70/30 Midsummer In Knoxville Part 2: An Interview with Cast and Crew

by JP Schuffman

Yesterday we talked with Tyler Gregory about 70/30's Midsummer Nights Dream, running this week only (May 26 - 28). Today we're talking with the cast and crew to get their take on what makes the play tick.

Whose Who...

Mariah Helton (Demetrius)

Raine Palmer (Puck)

Michelle Foster (Executive Producer / Fairy)

Amanda Tipton (Snug/Cobweb)

Arri Lemons (Egeus / Costumer)

Curtis Bower (Francis Flute / Moth)

Saki Marie Harp: (Co-Producer / Asst. Director / Titania)

Gray Casterline (Lysander)

Greg Helton (Theseus)


KTC: Before we talk about this show in particular, lets speak more broadly: What aspects of theatre excite you most?

M. HELTON: The fact that no matter how many times you have seen a play, each production truly is different.  Isn’t that amazing when you remember they all start with the same words on paper?

PALMER: I really enjoy the participatory energy that theatre has; the distinct impact actors and audience members can have on each other. It’s amazing how a simple laugh from an audience member can brighten a show’s energy, or how a particularly powerful performance can move an audience in tears. 

TIPTON: It's the collective creativity and choices of everyone involved.

G. HELTON: The interplay between the actors.  When you have a talented person working opposite you, there is nothing like it. 

LEMONS: Theatre is about using one’s creative talents to help produce a story that viewers can immerse themselves into; it can release powerful emotion and thought. That release, that catharsis, is what it’s all about.

CASTERLINE: The opportunity to step back from everyday life and channel my energy into portraying the life of someone else.

BOWER: For me, it's the performance. Performing and connecting with an audience, when a joke lands, when I take a complex idea and communicate it in a few words, a gesture, and you hear the audience receive that, that excites me. 

HARP: The unpredictable and ever-changing nature of the dying art form that refuses to die. Theatre’s got balls.


KTC: How did you get involved with this project? What about it excited you?

HARP: The members of 70/30 got tired of waiting around for opportunities to play Shakespeare.  So we made our own.  The most exciting part is seeing how this play has become manifest through the efforts of so many people.

PALMER: I got involved in the conceptual stage as a board member of 70/30. I helped okay the project and then decided to audition because I’m something of an acting shark - if I stop, I’ll probably die.

FOSTER: Tyler wouldn't let me not do this show.  I've always been apprehensive about performing Shakespeare live and outdoors. But, Tyler and everyone else in this company has helped me build my confidence on stage. I've always loved Midsummer, and I've always wanted to play a fairy, so one life goal achieved!

TIPTON: I have worked with Tyler on several previous projects, and was really excited about the concept of pop-up productions: the challenge presented by having to adapt to each setting instead of having a steady run at a single location.

LEMONS: Honestly, I got involved with this project as a way to help out a friend. I worked with Tyler on a number of shows before, so when he needed someone to play Egeus and Hippolyta, I volunteered. Being a part of this production is exciting because it is not only my first involvement with 70/30, but the biggest acting role I have had in five years.

KTC: What’s something you’ve discovered about Shakespeare or this play in particular since you started working on the project?

HARP: At first, the rhyming couplets were daunting, especially while doing the cut.  Cutting this script was quite difficult.  So many of the characters are excessively wordy, and we needed a cut of under 90 minutes (and no intermission).  Many of the long monologues were written in such a way that trimming the fat was almost impossible.  If you cut one line, the rhyme was off, so you’d have to cut four lines.  But at the end of that fourth line was the start of the next sentence which was picked up in the fifth line.  It was a couple rough nights cutting this script.  But I think we have something really workable in the end.

M. HELTON: I no longer hate Demetrius. Does that count? He was probably my least favorite character going into this, and it was a fight to understand him, and to be him. Then something was said in a rehearsal about the lovers being people of the court, and how their class status affected their interactions. Not all of what we discussed was kept, but it made me consider a different point of view and gave me a crucial point of access into the character. 

PALMER: Rhyming lines, especially rhyming monologues, are strange. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that you’re not reciting poetry, you’re speaking in rhyme.  In particular, I’ve discovered it’s helpful to keep from focusing on the fact that the lines rhyme at all.

G. HELTON: That only drunk people would heckle the play as Theseus and the lovers do in Act V.

LEMONS: Shakespeare is not as “high class” as people make him out to be, especially when you realize that this play in particular involves torrid affairs and donkey f***ing!


