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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 22, 2010

Going out for midsummer madness in a free-wheeling Shakespearean free-for-all

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — It’s all about the words. Words from the Bard, first spoken on stage four centuries ago.

Next week, they’ll be spoken by a band of Shakespeare enthusiasts performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream — for free.

“The language is strange,” said Kevin Thomas, who graduated from Guilderland High School in 2009 and has just finished his freshman year studying broadcasting at the State University of New York College at Oswego. “But once you get into it, it’s a lot of fun.”

He plays Lysander, an Athenian noble who loves Hermia until the fairy Puck interferes.

“Shakespeare is just fun once you get so you can understand the old English stuff,” said Belen Betancourt, who plays Hermia.  “He has some really clever lines.”

“I’ve done three or four Shakespearean shows,” said Christine Rosano, who plays the mischievous Puck. “You kind of learn how to decipher his words. It comes with practice.”

Sometimes she finds herself slipping into Elizabethan language during her conversations at home. “My parents will go, ‘You’re obviously not talking to me, because I don’t understand what you’re saying.’ It’s a habit.”

“The language is so rigid, yet the atmosphere is lax,” said Brittni Switser, who plays the Amazon Queen, Hippolyta, framing a central paradox of the play.

For love, not money

The play’s director, Eva Sarachan, epitomizes the commitment of her cast — all high school students or recent graduates.

Sarachan graduated from Guilderland High School in 2009 and just finished her first year at the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh where she is majoring in theater and business management.

“At first I thought I’d do restaurant management, but now I’d like to manage a theater,” she said.

Her reason for directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream gratis? “Last year, I was in Twelfth Night,” she said. “I was graduating and I wanted to keep working with these people.”

A score of actors came out for the play and everyone got a part. “I don’t like to turn anyone away,” said Sarachan.

She said of her cast, “The enthusiasm is contagious.”

The cast, in turn, has praise for Sarachan.

“She had to orchestrate with teens all over the state, in college at faraway places,” said Switser. “She really can read into Shakespeare…She is very bright and very fair. She’s still a friend and co-player, but she can straddle both roles and maintain order.”

No one is being paid or getting academic credit for their work on the play. The students are giving up their free summer time purely for the love of Shakespeare.

Sarachan purchased the costumes for A Midsummer Night’s Dream herself and hopes donations from audience members at the three upcoming performances will help her recoup the funds. So far, she’s spent about $300 on costumes and props.

“It’s for fun,” she said of the production. “It’s not to make money. I’m doing what I love.”

Those attending last year’s play were mainly family and friends of the actors and, this year, they are hoping for a wider audience.

“I think it would appeal to everyone,” Sarachan said. “The show has a bit of everything. It has magic, romance, jealousy, a full range of emotions.”

“We want people not to think that Shakespeare is dull,” she concluded. “We want everyone to see how it’s still relevant today.”

Four wondrous levels

For Elizabethans, midsummer madness was thought to descend after great summer heat, leading to a readiness to believe in the delusions of the imagination.

This week, in the blazing heat of a Guilderland summer, the local cast — some in heavy velvet gowns and corset, others in wispy fairy clothes — rehearsed in the public library’s courtyard, not unlike the innyards that saw so many Elizabethan plays performed.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is filled with strangeness and illusion as several plot lines are interwoven with four contrasting sets of characters.

Hippolyta, played by Switser, and Theseus, played by Kyle Reynolds, open the play at Theseus’s palace, with news of their upcoming nuptials.

“Her role symbolizes order,” says Switser of the part she plays. A rising senior at Guilderland High School, Switser hopes to pursue a career in orthopedics. She has a clear sense of her regal role and plays it with confidence bordering on disdain.

“Theseus is just back from battling the Amazons,” she goes on. “Hippolyta is the Queen of the Amazons and he has claimed her as his wife. She’s not very happy about it.”

