February 10, 2009
In February, the Annie Russell Theatre stage was transformed into a mystical forest boasting dangling tiers of fabric as the 26-member cast, one of the biggest in Rollins history, dazzled audiences with the Shakespeare classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Yet this production differed from the Shakespearean performances to which audiences may be accustomed.
“The biggest challenge by far is that we’ve had five weeks not only to produce a Shakespeare production, but also to train actors in aerial work,” said Todd Espeland, one of the directors of Rollins College’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Within this significantly smaller timeframe, the cast overcame challenges to present an innovative production unlike any ever to grace the Annie stage.
Espeland and co-director Allison Williams, returning to Rollins after having directed here 10 years prior, combined the musings of Shakespeare’s classic with aerial techniques and circus elements. “I love that we take [the audience] to another place on the stage,” said Williams, who also serves as the show’s aerial coach. “We take them above the stage. We want to feel the movements as part of the drama.”
Through fabrics and hoops, students must support their body weight in a seemingly effortlessly way while managing all other responsibilities as actors. Students with no prior training must multitask with ease, as if aerial work has simply always held a spot on their resume. “I couldn’t have had more fun,” said Caitlyn Shirard (Class of 2012), who portrays the character of Helena. “It’s exactly what I wanted my debut at the Annie to be like.”
Williams boasted about the progress that was made by the cast. “I’ve watched students deal with fears of heights and of aerial work,” she said. “It’s been neat watching this go from day one. I feel like they’re invested in the play. They’ve made something and have taken ownership of it and developed skills and moves. They can even do their own choreography now.”
Despite the bruises and toil of the past weeks, the cast continues to create and deliver what will certainly be a production remembered as one of the most pioneering in the Annie’s history. To learn more about the work of Allison Williams and Todd Espeland, please visit www.czuppa.com.
By Ellease Bender (Class of 2011)