The American High School Theatre Festival is wonderful. It gives school students from the US and Canada the opportunity to perform at the fringe as well as travel abroad, and is often the first chance participants have to travel outside their home country. Teacher-directors also have a platform for showcasing their skills in front of an international audience, so it’s sad that these student productions are often ignored by press. Shakespeare is regularly produced along with a fairly standard programme of musicals and plays for young people, though the bard gives directors more o to be flexible with the text. Whilst these show are far from the standard you’d expect from professionals, they are enthusiastically executed and sheer joy in performing is evident throughout.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Gotham by Caddo Parish Magnet High School in Louisiana is one of the festival’s offerings, and whilst it certainly has its issues, it has plenty of merits. A comic book world could certainly work for the action-driven, over-the-top fights and comedy, but director Patti Reeves only consistently applies it to the fairy world. She changes names and locations from Shakespeare’s original which is hard on the ear to begin with, but soon becomes less so. Adapting pronunciation so syllables fit Shakespeare’s verse would minimise this. The lovers remain unadapted – a lost opportunity for an added layer of humour and clashing with the gritty caped crusaders.
Reeves has innate instinct for physical comedy and a clear skill in developing that in her students. There are plenty of chuckles to be had in the mechanicals’ scenes that steal the show. The performances are hammy and over-the-top, but that’s the sort that works best for these characters who are rooted in Commedia stock characters and slapstick. She has some wonderfully confident pupils in her cast, with Echo Patriquin as Helena and Scott Martin as Flute/Thisby the most consistent examples.
Though most of the performances are typically pedestrian school fare and the concept has potential to be developed with further time and resources (something teachers generally lack), the dedication these young people show for Shakespeare is truly inspiring and a great trip down memory lane for anyone who found their love of theatre whilst at school.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Gotham runs through 10th August.
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