At the same time, in the days before the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, four Athenian lovers sort out their feelings for each other. This second set of characters speaks in witty repartee.

Lysander and Hermia are in love from the start, but they have fled since Hermia’s father opposes the match.

Guilderland High School student Belen Betancourt plays Hermia. At 15, she says, “I can relate to the character.”

Belancourt looks at acting as “a nice hobby.” When she gets to college, she plans to study international business, sociology, and foreign languages. She’s already learning French, German, and Japanese and wants to add Portuguese, Italian, and Korean.

She would have preferred the role of Helena, Belancourt said. “I’ve been in her position — loving someone else, but you can’t have him.”

Helena loves Demetrius, played by Montana Rizzuto, but Demetrius favors Hermia.

“This was my dream role,” says Alex Tomaso who plays Helena. Tomaso just graduated from Guilderland and will attend Elmira College in the fall to study English education with a minor in music.

“I love Midsummer,” she says of the play, but goes on to comment on the number of lines she must deliver. “I didn’t know everything out of her mouth was a monologue.”

About her character, Tomaso says, “She’s full of angst….She thinks of Hermia as better than herself.”

The lives of the four Athenian lovers are complicated by the fairies in their midst. Oberon, the king of the fairies, is played by Mike Higgins, and Titania, the queen, is played by Alessandra Cerio.

Alison Cramer plays the fairy Peaseblossom; Katie Boyagian is Cobweb; and Gaby Andrea is Mustardseed.

“I wanted the fairies to represent fire, water, and earth,” said the director, Sarachan. “Because the fairies are fighting, the earth is in chaos.”

Christine Rosano plays Puck, who weaves several of the plots together.

Rosano, who just graduated from Guilderland, will study psychology and theater at the University of Albany.  Her “unrealistic goal” is to become an actor. “My realistic goal is to be a criminal profiler,” she said.

“I like acting because it lets me deal with things I won’t get to deal with in real life,” she said. “It lets me be something I wouldn’t be. I’ll never be a fairy in real life,” she said.

Rosano goes on about why she particularly likes Shakespearean plays. “Shakespeare lets us jump in and do something unique,” she said.

She is serving as assistant director to Sarachan.

“I love Puck,” Rosano says of her part. “He gets to be over the top. He’s mischievous. I like to be over the top. He ties everything together.”

The fairies cause confusion but are also responsible for the final reconciliation.

“We all wake up and are not sure if what happened really happened or is a dream,” says Tomaso of the Athenian lovers. “Then, we’re friends.”

The play’s fourth level, a contrast to the delicate fairy world, is the artisans’ crude realism.

The four rude mechanicals —Peter Quince, a carpenter, played by Jessie Adams; Nick Bottom, a weaver played by Nick Brigadier; Francis Flute, a bellows mender, played by Joe Fremante; and Tom Snout, a tinker, played by Sarachan  — form a sort of burlesque as they work on the play within the play to be performed at the wedding of Hippolyta and Theseus. Philostrate, played by Shari Sarachan, is the master of the revels to Theseus.

Jessie Adams, who plays Quince, the carpenter, just graduated from Guilderland and will attend The College of Saint Rose in the fall to become an English teacher.

Reflecting on why she chose that path, Adams said, “The English teachers I’ve had, you can have a conversation with; you can’t have a conversation about math.”

“Quince is like the director of the play,” Adams says of her role. “He’s convinced he’s the smartest and treats everyone like they’re dumb.

The play within the play — the drama of Pyramus and Thisby — not only provides a parody of the love tragedies of the era but also comments on the four Athenian lovers’ sentimentality. Further, it makes the audience aware the entire drama has been a play.

Or was it a dream?


The Guilderland High School Summer Shakespeare Society will present A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 28, at the Guilderland Public Library at 2228 Western Ave., and at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, July 30, and Saturday, July 31, at Guilderland High School at 8 School Road in Guilderland Center.

The general public is encouraged to attend. Admission is free; donations are gratefully accepted.

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