Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: The Spirit OnStage Theater Troup is currently performing their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What inspired the company to bring this classic Shakespearean play to the stage once again?
Steven Alloway: It started with my mother (Sylvia Alloway, director of the play). Years ago in Chicago, she played Hermia in a production of Midsummer and decided then that she really wanted to direct it herself. All my life, she’s been talking about what she would do when she directed Midsummer, someday. It was always “someday,” a long, long time from now.
Then, maybe 15 years ago or so, the pastor of my dad’s church, Church of the Foothills, began a major landscaping project to improve the property and put in a beautiful garden, with a pond and a fountain. I took one look at that garden and pond, turned to my mother, and said, “Midsummer.” So, ever after that, it wasn’t just about doing the play, but doing it in this garden.
Still, though, it was always a long way off. It was always “someday.” But then, slowly but surely, the pieces began to fall into place, until finally, earlier this year, we both decided, “Why Someday? Why not now?” So, instead of sitting around wondering, we jumped in headfirst and decided to make it happen. And now . . . it’s happening! Woo hoo!
BD: Why do you feel that Spirit OnStage’s production will be unique?
SA: Well, the main thing that sets our production apart is the venue. Doing Shakespeare outdoors is, of course, nothing new, and “Shakespeare in the Park” has become increasingly popular in recent years. But, we do two things differently. First of all, rather than a park, we have our garden venue. It’s smaller, more intimate, and perhaps a bit more interesting aesthetically than just a regular park area.
In places where they do outdoor Shakespeare, like Griffith Park, or my alma mater, Cal Lutheran University, where the Kingsman Shakespeare Company performs, they generally build a complete outdoor set in which to perform the play. We, on the other hand, are mostly utilizing the natural aesthetic of the areas where we perform and integrating it into the play.
In fact, to that end, we have two separate performance spaces, which is another thing that sets our production apart. While scenes in the fairy world, with Oberon (Paul A. Rose Jr.), Titania (Sarah Adolfson), Puck (Ronald Frescas), et al. are performed in the garden, scenes in the “real world” at the beginning and end of the play—e.g. the wedding and subsequent performance of Pyramus and Thisby—are performed in a small patio area next to the garden, and we actually lead the audience from one place to another over the course of the play. I really think this helps accentuate the contrast between the two worlds and makes things just a bit more interesting.
BD: What can you tell us about the creative process of the cast and crew in bringing the play to life?
SA: Well, in our production, the cast IS the crew. Our Helena (Sarah Adolfson) painted a backdrop in the garden to give our actors a backstage area. Our Puck (Ronald Frescas) made a beautiful donkey head for Bottom (me) out of foam and cloth. He also put together our lights and sound, along with Demetrius (Przemek Jaremko) and Snout (Jeremiah Whitman). Pretty much everyone does everything. Except for me. I have no useful skills, which is why I’m the producer.
And, of course, everyone’s great onstage, as well. The whole cast has developed an amazing rapport, which helps them come up with bits and ideas and all sorts of things on their own. It’s very much a collaborative effort.
From left to right: Sarah Adolfson, Przemek Jaremko, Sara Locke, Cesar Azanza, Janene Gibbons, Devin Newitt, Sylvia Alloway,
Jeremiah Whitman, Steven Alloway, Ronald Frescas, and Paul A. Rose Jr.
It’s also been an uphill battle at times. Being that we’re performing at the same time as the Hollywood Fringe, it wasn’t easy to fill the cast, despite the show’s general popularity. Cesar Azanza came in midway through the process to play Lysander, and Janene Gibbons was promoted from a minor fairy role to the lead role of Hermia when our previous Hermia had to back out. And now, there’s nobody I’d rather have in those roles than the two of them.
We’ve also done a lot of doubling up of roles. The fairies (Sara Locke, Devin Newitt, and Sylvia Alloway) also play the Rustics who perform in Pyramus and Thisby. Sarah Adolfson doubles as both Helena and Titania, which is a challenge in terms of both acting and staging, but it works out beautifully.
In fact, I can say the same for pretty much the entire production. It’s been a challenge, certainly, but the finished product is better than I ever could have hoped. The cast’s chemistry, talent, and dedication are what make this an experience like no other, both onstage and behind the scenes.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
SA: I hope they’ll take away a few postcards to hand out to their friends and get them to come see the show, too. I also hope they’ll take away a few cookies, because otherwise I’ll end up eating them all myself, and I shouldn’t.
Aside from that, I really just want them to be entertained. This whole crazy process has been a lot of fun for us, and we want to share that fun with the audience. If you’re laughing, then we’re doing our job.
BD: The show is appearing at Church of the Foothills in Sylmar, CA, from June 5-21 (on the weekends). How do you feel that the outdoor venue will enhance the production of the show?
SA: Well, as I said before, doing Shakespeare outdoors is nothing new. I’ve seen everything performed outdoors from Twelfth Night to Henry V, and there are entire outdoor Shakespeare theater companies; however, if there’s one Shakespeare play that really should be performed outdoors—that is truly enhanced by the outdoor setting—it’s Midsummer. It’s about fairies in a magical forest. Doing it outside is the best way, in my opinion, to drive home those concepts and really immerse the audience in the play.
In addition, our particular venue provides a more versatile space than a traditional stage—or at least, than the stage we’re used to performing on. There’s a patch of ground for the lovers to sleep, there’s a flowerbed for Titania to sleep, there’s a little spot for the rehearsal of Pyramus and Thisby—all naturally within this garden. It’s a larger performance space, but at the same time, it feels much more intimate than a traditional stage, bringing the actors and the audience together and creating a real connection between them.
BD: Are there any other upcoming shows or projects that you would care to share with our readers?
SA: Well, most immediately, our film division, Spirit OnScreen, will be participating in the 48-Hour Film Project Los Angeles in August (for the fifth time!). Then, in December, we’ll be doing our 15th annual Christmas/Holiday show, tentatively titled Sellouts, which I’m currently in the process of writing.
We also have a children’s theater division called the Bible Story Project, which travels to Christian schools in the L.A. area and performs short plays based on Bible stories. Rather than just presenting the stories, though, we also like to play with different styles and interesting ways of telling them. In the past, we’ve done the story of David and King Saul as a radio play complete with live sound effects, as well as the story of Balaam and his Donkey in a film noir style. We plan on continuing the Bible Story Project in the fall and are always on the lookout for new schools and other venues where we can perform.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Spirit OnStage?
SA: Like us on Facebook, join our event page, and, most importantly, come to the show! Friday, the 19th, at 7 p.m., Saturday, the 20th, at 2 p.m., and Sunday, the 21st, at 7 p.m. 13425 Glenoaks Avenue, Sylmar, CA 91342.
We’d love to see you there!