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A Midsummer Night’s Dream
UNCW Cultural Arts Building
Feb. 14th-17th, 21st-24th, 8 p.m.;
Sundays, 2 p.m. • $5-$12

94918938.jpgWhat better way for students to learn the fundamentals of theatre than re-enacting Shakespeare? Or working side by side with community partners to construct groundbreaking shows?

UNCW’s Theatre Department has doubled in size from 63 to 115 students over the past 18 months, mainly because their leaders, including Chair Andy Belser who took over the reins in July 2011, pushes them to a new level of progression. They’re not only required to study various works and manifest their roles within a stage show in their educational careers, but learn the full spectrum through professionals in the community. They’ll be tackling the fury of love and all of its ensuing emotions in the upcoming performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” opening this weekend at the Cultural Arts Building on UNCW’s campus.

“Karola Luttringhaus, artistic director of Alban Elved Dance Company, collaborated with us at every rehearsal, creating a movement world and also worked with me on editing the soundscape for the production,” Belser says.

Also lending a helping hand is set-designer Randy Ward, who has guided the cast and crew, producing imagery using Watchout. “It’s a live presentation software package that allows for images to move and sync between projection screens,” Belser explains. In fact, the production of “Midsummer” will continue to surpass standard university theatre in its use of technological advancements, though it won’t deter from the specifics of the storyline. “It’s intended to offer a voice, which uses a live video camera during a few moments,” Belser explains. Projections will remain in front and behind the performers so they’ll look as if they’re “floating” in the imagery.

“This script is ideal for this sort of flight of the imagination into worlds of imagery,” Belser continues. “Shakespeare’s language is full of imagery, and the projections add some contemporary counterpoint.”

Taking place primarily in a magic forest, the comedy follows marital therapy, inevitable evolving into mischief, tragic and humorous, and even a play within a play. A runaway bride and groom, a love potion, and a jackass only make up a few elements which keep the script full of whimsy. “A student—Gage Holcomb—created the donkey head that appears in the production,” Belser says.

The roles in “Midsummer” are vast, as an 11-strong cast of students will bring to life a slew of love-torn characters. Included are Gary T. Moore as Theseus and Oberon, Kate Weolowski as Hippolyta and Titania, Eddie Ledford as Puck, Ashley Burton and Eddie Waters as the faivies, Haley Alber as Helena, Kelly Mis as Hermis, and Nicholas Reed as Lysander. They all touch on the human condition toward love, from the flitting happiness it incites to the challenges it creates, whether enduring jealousy, revenge, heartache or sheer joy.

“‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is about how we love, what we love, how messy love is, and the obstacles to love,” Belser explains. “Really, the play has no answers but is a meditation on the big ride of love and how our society creates obstacles for love. . . . We fall in love with people, things, ideas without reason. Shakespeare writes incisive lines to capture the experience of love but cannot provide answers in his writing.”

Though it’s been some time since UNCW has done Shakespeare, the use of the tech tools will complement the flexibility of the production. For instance various platforms will rise or “rake” to provide a different angle, and there will be a translucent scrim which disappears when the lights dim, giving the show another dimension of blocking.

“The scrim serves as a projection surface,” Belser notes. “The back of the stage has a 55-foot-wide rear projection screen onto which color is [illuminated]. The lighting, [which has been overseen by professional John Ambrosone] is all done using side lights and from above. The side-lighting creates a world in which characters appear to ‘float’ more than lighting them from the front.”

Belser’s plans to continue the Professional Partner Series during their March and April production, as well. He will bring in New Paradise Laboratories and its artistic director, Whit MacLaughlin, to help create “PROM.” McLaughlin will have a six-week residency from which students can learn. “Our students will have daily training and instruction from Whit and five of his company members,” Belser says.

The department head also instituted a partnership with one of the best universities in critical theory and performance practice in theatre. UNCW students will have an opportunity to travel abroad to London to study at University Roehampton; likewise, students abroad will come here to learn during year-long study courses.

“The UNCW London Center for Theatre program is designed to allow our students and faculty to go to Roehampton to study, teach, and collaborate,” Belser says. “We are particularly excited about this program, as it will give our students access to the world-class theatre in London, as well as the internationally renowned training going on at Roehampton.”

The UNCW Theatre Department will open “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” appropriately on Valentine’s Day at 8 p.m. It will continue to run through the 17th, and February 21st through 24th, with Sunday matinees, 2 p.m. The play is full of mediations without answers. Tickets are $12 for general admission; $10 for UNCW employees; and $5 for UNCW students.

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