KTC: What is something interesting or helpful to understand about Midsummer that potential audience members might not know if they haven’t seen the play or studied it before?

M. HELTON: Um…. Sparknotes is your friend? I seriously do suggest to always read at least a summary of a Shakespeare play before you see it since even people like me get lost in the language at times. But, this cut of the play is perfect for someone who hasn’t experienced much Shakespeare before! 

CASTERLINE: The two main female "lovers" are named Hermia and Helena. Hermia belongs with Lysander, and Helena belongs with Demetrius. Even in rehearsal I get the names confused.

PALMER: All of the characters are guided by strong emotions and desires, including love, hatred, jealousy, and pride. Everyone is flawed and silly, and you should allow yourself to be caught up in the fun of it.

FOSTER: There are multiple stories that will be presented and some actors play multiple characters.

TIPTON: A few of the references and jokes will only land if you have some context from outside of the plays before seeing or reading them. This play takes place in Greece and so someone who has any knowledge of Greek history and mythology will be able to catch certain references that might otherwise be missed.

LEMONS: I think the important thing to focus on is the relationship between the players. The relationships, not a knowledge of the play, will make the show enjoyable to any viewer.

BOWER: Midsummer has a character for every person in the audience. Every single person in the play is unique and different, and has a full and vibrant life to them. Pay attention to everything if you can. There is so much going on!

HARP: You’re not watching an old-fashioned play. You’re watching Jerry Springer with Faeries.  

KTC: What do you say to people who may be uninterested in Shakespeare? Does this show have something to offer them?

M. HELTON: I would really suggest giving this one a shot. The cut of the play and the actors portraying the intent of the author make it much easier to understand. I guarantee you will laugh at something during this show, and honestly who doesn’t need a laugh right now?

PALMER: Sometimes it feels like society has done its best to make Shakespeare inaccessible, something only for the stuffy intellectual elite, when it really can and should be enjoyed by everyone.  This performance is Shakespeare for the masses.  We’re not putting on any airs.  We have no elaborate sets or costumes, no fancy props, no sophisticated lights and sound systems.  We’re simply actors telling a fun story.

TIPTON: I think that we have practiced and rehearsed this content to the point that the situations within can be read, understood, and enjoyed by anyone who watches it, even if you have never read or seen Shakespeare before.

LEMONS: The cast of this show has spent weeks really learning the text, and are ready to present it in such a way that anyone can laugh at the references and see that Shakespeare wrote for everyone.

BOWER: If you're uninterested in Shakespeare you've probably only ever read it. This show will make you laugh, period.

G. HELTON: One thing I always tell friends who come see a Shakespeare show is to know the story before you go.  One can easily get lost in the language and not know what is going on; but, if you know the basic story line, the lofty language just flows over you and makes you wish we all were a little more eloquent in our everyday life!

HARP: I reiterate:  Jerry Springer with Faeries.  I think people with any interest in arts or theatre will see something special in this show.  This show has blossomed like a springtime rose planted in the fertile soil of dreams, watered with the abundant rains of tenacious spirit, and given energy by photosynthesis from the sun of ambition.  The nurturing care given to this project is apparent, and viewers should be inspired by the process.


KTC: What is one thing you hope audiences will take away from this production?

M. HELTON: I hope they will have dreamed with us to see that something classic can be made fresh while still retaining properties that originally made it great.

CASTERLINE: I just hope that the audience laughs and enjoys themselves.

PALMER: A smile. Is that cheesy?  It probably is.  I’m not worried about them taking away a big lesson or some moment of enlightenment.  If they do, that’s wonderful! My primary concern is that they have a good time, and I hope that they leave thinking, “Oh, that was fun!  Those 70/30 folks know how to have a good time!”

FOSTER: An entertaining night of local theater as well as a new found love of Shakespeare!

LEMONS: That with Shakespeare, either everyone dies or everyone gets married. In this case... married. 

BOWER: Shakespeare isn't scary. It might not be your cup of tea, but there's no reason to fear it.

G. HELTON: A smile and a few laughs and discovering how neat it is to see a show in an unexpected environment.

HARP: I want folks to see that Shakespeare isn’t just for fancy "edumacated" people to perform in Elizabethan collars with funny accents.  I hope people will see that Shakes is relevant, achievable, and cool.

* 70/30 Creatives', Midsummer Nights Dream runs May 26-28 with performances at Market Square, Ijams Nature Center, and Modern Studio.