In this issue of CS Grid, Topdog/Underdog Dramaturge Jordan Laffrenier touches on the relationship between brothers Booth and Lincoln and how their stories echo the realities of many. Jordan also offers insight on acclaimed playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and what she has said about plays’ ability to rewrite history while navigating between theatre and real life.
We’re celebrating 40 years of Dream in High Park by bringing back our inaugural Shakespeare production from 1983, A Midsummer Night’s Dream!
Making his High Park directorial debut, in this edition of CS Grid, we interviewed Dream in High Park veteran performer Jamie Robinson on his thoughts leading this milestone production, why this play is beloved by audiences and why you need to check it out.
How does it feel to make your directorial debut with A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
Any time I work on a Dream in High Park show, I feel an enormous sense of nostalgia, as it was on that very outdoor stage where I made my professional acting debut in a production of Romeo & Juliet in 1997. Directing here and now, I once again feel huge pangs of nostalgia, but also a sense of comfort, familiarity, and home. We are one week into rehearsals, and already I sense the bond that forms with the performers and production team, a similar bond I remember treasuring all of the past summers over the years that I have been involved in shows here. Directing A Midsummer Night's Dream specifically has a special place in my heart, as it was the very first show I witnessed in the park as a teenager, before I ever worked there, which changed my understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare thereafter, setting me off on my endless curiosity to grasp Shakespeare's plays even further.
I sense the bond that forms with the performers and production team, a similar bond I remember treasuring all of the past summers over the years that I have been involved in shows here. – Jamie Robinson
Dream in High Park has become a beloved summer tradition that you’ve been a part of for many years (Assistant Directed Titus Andronicus 2014, Movement Coached As You Like It 2022, and acted in Romeo & Juliet 1997, Romeo & Juliet 1998, Romeo & Juliet 2010, Much Ado About Nothing & Measure for Measure 2019). What brought you to this project as a director? What attracts you to this play in particular?
I was asked by Canadian Stage Artistic Director Brendan Healy to direct it back in August of 2022. I was on vacation at the time, and was rarely checking messages, when his email popped up, it sparked my interest. The show, he said, was for sure going to be A Midsummer Night's Dream because it was the 40th anniversary of the original, which I completely understood and agreed with, but this time, I was able to adapt the play as I wanted. I was instantly transported from my vacation brain to literally "dreaming" about all the possibilities I could bring to this show. I was excited to revisit this play which I'd acted in once before elsewhere outdoors, which was a magical summer for me at that time. I was also keenly aware that Theatre artists in our community had been in isolation for long enough with the pandemic, and that I would have equally excited performers and designers wanting to join in the Dream experience live on stage after so much time confined to indoor spaces. Not to mention the huge support that is always given from the audiences, which is ultimately always why I want to do a High Park show.
What makes your adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream special?
Not to give away too many spoiler alerts, but my adaptation does lean heavily into the dreams that we humans might hold for future generations to come. Is it a cataclysmic disaster of our own making, or a world where action takes the place of endless arguments and red tape, where we learn to live together with nature in harmony? These are the questions I think Shakespeare's audiences were grappling with over 400 years ago, and they are remarkably the same questions, albeit different context, that we are grappling with today.
Why do you think A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the inaugural play for Canadian Stage’s summer theatre tradition, and why do you think we are returning to our roots for the 40th anniversary of Dream in High Park?
The play takes place mainly in a forest, and what better surrounding than to perform it in a forest! It is also steeped in an imagined spirit world, and I think the company that presented it 40 years ago was well aware of the original caretaking roots that are embedded in High Park's land from thousands of years prior. The play is full of imagery around humanity's roots to nature and the need to respect its resources, which is very apt considering the important conversations around Equity that exist today. It also treads upon our roots and desires to perform live Theatre, and how this medium can be both transformational and entertaining at the same time.
..."dreaming" about all the possibilities I could bring to this show. – Jamie Robinson
Why should people come to see the show?
Because it is a comedy, and our production is very, very, very funny! But it also has a message that speaks to audiences of any age. A true fairy tale, where you can bring a picnic! What more could you ask for really.
Because it is a comedy, and our production is very, very, very funny! But it also has a message that speaks to audiences of any age. A true fairy tale, where you can bring a picnic! What more could you ask for really. – Jamie Robinson
Tickets to A Midsummer Night’s Dream is now on sale.
On Stage July 21 - September 3, 2023