Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Sweeper of Dreams

A few days ago, my dear friend, Kristen, turned me on to this nifty contest that the English National Opera (ENO) is holding for Mini-Operas.  At the moment, the libretto portion is underway, which will be followed by composition and - rather intriguingly - film direction.

One of the mentors is the fellow who's been bringing us the filmed versions of the Metropolitan Opera.  Several of the participants have also worked on the Met's The Enchanted Island which is a pastiche of Shakespeare's The Tempest...which I got to do with some rather talented folks at Hudson High School.  (See above.)

To help out the librettists, three splendid folk gave "seed stories."  The one that intrigued me (quelle surprise) was Neil Gaiman's "The Sweeper of Dreams."  The good folks holding the competition have asked that each participant put their entry on their blog (which means that I've gotten to read several other sterling librettos for the same story - my favourite of which is here).

So, without further ado, I present to you my libretto for The Sweeper of Dreams.  You can read it here.  Or press the fly out button in the embedded document below.  I'd really love to know what you do feel free to leave a comment!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Midsummer Night's Dream Character Descriptions

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Character Descriptions

Fairy Court

Oberon           King of the Fairies, an element of earth and animals, Oberon is a jealous force of nature, who—despite his own previous infidelities to his wife—nevertheless longs for reconciliation with her.  His actions throughout the play, while manipulative, are not malicious.  He pities Helena, seeing in her plight something of his own argument with Titania, and attempts to put things right for the mortal lovers.  As for the trick he plays on Titania, having her fall in love with “something vile,” although harsh, he is attempting to show Titania how her love of the Indian boy (in our case, a man-child) is asinine.  Oberon is constantly thwarted by Puck, whose pranks he tolerates but on whom he keeps a tight reign. 

Titania           Queen of the Fairies, an element of wind and fire, whose servants far outnumber Oberon’s and are drawn from water and plantlife.  To spite Oberon, Titania has taken up with an Indian boy (remember, the fairies are immortal, so a “boy” for them is a “young man” for us!) whom she refuses to give up…and even flaunts in front of her husband.  When she is unrepentant, she is tricked into falling in love with an ass—which makes her realize the pettiness of her dispute with Oberon.  Titania may be best thought of as a thunderstorm.

Puck               Oberon’s lieutenant, Puck is a mischief-maker, using willfull ignorance and the letter of the law to subvert the commands he’s given.  A satyr, Puck is half man, half goat…but unlike his Grecian predecessors, he’s only chases nymphs recreationally.  He’s less interested in sexytimes than in causing chaos.  As a fairy, he’s amoral—that is, he is neither good nor bad, but rather reveals people for who they truly are.  No matter how extreme his pranks, however, he is always reeled back by Oberon.  Preferably played by a man.

Dewdrop        Titania’s lieutenant, and chief among all of Titania’s fairies, Dewdrop is blindingly loyal to her mistress.  She assists Titania in keeping the Indian Boy in thrall—and in fact, she makes no judgement at all at any of Titania’s paramours.  Even the ones who are complete jackasses.  However, her head can be easily turned by Puck, with whom she’s enjoyed an eternity of competitive flirting.

Indian Boy     Titania’s protégée…and possibly something more…the Indian Boy was given to Titania to raise, much like how Aphrodite raised Adonis.  But just like that Greek myth, Titania now dotes unreasonably on the Indian Boy, keeping him infantilized, even though he’s clearly a man.  This character can go either the way of Kronk from Emperor’s New Groove, or a sort of Ken doll (a himbo), or any Will Ferrell character.  (Will double with Theseus.)
Human Court

Theseus          The Duke of Athens, known as the “unifying king,” Theseus has recently returned from his voyages where variously journeyed through the underworld, defeated the labyrinth and the Minotaur, and most recently captured the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta to be his bride.  A warrior and philosopher, Theseus uses both actions and words to his advantage.  Like the fairies, he is not known for his fidelity to women: having left Ariadne after she helped him through the labyrinth; stealing off Helen before Paris got the idea; abducting Hippolyta and—after these course of events—ditching the Queen of the Amazons for Phaedra (who went crazy and ruined everybody’s lives).  Like the fairies, he could really use a lesson in fidelity!  (Will double with the Indian Boy.)

Hippolyta      The Queen of the Amazons, newly abducted by Theseus, Hippolyta’s a warrior in her own right.  The Amazons were known to capture men and sleep with them, only in order to procreate, at which point they would kill their captive mates.  Male children were exiled from their island, which was populated only by women.  The Amazons were excellent archers (some say they cut of one breast, the better to shoot), and—except for Hippolyta—none of them ever married.  Some myths say that Theseus carried off Hippolyta’s sister, Antiope, whom Oberon is said by Titania to have seduced.  Certainly, Theseus “met” Hippolyta when he journeyed with Hercules to get the Queen’s girdle of Ares, god of war and her father, from her.  Whomever Theseus abducted, legend say that shortly thereafter, the Amazons attacked the city, but were unsuccessful in regaining their countrywoman.

Philostrate   This role depends entirely on whether a male or female plays the part.  However, if a woman wants to play the part comically (as in the male interpretation) she is welcome to show this at auditions!

                        MALE.  Philostrate is the servant of Theseus, a slightly stuffy butler who has great disdain for anyone lower class (such as the Rude Mechanicals).  Mostly a comic role. 

                        FEMALE. Philostrate is another captured Amazon with Hippolyta, who works as best she can to protect Hippolyta from Theseus’ dubious advances.  She is less comical and more warrior-like.

