Three questions with "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Director Dan McCleary

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Dan McCleary
  • Dan McCleary
Good news for the Tennessee Shakespeare Company. According to the troupe's founding director Dan McCleary, the last week of A Midsummer Night's Dream, is nearly sold out. Two-for-one specials are still available though, he says as long as one of the patrons is younger than 22, and somebody knows the password, which is (whispering) "Mustardseed." Pass it on.

Here are a few comments McCleary made regarding Shakespeare, music, and bringing it all back home.

Memphis Flyer: In your dream the Greeks are Greek, Puck is a shape-shifter, and the Indian changeling is clearly Indian. Given how much directors tamper with Shakespeare this literalness is very nearly revolutionary. Is it liberating not to force the show through some metaphor?

Dan McCleary: Because we have no more modern writer, in my opinion, than Shakespeare, his work encourages personal inspiration by artist and audience member alike. His plays demand individual re-envisioning because at the tie they too were personally ans socially inspired—and insist that future artists apply this same respect to his work in order to sustain his artistic relevance, as opposed to placing his words on a page and putting them under glass. I believe his words were meant to be taken out and played with so we may each come to the plays on our own terms and consider his questions as we see fit. If the artist remains open to this possibility in his/her production, so might then the audience. I always hope my assessment of a play as a director is inspired and motivated by the play's text and what's at question with us currently in the world. If so the production might have a chance to open a new reality or poetic hope for someone in the audience. This is one of the original functions of theater, and it is what we have been gratefully experiencing with audiences and students for A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The original music is beautiful, will there be more? Can we expect a Music of Tennessee Shakespeare CD anytime soon?

Like last season's Celtic Music for our production of As You Like It—also arranged by Susanna Perry Gilmore, the “Dream” music was previously composed, this time by Bela Bartok. However, we did some light adaptive re-use. Because I'm a fan of live musical accompaniment, and of Susanna, I hope always to afford musicians and musical arrangement for our classical pieces, which is very Elizabethan. And when Susanna is ready to record, we're ready to sell. She is brilliant.

Is it strange bringing a professional to the place where you performed as a high school student?

No, it's one of the greatest pleasures I've had in my life. The Poplar Pike Playhouse is more professionally outfitted than many theaters that professionals work in. But it's also a sacred space where so many young people have been and are being trained as artists. The actors we bring in are generous of spirit. Part of their willing responsibility here is to be good ambassadors in the Mid-South and Educational communities. They have been very giving of their time and talent in the Playhouse and at many schools throughout Memphis. The Playhouse has a history of presenting professional talent including Susan Marshall, Kathy Bates, Charles Strouse, and Chris Parnell. Both the space and the people are gracious and accommodating, which is a combination that is hard to beat anywhere.

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