Director/choreographer James Fowler has moved his Open Fist Theatre Company production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Athens, Greece to Athens, Georgia circa 1855, where Shakespeare’s text remains intact, but casting and design land us in the world of the antebellum South.
This unique angle on the Shakespearean classic opens July 2 at Atwater Village Theater. We asked Fowler about his inspiration and experience developing the show.
Where did the concept of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in the antebellum South originate? What was the process of bringing it to fruition?
The concept originated while I was working on a traditional production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I had done many traditional productions as a director and actor, but one day while co-directing the project, one line stood out to me clear as day: “that would hang us, every mother’s son.” It was after reading this line that I started sifting the play for other associations to the antebellum south.
What made the new setting—1855 Athens, Georgia rather than Athens, Greece 2,000 years earlier—feel right? Did you have to make any tweaks to the text to make it work?
1855 Athens, Georgia became the location of the play to not only honor Shakespeare’s original location of “Athens, Greece,” but also because in Athens, Georgia 1855 there existed people with the same motivations as the people Shakespeare originally envisioned.
How were the fairies and the mechanicals reconsidered, in terms of their role in the story and in Athens society?
As it relates to the fairies and mechanicals, there was a ton of thought given to their role in society as enslaved peoples and the ignored dignity they carried as citizens of Athens, Georgia. I was able to establish that the magic-wielding fairies and the rambunctious tradesmen/women (the mechanicals) were unseen in this world, not because they have magical abilities, but simply because they are Black.
What was the cast and crew’s previous experience with Shakespeare in general and A Midsummer Night’s Dream specifically? How did that background affect their work on this production?
Many of the cast members have performed in productions of Midsummer in the past. Both bipoc and non-bipoc cast members in this cast have performed in productions of the show. None of them have ever performed in a retelling such as this one. Much of the crew have also worked on productions of the show, and both cast and crew have embraced my vision and been willing to try something new.
What were the main considerations when casting and designing the show?
The main considerations were authenticity and clarity. The team wanted to be sure that we created a realistic and honest world, while also honoring the whimsical world Shakespeare intended to establish with this play.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Open Fist runs July 2 through August 13 at the Atwater Village Theatre,. 3269 Casitas Ave., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 7:00pm. General admission to all performances is $25; tickets are available here. Free parking is available in the ATX (Atwater Crossing) parking lot one block south of the theater. Appropriate for ages 8 and up.