Cole Porter will croon in the background, and the enchanted forest will flicker with video projections as the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane kicks off its 2014 season with an updated “Midsummer Night’s Dream” this weekend.
“We’re very excited about all that is happening with the festival right now,” said Clare Moncrief, managing director of the festival since 1999. “We’ve got kind of a light and comedic fare this summer for the main shows, and we’re doing some new things we haven’t done before.”
The play opens Saturday with Moncrief directing. It will run for five weekends, with several other programs overlapping. Traditional sets will be used during “Midsummer,” but video will enhance the magic forest scene, she said.
“With the new technology that’s now available to us, the projections will make it fresh for our audiences and take them into the magic of the play,” she said.
The projections are being coordinated by scenic designer Leah Farrelly. The festival’s artistic director, Martin Sachs, will handle sound and lighting for the production. Tulane graduate student Jennifer Gillette is the costume designer.
The Tulane production of “Midsummer” is set in the 1930s, but the Shakespearean dialogue will remain basically unchanged, Moncrief said. There will, however, be some songs by Porter and other composers from that era to establish the time frame.
Moncrief also said some lines from the original 1590s play will be cut in order to make the play fit into a two-hour time slot. The play’s five acts will be condensed into two, with a 15-minute intermission. It will be performed in the Lupin Theater in Tulane’s Dixon Hall.
Cast in the show’s dual leading roles are Francesca McKenzie as Titania and Hippolyta and Danny Bowen as Theseus and Oberon. Clint Johnson plays Puck (Robin Goodfellow), the mischievous court jester and one of the best-loved characters in the Shakespearean repertoire.
The remaining roles will be performed by recent graduates of various local colleges’ MFA programs, Moncrief said.
Also on the boards for this summer’s Shakespeare Festival is a return of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).”
Last year’s inaugural production was so popular it’s being reprised from June 22 to July 19, Moncrief said.
Starring Brendan Bowen, Johnson and Andrew Vaught and directed by Carl Walker, “The Complete Works” will be staged in Tulane’s Lab Theater.
Running concurrently with “Midsummer” is “The Luna Series: An Exploration of Shakespeare’s Women.” A partnership with Compleat Stage Productions and featuring renowned performance artist Heather Hansen, the series will be in two parts (June 18 and July 7) and directed by Chaney Tullos, the festival’s director of operations.
The series, created by husband-and-wife team Ruby Smith and Raul Gomez, will focus on some of the leading women from Shakespeare’s plays, Moncrief said. During Part 1, there will be original music, composed and conducted by Gomez. While it’s being performed, Hansen will create spontaneously inspired charcoal-drawn images on a canvas stretched out in front of her.
“We also will have five actresses who will be presenting some of the greatest speeches of Shakespeare’s women,” Moncrief said. “They will address the stages of a woman’s life, from the young lover Juliet all the way up to a character more at the end of her life, including Lady Macbeth.”
The second part of “The Luna Series” will feature men in women’s costumes performing female Shakespearean roles. However, “This will not be a drag show,” Moncrief said. “This is how it would have been done in Elizabethan times at the Globe Theatre.”
Both parts of the series will be staged in the Lupin Theater, starting at 7:30 p.m.
Also during this time, on July 10, the festival will be visited by representatives of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust based in Stratford-Upon-Avon, U.K. The local festival will be one of 14 nationwide to be awarded for its accomplishments.
The season concludes on the weekend of July 31 to Aug. 3 with “All Things Shakespeare Presents: Twelfth Night.” Students of the Gavin Mahlie All Things Shakespeare Program will stage the early 17th-century comedy following a month of intensive acting classes and rehearsals under the guidance of professional actors and teachers.
The production is directed by Jessica Podewell and will be performed in the Lupin Theater. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m.