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A Midsummer Spring
by Marisa Helms
February 25, 2000
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Three years ago, Guthrie Theater Artistic Director Joe Dowling scored a huge critical and audience success with his first show at the theater, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Now Dowling and the Guthrie are taking the show on the road to 16 cities around the region starting in Saint Cloud. But the Guthrie's intent is to do more than just a show. Members of the touring company are acting as "artists in residence" by teaching workshops and opening up rehearsals to the public at each stop along the tour. Cast members are hoping to leave a "dramatic legacy" through the tour.

Danyon Davis (down center) and Wendy Renee (up center) as First Fairy with members of the A Midsummer Night's Dream company.
Photo courtesy Guthrie Theater
THE GUTHRIE THEATER hasn't toured in a decade. Now it's on the road, filled with an almost evangelistic fervor about Shakespeare, and the theater - all aspects of theater.

Guthrie actress Catherine Eaton is working with about 15 students giving them pointers on auditioning, part of the Guthrie's residency at Saint Cloud's Paramount Theater. Eaton dispenses audition advice with enthusiasm and confidence; everything from what to wear to what to perform or not to perform, like stay away from monologues about disemboweling animals.
Eaton: I say a general rule is, stay away from things that are sort of attacking animals. But there are exceptions to everything. But I've been told that by a number of directors, so it obviously comes up. They're like, tell them not to do the animal things.
Her one-on-one critiques carry the weight of years of professional experience, but with the special wrinkle, she'll soon be playing Titania Queen of the Fairies on this very stage.

A few days before opening night, nearly every corner of the Paramount Theater is filled with actors preparing, and relaxing. Some stretch, some run through lines, another wanders the halls playing guitar. The nearly century-old theater is alive with excitement and expectation.

John Justad is the technical director for the Paramount Theater. He says the value of the Guthrie traveling performance is not only that local children, parents and students will be exposed to the Guthrie's professionalism right in their own town, but also that the local theater community has had the opportunity to learn some tools of the trade a kind of masters class for technicians.
Danyon Davis (left) as Puck and Stephen Pelinski as Oberson
Photo courtesy Guthrie Theater
Justad: We've had access to the designers, to the directors, to the assistants in those positions. We've been able to sit at and operate some of the equipment. It's much more of a lab experience than just the Guthrie came to town did a show, packed it up and left again.
Justad says he's proud Saint Cloud was chosen as the first stop on the Guthrie tour. In conjunction with the residency, Saint Cloud's Paramount Theater and arts district is mounting an exhibition in the theater lobby and seminars on the relevance of Shakespeare in contemporary American culture.

Guthrie actor Catherine Eaton, many people approach Shakespeare with unfounded trepidation.
Eaton: Shakespeare is often thought to be one of the most challenging playwrights, but that's so not the case. There's a lot you have to understand in order to work with text because it's written in different time, but the issues are all so contemporary and what's being dealt with is so fresh.
Eaton says she fell in love with theater through Shakespeare, and is crossing her fingers the Guthrie show will have a similar effect on the communities it visits.
Eaton: I hope that it isn't just easy entertainment. I hope you do walk away with a little, "Hmm what was that," or "I wonder why that choice was made," or "I don't know how I feel about that." The majority of it is things we all recognize and we all feel.
This production is nearly guaranteed to inspire and surprise audiences. It's colorful, it's bawdy and it's loud. It's rock and roll and faeries with yellow beehive hairdos dropping from the ceiling.

Richard S. Iglewski as Nick Bottom (left), Nathaniel Full as Tom Snout (center) and T.R. Knight as Francis Flute Photo courtesy Guthrie Theater
During the "tech rehearsal," the actors, directors, and technicians run through the cues for timing, lighting and music. It's kind of deadly, but vital to produce the fast paced performance.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of Shakespeare's most-produced plays, and it's often a child's first exposure to the Bard.

The Guthrie's David Mann says director Joe Dowling has no intention of producing a stodgy old play by a dead white English guy. Mann says Dowling injects a flash and energy to Shakespeare that young people love.
Mann: What I would like to see and I'm sure what Joe would like to see, I'm sure as the director of it, is that kids - they're attitude about Shakespeare has changed, or their attitude about live theater is changed. I really do believe this show has the strength to do that.
After three performances at the Paramount Theater in Saint Cloud, the Guthrie moves on to cities in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota. The company will be on the road until mid May.