A psychedelic melody spun through Washington Park as the King of the Fairies asked his messenger Puck to fetch a certain flower. Its juice in sleepers’ eyes will make them fall in love with the next living creature they see, Oberon explained.Puck’s flower-printed, flowing garb and colorful head scarf fluttered in the fragrant breeze as characters darted across the park’s bandshell, the latest stage for the Theatre of the Poor.
The nomadic Casper theater company rehearsed last week for its latest production, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 1960s style.
The free show opened last weekend in the park and continues June 8-10, 15 and 17.
The outdoor stage and Summer of Love vibe are apt for the Shakespeare comedy about love, said the local theater troupe’s founder, William Conte.
“This moves very fast and has a very psychedelic and cinematic quality to it,” Conte said. “That’s why we decided to do it in the style of the 1960s, because this play is just a complete freak out. Fairies are drugging people, and people are hallucinating and acting drunk, and it’s just wild.”
The actors unloaded and set up props and sound equipment in the park before last week’s rehearsal. They helped one another don makeup and costumes they’d assembled from thrift stores and their own closets. They set up a few props they’d loaned for the show.
Conte started the Theatre of the Poor in 2016 to present classical and experimental performances with minimal money and resources.
“We like to move around from place to place and find interesting locations to stage theater,” Conte said.
This time the troupe landed at Washington Park, where the bandshell offers architecture akin to Shakespeare’s theater — including the gate backdrop similar to the tiring house and spaces where the actors can perform close to the audience, Conte said.
“So we’ve been able to reproduce some of the staging practices as well,” he added.
The theater company’s revolving cast ranges in this show from junior high schoolers to community actors and students and alum of Casper College, where Conte also teaches theater classes.
Several performers take on multiple duties in the production, and everyone’s a stage hand.
Vocalist and guitarist Caleb Phillips leads a rock band named the Hempen Homespuns — after what Puck calls the goofy group of actors who perform a play within the play. A half-hour set of solos and 1960s covers begins before the play starts. Besides portraying one of those actor characters, Phillips created the underscoring for the show with bassist Mary MacGuire.
“It’s kind of like if the (1967) Monterey Pop Festival just kind of decided to do Shakespeare,” Phillips said.
Conte directs the show and portrays Theseus, the duke of Athens, who’s preparing for his wedding along with the Athenians and fairies.
The mischief begins “as the fairies interfere with the activities of lovers and cause chaos whenever possible,” he said.
Story of love
As four young Athenians in the woods on a midsummer evening pursue their love interests, Puck takes in the confusion he’s compounded:
“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
“Shakespeare’s theme in the play is love,” Conte said, “and he explores it in all of its aspects – the glories of love and also the horrors and the torments of it — but from a comedic perspective.”
Puck is the role Casper College student Katelyn Magee has always wanted to portray. The prankster and the other characters and their lines are straight from Shakespeare.
“I just made him hippie, and he likes to groove, you know,” Magee said.
The group of actor characters planning a performance for the wedding make entrances dancing in hippie attire to an acid rock beat.
Joseph Rosen portrays their leader. The oncologist was persuaded to join production after a recent community theater play landed him on stage for the first time since high school. He was reluctant to jump into another show, because even a small part is a serious time commitment, said.
He’s glad he did, though, despite the busy schedule and some rainy rehearsal nights.
“I say I don’t have the acting bug, but Shakespeare will look good on my resume,” Rosen said.
His character, Peter Quince, butts heads with egotistical actor Nick Bottom, portrayed by Phillips. Puck as a joke transforms Bottom’s head into a donkey’s.
His terrified fellow actors flee in a slow-motion, hallucination-like scene narrated by Puck. But Katie Overstreet as the fairy queen, Titania, falls besotted with Bottom from effects of the magic flowers.
Overstreet graduated last year from Casper College, where she studied theater.
“It’s a different experience, because we’re just using any and every resource we can and we’re just taking the environment and making it ours,” she said.
The show is a chance to bring the community together, and it’s drawn the theater troupe closer as they work together on all the different aspects of the show, Magee said.
“Theatre of the Poor is a family, and we all love theater,” Magee said. “We just like to tell stories.”