“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is inarguably one of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays, featuring the comical plights of star-crossed Athenian lovers, the caricatures of a troupe of actors, and the manipulations of the forest’s fairies. In this play, the Bard glosses over the character of Hippolyta, painting this mythical heroine as a minor player contented with what is near imprisonment, having been “wooed with [the] sword” of her fiancee Theseus.
“I didn’t cut the script [of ‘Midsummer’] with Hippolyta in mind.” said Clare Vaughan, a sophomore in the University of Utah’s Actor Training Program (ATP). “Her story just kind of revealed itself to me, and Hippolyta’s story is so undervalued when she had this incredibly full life. Most productions kind of play her as this quiet character and, to me, that’s not realistic.”
From a concept idea in November, co-directors and Department of Theatre students Vaughan, Trey McEuen, Harrison Lind and Connor Johnson have been working with various faculty members, navigating performance spaces and advertising and organizing just under a month of cast rehearsals to present their adaption entitled “Hippolyta” — taking a character written into submission and re-telling an evolving story of love and mischief.
With a cast and creative team comprised of a few dozen students from the Actor Training Program and the Musical Theatre Program (MTP), “Hippolyta” is an immersive performance rooted in the plot lines of Shakespeare’s characters that explores the limits of the worlds he designed. The nature of the four interwoven plots lets the Amazon queen navigate her inner turmoil, shown in the combination of the characters of Hippolyta and Titania, proud queen of the fairies. “You get to see everything through [Hippolyta’s] eyes: the fairies, the lovers, the wedding, the play,” said McEuen.
Needless to say, this isn’t an easy story to tell, however, the divulging plot lines lend themselves to the collaborative effort of the four directors. “We wanted each world, though connected, to be distinct. So, we each acted as a head of separate realms,” Lind said. “Everyone is so passionate about this, which means that we all have these incredible and different ideas on how we want it to work.”
This is what makes a student-led production so special, especially one that bridges the gap between the two performance programs so seamlessly. ATP performers cite the MTP’s work on the intense physical movement of the fairy band while MTP performers compare working with the ATP students to a crash course in all things Shakespeare.
“And one of our goals for this project, when we proposed it to the faculty, was the idea of creating work for ourselves instead of waiting to be cast in someone else’s production, and that has been a fun challenge,” McEuen said. Those involved in this production have created a real-world experience of shaping a piece of art and managing every aspect of a show on their own.
The task of world-building in theater is exemplified in the fairies of “Hippolyta,” these near-demonic creatures that worship Titania as she traverses her own bitterly hopeful hellscape. “We are taking a darker turn with the fairies than most productions,” McEuen said. “They aren’t just mischievous — ours are Hippolyta’s biggest fears and regrets, the pain she has in this situation. She is given a glimpse of power in this world but is forced to return to a world where she has been kidnapped.”
The actors playing the fairies explore this separate realm and have built this sociocultural language around them, something both magical and haunting to witness.
“And that’s what is so special about this,” McEuen continued. “I don’t think anyone’s individual experience is the same as anyone else’s.”
The twisted approach to “Hippolyta” is where the co-directing team takes the most pride. “When we had faculty members come in to observe a rehearsal, the main takeaway was, ‘Rest assured, no one has done a production of ‘Midsummer’s’ like this before,’” Lind said.
Every member of the “Hippolyta” team is invested in the relevancy of the performance of a 400-year-old play, knowing it can never be done the same way twice. “In it, we’ve posed this question,” Vaughan said. “Is this dream world really better than the reality?”
The pre-sold tickets for “Hippolyta” are sold out, but rush seating is available before each performance. Performances are Feb. 8 at 11:59 p.m., Feb. 9 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. Admittance is free, and the show is in Room 202 of the Performing Arts Building.