Egeus           In Shakespeare’s play, Egeus is the angry father of Hermia, who dislikes her current boyfriend, Lysander, and has instead given his blessing to Demetrius to marry his daughter.  Egeus is presumptuous and demanding, the sort of fellow who’s argument to everything is: “I’m a tax-payer!” or “I have rights.”  This part may be played by either a man or a woman (a father or a mother respectively).  If a woman, she should definitely have “cougar” instincts, and be interested in Demetrius for herself, as well.  An interesting side-note: in mythology, Theseus’ father is Aegeus who made several poor decisions in marrying himself (such as marrying Medea after she went crazy and killed her own sons!)  It’s possible to play a Hermia & Theseus as step-siblings, then! 

Four Lovers

Hermia           The “Barbie” of the play, Hermia is that pretty, spoiled girl whom every guy wants to be with and every girl wants to be like.  Her only insecurities are her height (she’s shorter than Helena) and Lysander’s fidelity.  Although she seems shallow, she does appear to be sincerely in love with Lysander (and firmly determined to remain chaste before marriage!).  And although she and Helena snipe at each other, they do have a deep bond of sisterly friendship.

Helena           Always the best friend, never the Barbie, Helena is the sort of girl that’s kissed all the boys and made them cry.  Somewhat taller and less glamorous than Hermia, as well as having lost first Lysander and then Demetrius to her best friend, Helena has become understandably despondent and jealous.  However, she’s also very determined, and pursues her goals no matter the cost.

Lysander       Hermia’s current boyfriend, Lysander is the town jock who’s always got a girl on his arm (or his lips).  In the past, he not-dated Helena for a day, and now is attached to Hermia—who is being frustratingly chaste.  Lysander and Demetrius are life-long frenemies, always competing for the same thing.

Demetrius      Where Lysander tends to just demand what he wants, Demetrius plans.  Understanding that Egeus is the one with real power—and Demetrius loves power—he weaselled his way into Egeus’ favour in order to secure the hand of Hermia.  Demetrius has an on-again/off-again relationship with Helena, but while Helena believes this love to be genuine, Demetrius has always viewed Helena as a convenience with benefits.  When he doesn’t get what he wants, he can be quite violent.

Rude Mechanicals

Piper Quince  Although written as a man, Piper Quince will be played by a woman.  The director of the Rude Mechanicals, and presumably one of the playwrights for Pyramus and Thisbe.  Bottom’s antics drive her up a wall—but she secretly admires him, harboring a bookish and over-eager romance for this less-than-impressive actor.  If possible, she should have a slight lisp, especially on the word “Ninus’s.”  (May double with Wall.)

Bottom/Pyramus The divo of the player’s group, Bottom has no end of love for himself.  A fellow playwright for Pyramus and Thisbe, he’d make it a one-man show if he could.  Everything a lead actor shouldn’t do…he does…and does loudly…and over and over.  His middle name could be “Upstage.”  So in love with himself, he does not notice the feelings of others, and presumes that everyone is as in love with him as he is.  Thus, when the Queen of the Fairies falls for him, he’s completely unsurprised!

Flute/Thisbe The youngest member of the acting troupe, he’s a talented up and comer.  Which is why Bottom convinces Quince (off-stage) to make him be the woman.  Unfortunately, Flute is unable to talk anyone out of it, and the more he tries to do a good job playing a woman, the more people seem to laugh at and make fun of him.  If possible, he should be bearded or at least have stubble.  Ultimately, he’s saved from further embarrassment by one of the other players.

Wall              A “solid” company player who doesn’t deal very well with verse drama, and yet still soldiers on. 

Moonshine     A stutterer who’s nervously taking her first foray into the world of theatre.  She may have a crush on Flute.

Lion                The slacker actor who is part of the company almost by accident.  She is a very gentle soul, fixated on some activity (such as a yoyo, or cat’s cradle, or video game, or whatnot), rather than on her lines.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Thoughts about the Dream

Gaudete Academy's 2012 production 
Preliminary Notes!

When we think of Midsummer Night’s Dream, our first thoughts are often of lovers running helter-skelter, falling in and out of love; fairies making mischief for the mortals; some guy with a donkey’s head, and another guy in a dress.  All of this miraculously combines to make one of Shakespeare’s most enduring and endearing comedies.  But while our heads are full of the coolest way to apply glitter to a fairy’s face (or how to remove that glitter three months later), we forget what the play is about.

Many recent production of Midsummer’s tend to focus on the ridiculous nature of the play.  One director’s note even blatantly stated that the play had no content at all!  But Shakespeare, even in his early comedies, never wrote without a purpose.  There are many meanings in Midsummer’s, not the least of which is the nature of love—from puppy love to bad romances to the nuptial bed.

And Shakespeare wraps all of these ruminations on what love isn’t and what love is in a dream. 

This is not insignificant.  Dreams aren’t just nonsense—although that one about the Cheese Man might be—rather they’re our subconscious working out of the difficulty part of our dreams.  No wonder, then, that the young lovers (who barely know themselves, let alone whom they love!) shift their allegiances continually.  No wonder, then, that Bottom who thinks so highly of himself dreams that he’s beloved of a Queen.

But we should probably remember this, too:

            Do wish that your wildest dream can come true
            But never forget—nightmares are dreams, too.

Suddenly a guy running around with an ass’ head makes a lot more sense, huh?  As does the continual actor’s nightmare that the Rude Mechanicals experience, and the fickle love that the lovers’ express.  Where, then, can we find any waking sanity?  Shakespeare gives us the reunited King and Queen of the Fairies, Oberon and Titania to represent the war of the sexes…and the reconciliation, too.  And for our purposes, Quince will help Flute/Thisbe’s waking nightmare at the end of Pyramus and Thisbe

Because one of the best things about a dream is that you always wake up.