San Diego is no stranger to sending quality theatre shows and talent to New York and the east coast, and that includes Erin Cronican, Brandon Walker, and Dan Mack who are currently performing in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at The Seeing Place Theatre. While these San Diego performers may have transplanted to New York, their virtual performances on August 29th and 30th friends and family along with everyone else around the world to see the creative and innovative work they are doing.
All three took a moment to talk about their interpretation of the show, working virtually, and some of their favorite places to go when in town reminds them that there is no place like San Diego.
The Seeing Place Theatre is a theatre company known for its actor driven ensemble work with a focu on social justice. This production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM will benefit The Ali Forney Center which works to protect LGBTQ youth from the harms of homelssness while giving them the tools and resources they need to live independently.
Erin: When Brandon and I discussed doing a reading of MIDSUMMER, I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if Lysander were played by a woman? And then we’d give a chance to our LGTBQIA+ ensemble members to tell a lesbian story using the Bard’s words!”
I fought for this concept, and we realized that this emphasized the fact that the lovers feel like they have to run away in order to be happy. This is where our benefit for the Ali Forney Center started to take shape.
We then we expanded our concept to include the fairies being non-binary. We realized that by using this lens, we started to see the fairies as beings capable of changing the hearts and minds of humans, and through their fairy magic the Lovers, (Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius), Families (Egeus and Hermia, Theseus and Hippolyta), and Mechanicals (particularly Bottom with regard to everyone else) all come together in harmony at the end. We hope that audiences get a sense that acceptance of the LGTBQIA community is possible with just a little bit of magic.
Brandon: Interpretatively, the main element we are exploring is how the play works through the filter of the LGBTQIA+ community under the tyrannical rule of Athens. It’s unfortunately relevant to today’s world.
Dan: This is my first time working with The Seeing Place Theater, and I was struck by how collaborative the interpretation process was. For me personally, what strikes me the most vividly about Bottom comes from his name. Bottom’s speech after waking up from his experience with the invisible world of magic and faeries famously misquotes a Bible passage from Corinthians. Ron Rosenbaum in his wonderful book the Shakespeare Wars points out that, the passage Bottom is misquoting ends with: “the spirit searcheth all things, ye the bottome of Goddes secrets.” Rosenbaum makes much of the fact that here, there is a bottom to God’s secrets, yet in Shakespeare’s play we are told that Bottom’s dream “hath no bottom”. So there’s a sort of infinite nature to Bottom’s experience that goes beyond the very secrets of God.
To me, all that heady dramaturgical musing means that Bottom is sort of a being of pure creativity, and it indicates an innocence too – I don’t think a character’s experience could be said to be infinite or bottomless unless they see the world with the clear eyes of innocence. Channeling that interpretation into behavior has been the major thrust of my work with Brandon and Erin, and it has really challenged me as an actor.
The beauty of virtual theatre means that talent can come together from any place, which is true in this case as Erin and Brandon are both in New York, where along with multiple roles in this show Erin is Executive Artistic Director, and Brandon is the Producing Artistic Director for The Seeing Place. Dan is located in Virginia, but for all of them being able to tackle MIDSUMMER in a new way that speaks to the times was an exciting challenge.
Brandon: We’re doing as much as we can to build a Zoom performance that is different than one you might be able to see in a theatre or in a film. Randi Driscoll (another San Diego regular!) is creating a musical score for the show, and we’re using all kinds of backgrounds and SnapChat filters to bring the show into the present day. We also pride ourselves in doing Shakespeare in a way that everyday audiences can understand.
Erin: Just because “in-person” theatre is on hold we can still find a way to commune with others and share stories. Not only are we able to actually create and share “live” through live-streaming, we’re also able to take those recordings and stream them via YouTube to an even larger audience for a limited time.
Brandon: I find it an exciting challenge to figure out how to make it work. The intimacy is wonderful. The connections are difficult. The internet doesn’t always cooperate. Performances are a special challenge, especially because it’s new to audiences as well, and I find that as we are working, we’re fielding all kinds of technical questions and difficulties.
Dan: The most exciting thing for sure was Erin’s idea to use Snapchat filters. It opened up a huge creative space and gave the reading a ton of character.
The added bonus of the virtual theatre is that people everywhere can experience this production.
Erin: It’s so exciting to know that friends and family, who are scattered across the world have access to this art. For me, it gives me even more of a sense of play and adventure because people who don’t know about the indie theater scene in NYC can get a glimpse of it.
Brandon: Absolutely. Anywhere. It’s exciting. For many of us, our families have not actually been able to see our work more than one or two times since we’ve left home. It’s great to be able to include them.
All three of them may have grown up in different places in San Diego, they all have fond memories of their time on San Diego stages. From Dan getting laughs with National Comedy Theatre‘s high school programs, Brandon founding the Poor Players Theatre (now the New Fortune Theatre), to Erin performing with Diversionary Theatre; other credits between them include The Old Globe, San Diego Rep, and even Starlight (performing with those planes over head was a San Diego rite of passage).
While the East Coast has many things to offer, there is one thing that universally feels quintessentially San Diegan when returning to our fair city- the food!
Erin: It’s always food! I crave carne asada fries and rolled tacos from taco stands. Late nights I also sometimes miss Jack in the Box (they don’t have them here!)
Brandon: Hash House a Go-Go. And then my family takes me to exciting other places. San Diego has become quite the foodie destination since I left.
Dan: Pokez Mexican Restaurant downtown!
Don’t miss an opportunity to see this innovative interpretation of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM from The Seeing Place with Erin Cronican, Brandon Walker, Dan Mack, and the rest of the cast in their performances on August 29th at 7pm EDT and 30th 3pm EDT. For ticket information go to www.theseeingplace.com
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