“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is on the bill for three performances — Friday through Sunday, Aug. 27-29 — in the studio’s converted barn theater, where Schneider will make a special appearance. But, Schneider’s son Chasen and local actor Dane Rhodes are the real stars of this show, which is being produced in conjunction with Maven Entertainment.
They’re the ones spearheading this project, whose director did the preliminary work from a hospital bed in an intensive care unit.
“I had two strokes, and I told the doctors that I had three productions coming up, and one of them was the play,” says Perry Martin, producing artistic director for The Bayou Playhouse in Lockport.
The professional theater company performs in a theater made from scraps discarded by Hurricane Katrina, focusing on plays highlighting Louisiana’s culture, traditions and history.
So, Martin seemed the natural choice to direct this Louisiana version of the Shakespeare classic.
Rhodes recommended Perry for the job. Martin is 95 percent blind, and that double stroke kept him hospitalized until two weeks before opening night. Even he had his doubts at one time.
“But now that we’re closer to opening, I’m thinking, ‘This is going to be good,’” Martin says.
“Shakespeare in the Swamp” is a variation on the Shakespeare in the Park festivals staged in cities throughout the country, most notably in New York’s Central Park.
“Louisiana has had some Shakespeare festivals, but they’ve never stuck,” Rhodes says. “We thought this could be a way we could do something with staying power, and staging it in the barn would be the closest way we could have that Shakespeare in the Park atmosphere, which makes Shakespeare accessible to everybody. We’re doing this with professional actors, and we hope this develops into an annual event.”
Rhodes first worked with John Schneider on the 2014 film, “Smothered.” The actor wrote and directed the movie and filmed it at his Holden studio, once home to Camp Singing Waters, formerly owned and operated by the YMCA.
John Schneider has made a point to use Louisiana locations and actors in his films and television programs, even filming the release of his Christmas album with his former ”The Dukes of Hazzard” co-star Tom Wopat in the camp’s old barn.
That same barn is now a theater-in-the-round.
“We started talking about doing Shakespeare, and that’s when we brought in John’s son, Chasen, a Shakespearian actor,” Rhodes says.
Chasen Schneider also was talking to his dad about Shakespearian possibilities at the studio. He lives in New York but often visits his dad in Holden. He’s a 2013 graduate of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, where Louisiana culture infiltrated his training.
“One of my teachers talked to us about dialect, how you can find different dialects in one region,” Chasen Schneider says. “She used Louisiana as an example. She demonstrated the different accents from north Louisiana to the Cajun dialect in south Louisiana and how it’s different from the accents in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.”
Which gave Chasen Schneider an idea of how a Shakespearian production could be carried out at his dad’s place.
“We started talking about doing something there, and I thought ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ would be perfect, because of its magical forest,” Chasen Schneider says. “Instead of the forest, Louisiana has the swamp, which is mysterious and magical.”
In the Shakespeare comedy, the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta is at the center of a series of subplots that include adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors called the Mechanicals. And all are controlled by the fairies inhabiting the forest, or in this case, the swamp.
“It’s really funny, and that’s what we want to bring out in this production,” Chasen Schneider says. “The aristocrats will have the southern aristocratic accents, the Mechanicals will have Cajun accents and the fairies will be voodoo practitioners.”
It’s working so far. Martin says there are times when he has to stop rehearsal because everyone is laughing too hard to continue.
“Shakespeare wrote his plays for the people,” Martin says, “and that’s the way I’m approaching it.”
Air conditioning will be pumped into the barn, food vendors will sell a variety of cuisine and beverages and a cash bar will be available. Roving musicians will provide live entertainment, and a table will be set up for John Schneider to meet with prospective movie actors.
“People are always stopping by the studio with resumes for John,” Rhodes says. “They want a chance to be in his movies or for him to educate them. They’ll be able to bring their resumes to his table, and John will meet with each of them one-on-one. He’ll choose two actors from these resumes to be in his next film.”