theatre of Harlem)
nytheatre.com q&a preview by Justin Emeka
July 1, 2013
What is your job on this show?
What is your show about?
Shakespeare's classic, A Midsummer Night's Dream, set in Harlem.
What type of theater do you like most to work on?
I am especially interested in theater that incorporates diverse perspectives and/or aesthetics onstage--innovations in the incorporation of movement, language, music, culture, history, and media.
Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
There is nothing like the living moment that is captured in theater. I've committed much of my life to theater because of its infinite possibilities in terms of art and community building. I love the unique convergence of all people and art forms—poetry, dance, music, literature, visual art--all join to become one in the theater. There is something wonderful about the living moment in the theater that is irreplacable and cannot be captured by film, internet, or newspaper that fascinates me. The magic and curse of theater is that it belongs only to those in the room. I don't think there is any effective way to expand the audience beyond the live performance. And so those who are so fortunate to be present--artists and audiences alike--all experience transformation that help us understand who we are, and how to relate to the world around us.
Is there a particular moment in this show that you really love or look forward to? Without giving away surprises, what happens in that moment and why does it jazz you?
I think audiences will be most excited about the bold way we incorporate the richness of Harlem's diverse cultural legacy into the telling of the story. We do a good job of integrating Shakespeare and Harlem so that neither upstages the other--they work together to tell the story of "A Midsummer Night's Dream". In that way, it will be unlike any version of "Midsummer" audiences have seen--where Capoeira and West African dance provide the movement vocabulary for the spirit world and mortal characters effectively speak with all the different rhythms and accents of Harlem--Jamaican, Southern, Puerto Rican, West African, etc. Equally exciting, in this production Lysander has been changed to Lysandra--incorporating the issue of marriage equality in a light and humorous way. Rarely, do we in the Black community engage in discourse around homosexuality without it being laced with tragedy and contention. I want the audience to have fun with the issue, while also creating a new context for Egeus's desire to kill his own daughter, Hermia, for wanting to marry Lysandra. Even in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, this sentiment is still very prevelant in our society.
Which “S” word best describes your show: SMOOTH, SEXY, SMART, SURPRISING?
This show is definitely smooth, sexy, smart, and surprising! I think audiences will have very strong reactions to it. Some may be put off by our audacity to culturally integrate Shakespeare, but most I believe will be excited and even relieved by the sense of liberation that underlies our production.
How important is diversity to you in the theater you see/make?
One of my veteran actors, Michael Early, eloquently said to me in rehearsal, "One of the most unfortunate ironies of New York theater, is that, by and large, it does not look like the people of New York." Theater is a wonderful tool for reflection, communication, and understanding, however in racial and cultural terms, the American Theater often feels like the same old story--or told from the same old perspective. As the American Theater becomes more inclusive of America’s non-white populations, I am particularly interested in nurturing and producing works by non-white playwrights. Yet equally important, I am interested in exploring ways of incorporating non-white actors into classic work by white playwrights—such as Chekov, Ibsen, Shakespeare, Shaw, Williams, etc. In doing so, we invite new communities to participate in the celebration of a play--new cultures to contribute to the story telling—new audiences to take ownership of the art, in addition, to providing new experiences for all audiences to enjoy. Theater should expose our collective humanity and transcend the confines of one cultural position or perspective to reveal that which is truly universal. We can embrace the profundity of our similarities, while also recognizing the complexities of our differences. Through the imagination of the theater we remember the past, reflect the present, and create a vision to lead us into tomorrow.