Dec 2, 2016
How does an acting troupe take a play that has been performed thousands of times with just as many interpretations over the course of centuries and make it feel fresh?
That's the test for the Forum Players, who will present William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" this weekend at Genesee Community College.
First, they fill a diverse cast of students, alumni and faculty with actors from around the world. Students from Brazil, Germany, Curacao and the U.S. Virgin Islands hold key roles.
Second, they change the gender of one of the most popular roles. Alannah Gross of East Bethany plays the mischievous Puck.
Last, they embrace a strong visual presence to keep the audience engaged. Director Sara Vacin, an adjunct professor at the college, said her vision was "just to make it gorgeous" with flowing fabrics and lush costumes. "I know a lot of people struggle with Shakespeare," she said. "It's not very easy, so I wanted to give them something gorgeous to look at. I really wanted to give a visual presence, so if the audience's mind wanders at the Shakespeare, they have something visual to bring them back in."
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is Shakespeare's most popular comedy and was chosen this year as a nod to the 400th anniversary of The Bard's death. This is also the 50th anniversary of GCC opening its doors, so the production is seen as a celebration of both.
A silly and fantastical story, "Midsummer" follows the interweaving tale of four Athenian lovers escaping into the woods surrounded by magic-wielding fairies and a group of actors who get caught up in it all.
Robert Reiss, a 2012 graduate who later studied acting at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, plays the foolish Bottom, a weaver who has his head transformed into that of a donkey and becomes the love interest of the enchanted Queen Titania.
"Half the fun of a character like Bottom is that he's a big ham, so there's no such thing as too big," said Reiss, 33. "I go as big as I can and see if the director tells me to pull back or not."
Reiss said keeping the role fresh is not too much of a challenge for him, because he hasn't watched much Shakespeare.
"This is the first time I've done a full Shakespeare show," he said. "I've looked at scenes before and done some scenes in conservatory work. For me, it's easy to bring a freshness to it, because I have nothing to compare it to."
For Marissa Carbonell, a 19-year-old student from Batavia, playing Helena is a role she has been preparing for since middle school.
"This is actually my third time doing 'A Midsummer Night's Dream," but the first time having a lead," she said. "During my senior year at high school, I played Egeus. In middle school, it was an abridged version; I was a dancing fairy. I've kind of grown up with the show."
To transform into the angry Helena, Carbonell has changed her walk, posture and voice.
Pedro Pires de Arujo has the distinction of having performed Shakespeare in a different language. Growing up in Brazil, he did a play in Portuguese.
"When I first found out we were doing 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' I was really scared, because I've been doing Shakespeare in Brazil," said Pires de Arujo, who plays the villainous Oberon. "To do Shakespeare is already hard, but to do it in English is even harder."
Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Stuart Steiner Theatre on GCC's Batavia campus, 1 College circle.
Tickets for all shows are $8 for general admission, $5 for faculty/staff, seniors and students and $3 for GCC students. Tickets are available at the box office or by phone at (585) 345-6814.