OXFORD — Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, nicknamed “CincyShakes,” came to Oxford’s uptown park on Tuesday, Aug. 30, for a Shakespeare in the Park performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
This event was a collaboration between the Oxford Community Arts Center and the Oxford Visitors Bureau. Andy Lynn, Program Coordinator at the Arts Center, explained, “This is the fourth year. It is the kick-off to OCAC’s Family Performance series each year. This is made possible through grants from ArtsWave, the Ohio Arts Council, and support from Miami Performing Arts Series.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is a “resident ensemble theatre company bringing Shakespeare and the classics to life for audiences of all ages.” One can catch a show at their theatre, but they also bring free shows to the Cincinnati area – Oxford is included in that. They have been coming to Oxford and Miami’s campus for years to bring different Shakespearean plays to town for locals.
The performance started at 7 p.m., following an arts festival which kicked off 6 p.m. “This year’s festival participants were Moon Coop, Lane Public Library, Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park, MU Department of Theatre, MU Performing Arts Series, ArtistryFarm, Flowing Grace School of Dance, and of course OCAC and OVB,,” Lynn said.
There were several performances at the festival. These were sponsored by WildBerry, Inc. and performed on “The Young People’s Stage.” Performers included Issac Diskin (Talawanda High School), Quintin Pace (Oxford Coop alumni, Miami regional student), and the Bassoon Trio (Emily Prochaska (Talawanda alum/Miami student), Emily Aaron, and Michael Larson).
This performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a part of CSC’s Shakespeare in the Park program. From late July to early September the troop visits different parks and schools throughout the area and performs a free, family-friendly show. They do not perform the same show for every performance, instead, this season they cycled through A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, and Romeo & Juliet.
This performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a collaboration with Elementz, “an urban oasis of hope and a catalyst of change for Cincinnati’s inner-city youth.” Elementz began as “a way to get kids off the streets” and is now a successful Urban Arts Center meant to inspire and cultivate talent.
As a collaboration with an Urban Art Center that focuses music and art as a way to connect with children, this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was not typical. In a pamphlet passed out to attendees, Director Caitlin McWethy discussed why the incorporation of current music and fashion is important in bringing Shakespeare to audiences of all types.
She noted, “When I was 15, I saw Julius Caesar. I think. I remember practically nothing: there were actors on stage. I couldn’t hear them over the chatter in the student audience. Eventually, I fell asleep.”
She continued to state that later in life she would become “a professional Shakespearean actor” so it was awfully weird she was not invested as a teenager.
She could not relate to the play. The fashion, language, and even plot was outdated – what teenager would enjoy a performance like that?
The rub is, Shakespeare is relatable if performed and adapted well.
“Now before you throw down your ruff in a huff and curse us crazy kids for always messing with the classics, hear us out,” she pleaded. “Setting poetry to a dynamic rhythm that underscores a story about humanity and whose goal is to leave an audience with a greater understanding of both themselves and their fellow listeners describes both Shakespeare and hip hop.
“These two genres go hand in hand – so much so that there is a company in the UK entirely devoted to this idea.”
Shakespeare’s works are infused with poetry – they have a rhythm to them. Adding a rhythmic music style only enhances the innate musicality of Shakespeare’s words, all the while mixing the middle-English with something incredibly relatable for young listeners.
McWethy broke down some of the elements which work so well in this adaptation, “When one of Shakespeare’s fairies casts a spell, Shakespeare switches from iambic pentameter (ba-BUM ba-BUM ba-BUM ba-BUM ba-BUM) to trochaic tetrameter (BA-bum BA-bum BA-bum BA-bum). An iamb (ba-BUM) mirrors our heartbeat, so a trochee (BA-bum creates an unconscious discomfort in the audience.”
The “amazingly sick beats” featured in the play were composed by Kick Lee, a music producer and composer from the greater Cincinnati area.
“With this play I wanted to play on the audiences expectation,” McWethy said. “That until we meet the magical fairies, the audience thinks they know the drill: standard Shakespeare touring company looking ‘Shakespearean.’ Then the audience and the Athenian characters encounter the contemporary fairies, whose magic (and sick beatz) force the Athenian characters to burst out of their buttoned up, formal existence – and hopefully also break the audience’s preconceived notion that Shakespeare is stuffy, stilted and boring. Shakespeare broke the rules of Elizabethan drama all the time in his writing, so I think this wild, rule-breaking version of Midsummer is fitting.”
She continued, “People always ask us if we have a hard time keeping a straight face, and the answer is yes, sometimes. In the rehearsal room we crack each other up, but once the play is set and the actors are at the point of performing in front of audiences, they’ve heard all the jokes so many times they could do the play in their sleep.”
The performance was a hit with the Oxford Community. The bad weather put a bit of a strain on attendance, but the Uptown Parks still filled and the audience was engaged and entertained throughout.