Friend of the podcast Austin Durant (You Can't Take It With You, Macbeth, War Horse) discusses the joyful experience of working on a Shakespeare in the Park production:
Tonight marks the official opening of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this summer’s second offering of free Shakespeare in Central Park produced by the Public Theater. This play, one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, is being presented as a countermeasure to the portentous staging of Julius Caesar that so bewildered our friends, Romans, and countrymen earlier this season. If you’re unfamiliar with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it is the story of an enterprising Athenian woodworker known as Snug the Joiner, who overcomes self-imposed limitations and the besiegement of the supernatural world to become one of the greatest actors of his time. If you read closely, there are subplots concerning patriarchy, love, magic, and the order of the universe. This is my second time performing on the Delacorte stage. In 2014, I played the role of Friar Francis in Much Ado About Nothing under the direction of the great Jack O’Brien, and this summer I’m playing Snug the Joiner under the direction of the equally visionary Lear deBessonet.
As an actor in the New York theater, apart from making a Broadway debut, I can’t think of a theatrical experience that is more momentous than stepping onto the stage at the Delacorte for the first time. You would be hard pressed to find a more enthusiastic and supportive audience anywhere else in the city. I imagine that the theater-goers at the Delacorte represent the broadest spectrum of New Yorkers in any house in the city. Going to the theater can be an expensive habit. But the Public Theater does well by virtually eliminating the financial barrier for it audiences at Shakespeare in the Park. The commonality among the audience members at the Delacorte is their willingness to seek out one of New York City’s greatest cultural offerings. It’s an enormous space that calls for large production values and easily accommodates a large company of actors.
Historically, Shakespeare in the Park has served as a soft landing for recent graduates of theater schools with a handful of ensemble roles going to actors in the first blush of their careers. While that is still the case in this production, Lear deBessonet has reimagined Midsummer to include ensemble members of a slightly older vintage. It is a joyous production, and I feel lucky to share the stage with this truly unique company. If you have already caught a preview performance or if you plan to come to the Delacorte in the next two weeks, you will undoubtedly see some of the New York theater’s usual suspects: Rashad, Nielsen, Ashford, Burstien, Poe, and Joy. But those of you who are familiar with the Public Works spur of the Public Theater, and, indeed, most of her work, you will know that Lear has a knack for assembling a company the reflects the beauty and diversity of our city. I am bursting with gratitude to be a small part of this ensemble, and in the next couple of weeks, I hope to tell you a bit more about us.
Learn more about working at the Delacorte Theatre by listening to our Shakespeare in the Park episode.