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The Power of Music as Subtext - A Midsummer Night's Dream (The Musical)
Deborah Chudzynski, Drama/Theatre Teacher
Mrs. Chudzynski giving instructions during rehearsal

I was traveling alone in my car to Pennsylvania on my way to visit my parents in the early 1990’s soon after arriving to teach at The Stanley Clark School. As was my habit when traveling, I was listening to my favorite music – that of the 1960’s and early 70’s.

The Moment Inspiration Hit

I was considering introducing my young actors to Shakespeare the following school year, specifically to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While listening to music and considering the characters in the play, it suddenly hit me. The music I was listening to was exactly what the characters in the play were thinking. Yes, Helena is a Shakespeare character, yet Stop in the Name of Love is exactly what she is saying to Demetrius.

A 1960’s Version of Shakespeare was Born

In that instant, I decided the best way to teach my students about character subtext was by using songs from the 1960’s. So, that year, I set my first production at Stanley Clark of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the 1960’s, with music from the era as the inspiration – just as I am doing this year.

Student rehearsing for A Midsummer Night's Dream

Music as Subtext

The study of Shakespeare’s work can be difficult if one forgets his work is supposed to be played by actors. My actors need to understand what they are saying, what their characters want and what actions they are going to take to achieve their objectives. The music as subtext helps them understand all of that.

  • Lysander and Hermia are “lovers” from the very beginning, so they sing Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.
  • Demetrius sings Little Red Riding Hood, since he is pursuing Hermia. 
  • Helena will not give up pursuing Demetrius as she sings Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.
  • Bottom works through his fear by singing As You Walk Through a Storm

Every song we use reflects what the character is really saying. It brings the work to life for my young actors. Each time I direct this production, I have two goals in mind:

  1. For my students to understand and enjoy Shakespeare, so they pursue acting in Shakespeare productions again.
  2. For our audience to enjoy the show!
Students rehearsing for A Midsummer Night's Dream

2018 Production

When we performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the 1990’s, I gave a power to the fairies to make the other characters sing like the original artists through lip sync. However, with the help of our choir teacher, Mrs. Hornor, this year’s fairies will make the characters actually sing. Hence, we have A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Musical. You can see this year’s production on November 8 & 9, 2018 at 7:00 PM.


About the Author

Deborah Chudzynski 

Drama/Theatre Teacher

deborahg@stanleyclark.org

 

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