|Released on DVD April 19, 2015.|
Shakespeare's plays are rich with meaning, which allows people from every historical era to emphasize different aspects in each play.
Hamlet performed in 1800 looks very different from Hamlet performed in 2000.
But Shakespeare's plays not only change when performed in various eras of time. They change when performed by actors of various ages.
Viewers have the opportunity to witness this phenomenon, thanks to Filmmakers Jilann Spitzmiller and Hank Rogerson who facilitate a unique production of A Midsummer's Night Dream with the making of their documentary Still Dreaming (2014).
The documentary is set in The Lillian Booth Actors Home, just outside of Manhattan. The residents are older adults who worked as Broadway performers--actors, singers, dancers, musicians, etc.
Ben Steinfield and Noah Brody are thirtysomething co-directors who work with residents of the assisted living campus of the home. Over the course of the documentary, we see them cast about a dozen residents. They spend six weeks rehearsing before perform this romantic comedy for staff, fellow residents, and family members.
Even though the leads are usually played by twentysomethings, the play's themes of identity, illusion vs. reality, desire, and autonomy resonate with the mature actors.
While there are many apt passages from A Midsummer Night's Dream, here is a particularly salient one, spoken in Act IV, scene 1 by Bottom, a tradesman who is transformed by fairy powers into a donkey and then returned to his mortal form:
Methought I was--there is no man can tell what.
|Harold Cherry as Bottom.|
Methought I was,--and methought I had,--but man is but a patched fool, if
he will offer to say what methought I had.
The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was.It's not just the actors who learn more about life from participating in the play. The co-directors, Ben and Noah, grow in awareness of how aging affects the human condition and how many aspects of the human experience persist throughout the life span.
While discussing casting with Noah, Ben makes this observation:
"What's funny to me is that I feel like if this was fifty years ago, all the casting would be exactly the same.
|L to R: Harold (Bottom / Pyramus), |
Mary (Quince / The Wall), and Robert (Flute / Thisbe)
Charlotte (Puck) worries about her inexperience as an actor, but her decades working as a singer and dancer inform her role perfectly.
Robert (Thisbe) worked with Bob Fosse as a dancer, yet his dry humor and comedic timing are perfect for his role as tradesman playing a female star-crossed lover.
Demo (Oberon / Theseus) has an imperial manner about him, which is well suited for his dual roles but problematic when he tries to direct the other actors.
Lynnette (Hermia) describes some parallels she shares with her character, particularly how her father chose a husband for her.
Joan (pianist) has significant physical challenges, but she still has perfect pitch.
Gloria (Helena) talks about her waning short-term memory:
"My short-term memory is like, you know. Ask me what I did when I was eight years old, and I can tell you. But I can't tell you what I did two seconds ago. It's very frustrating, and it's a little unnerving. So here I am."While working with older adults, the co-directors have to reduce the lines, make changes to the cast, and find ways to enter into the alternative reality that some residents maintain. After talking with Yalile, director of recreation, about how to work with people living with neurocognitive disorders, Ben is aghast:
"The staff is really comfortable with resetting every day....[but] how do you build something that leads to a public performance?"
|Demos (Theseus) and Charlotte (Puck)|
And so the play that unfolds differs from the play that's initially imagined. The co-directors learn at some point in the six weeks of rehearsals that Charlotte, who plays Puck, lives with Alzheimer's Disease.
Nevertheless, she engages deeply in her role, remembers much of the director's notes about blocking and emphasis, and enlivens the role with her graceful movement, expressive delivery of her lines, beautiful singing voice, and persistent optimism.
In fact, the dementia positive movement suggests that it's because of her shifting cognition that Charlotte is optimistic and expressive.
She might have some limitations, but Charlotte certainly exhibits a lot of strengths and enriched the performance.
And so it goes with older adults outside of formal production. After all, "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players." People can contribute meaningfully despite--or in many cases--because of their life stage and their unique circumstances.
Learn more about Still Dreaming by visiting the documentary's web page.
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