As the audience enters the theater, William Shakespeare sits on a bench on stage. The king and queen of the magical fairyland tiptoe up and put him gently to sleep. And there amid the whimsical setting for his own play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the famous playwright snoozes and dreams.
This surprising twist on the Bard’s famous work of comedy came from the imagination of Dan Hiester, director of the Midsummer production from the College of Arts & Media. With three interlocking plots, this playful drama tells the story of the wedding of Duke Theseus of Athens to Hippolyta the Amazon queen and their subjects who wander into a fantastical fairyland under an enchanted moon.
“The trick with Shakespeare is to do something original and exciting,” said Hiester, a 40-year theater veteran, who established a Shakespeare festival in Westcliffe, Colo. “To do this, we must remember that we’re doing this right here, right now, so we’ve given it a little more punch for this contemporary audience”
Sparkle and Magic
“I was excited when I heard Dan [Hiester] was directing Midsummer,” said Allan Trumpler, senior instructor in the Department of Theatre, Film & Video Production. “He knows Shakespeare so well. He takes everything and makes it physical and fun.”
As Midsummer set designer, Trumpler also injected some physical fun into the production. In collaboration with Hiester—as well as Janetta Turner, costume designer; student Sam Smith, lighting designer; and student Tori Higgins, sound designer—he created an on-stage dream world of enchanted forests and moonlit meadows.
“The whole idea is sparkly magic,” Trumpler said.
Three large circular pedestals set at varying heights and angles give the actors several levels to move between, while in the background, a seemingly floating catwalk extends diagonally through tall trees and twinkling stars.
This delightful Shakespearean comedy can take on many different themes and motifs, Trumpler said. He has been involved with five different productions of Midsummer—one of which had a disco theme. CAM’s production will be more traditional, but with an eye for its contemporary audience.
“The goal is to create something interesting, that makes people say ‘Ooh, I could live there,’” he said.
A Saw and a Paintbrush
Trumpler acted in his first play in third grade and has since made theater his passion and career, taking on every role from scene and lighting designer to set builder to film art director. His career experiences—which involved years in New York City and brought him to CU Denver in 2007—made him certain that his role is behind the scenes.
“I’m terrible on stage,” he said with a smile. But backstage, Trumpler can not only envision a scene and depict that vision on paper but also build the actual set with his own two hands. “I’m comfortable with a saw and a paintbrush.”
After imagining the scene for Midsummer, Trumpler drew sketches and constructed small-scale models of the set. Then, alongside theater and film students, he labored for nearly three months to build the set and to install it in the King Center’s Eugenia Rawls Courtyard Theatre.
“For me, to create something [the actors] can play on is wonderful,” Trumpler said. “I have such great admiration for the actors, and there’s something special about being in the same place with them.”
Students and the City
For Hiester, working with the student actors of Midsummer feels particularly rewarding.
“They are in the midst of learning. They’re ‘warmed up,’ doing theater projects all the time, taking classes and learning about acting,” Hiester said. “They’re focused, knowledgeable and excited about taking the next steps in their career.”
The actors in Midsummer range from first-timers to seasoned performers, which Hiester said helps make the work interesting.
“Contemporary theater incorporates many different backgrounds and training,” Hiester said. “Having a diverse, urban environment [like CU Denver’s] promotes the creation of great theater.”