It’s Easter Sunday. While others are enjoying egg hunts and ham dinners, 18 actors, a director, a stage manager and several crew members are rehearsing A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at the Gamm Theatre in Warwick in a second-floor rehearsal room.
I am fortunate to have been cast in the show as Tom Snout, one of the show’s mechanicals. More on that in a bit.
We first met as a group two weeks earlier, on a Tuesday night, for a table read of the show. Before we begin, we’re greeted by Jessica Hill Kidd. She lays out the ground rules for the theater after having us all sign our contracts. Kidd works with set design and production management. She’s also our COVID officer.
The Gamm takes COVID quite seriously. We were all tested before entering the rehearsal room, and we’re given six boxes of home tests. We are required to test ourselves each Tuesday and Friday, reporting our results to Kidd.
We introduced ourselves and Fred Sullivan, the show’s director, has something personal to say about each of us. Before launching into the read, Sullivan tells us about his vision for the show. Three separate worlds. The lovers. The fairies. And the clowns – that is, the mechanicals.
The read was spectacular fun, each actor putting a little something extra into the part. There’s a lot of laughter. A wonderful way to start.
Rehearsals started the following night, and here we are at the end of the second week, running the show in its entirety. A stumble-through, as it’s called.
We’re still allowed to call for lines – it’s only our second week, and Shakespeare’s text is meaty. The rehearsal hall has tape on the floor to mark where set pieces will be when we get onto the stage. There are two circles for raised platforms. The edges of the workspace are taped off to show where the stage ends.
This is just one of the few times the entire cast has been together. Rehearsals have been segmented. One night the lovers. One night the fairies. One night the clowns.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM is one of Shakespeare’s comedies. Set in ancient Athens, it revolves around the marriage of Theseus, the duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, the conquered queen of the Amazons. There is a sub-plot involving four lovers – Demetrius, Hermia, Lysander and Helena. Another sub-plot involves Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairy world, and Puck, Oberon’s mischievous hench-fairy. Finally, the mechanicals, six tradesmen who plan to put on a play as part of the wedding celebration.
We have four scenes in the show. Our last is presenting the play within the play at the wedding celebration of Theseus and Hippolyta. We’re still working through some bits, trying new things with each rehearsal. Sullivan encourages that. “If I don’t like it, I’ll tell you.” If he says it’s out, it’s out. But he laughs at a lot of the things we come up with.
Tony Estrella, the Gamm’s Artistic Director, is playing Nick Bottom, the “best actor” in our little troupe. He overacts the part – which is what’s called for – and has us all laughing. We of course have to break ourselves of laughing when it’s actually showtime. Brandon Whitehead is equally funny as Peter Quince, the director of our little band.
It’s so much fun watching the two of them work. It’s my first time sharing the stage with Estrella, my second with Whitehead. We were castmates in INHERIT THE WIND, the penultimate show presented by Ocean State Theatre prior to its closing. The Gamm now occupies the same space on Jefferson Boulevard. There’s actually a mini-reunion of INHERIT players. Sullivan was our director, and Robin Grady was our stage manager. Nora Eschenheimer and Zach Gibb were actors in the play.
Back to the mechanicals. It’s simply a term for a craftsman, an artisan. Each of the actors has what today we’d call a day job. Bottom is a weaver. Quince is a carpenter. Francis Flute (Gibb) is a bellows mender. Robin Snavely (Jeff Ararat) is a tailor. Snug (Jim O’Brien) is a joiner, a carpenter specializing in window and door frames. And Tom Snout (played by yours truly) is a tinker, one who works with metals.
But we’re considered the best actors in all Athens to present this play. We’re also flat-out clowns. We don’t stray from Shakespeare’s text, but Shakespeare doesn’t present any stage direction in his plays. It’s up to Sullivan and us to come up with fun bits that will elicit laughs. That’s the plan, anyway.
The stumble-through went well, but we of course have a long way to go. Sullivan goes over some notes, and then sends us home to enjoy the rest of our Easter.
We’ll be back at it on Tuesday, and there’s still plenty to be done. Costume fittings, music rehearsals, moving downstairs to get used to the stage, adding lighting and real props. Plus, the theater has to be configured to accommodate the audience. Lots to do.
Some would call it a lot of work. But let’s face it, there’s a reason they call it a “play.”
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM opens on May 5 at the Gamm Theatre in Warwick and runs through May 29. For tickets and info, call 401-723-4266 or visit www.gammtheatre.org.