Queens Gardens has undergone its annual theatrical transformation ahead of opening night of Theatre iNQ’s Shakespeare Under the Stars – this year bringing the classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Townsville.
We visited the gardens with Director Terri Brabon ahead of tonight’s school preview to find out what to expect in the production, and why it’s taken so long for the company to take on the play.
How many people will you be previewing Midsummer to on Monday night?
We’re excited for Monday night, we’ve got about 200 students coming to the preview – six schools on that night, and then other schools coming during the season. This is the first time we’ve opened up the preview for an education evening, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the kids respond to it. It’s one of the most relatable Shakespeare plays for young people, and I think they’ll really enjoy it.
Do you think it’s opened it up more to the public without the schools in the normal ticketing run?
Certainly – every year the demand is high and we often sell out, and what that means as a producer is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because you’ve sold what you had, but you also feel like you under-budgeted on the demand and could have sold more tickets; more people could have seen the show. Every year we try and find new ways to fit more people in, and this year there are more seats thanks to the preview. Moving the schools to their own evening was to really free up space on the nights when the public do want seats, and also to have a performance just for teenagers – the cast is really excited about that!
The fact Midsummer is so relatable also means it’s one of the most-performed – what sets this production apart?
That’s really strange because it is probably the most-done, well-known Shakespeare comedy, but we’ve never done it! Brendan [O’Connor] and I performed it so much in Melbourne, and probably did it every second year for the Australian Shakespeare Company, so down there it would run for three months, and we were a bit dreamed out. It was a really good production and I’d never had the desire to restage it or reclaim it for Theatre iNQ. Also, it relies very heavily on four young leads. It’s taken us a very long time to build up the quality of young leads we have at our disposal, and I suppose we felt we could do it this year because we certainly had a Helena, the central comic figure of the four lovers. If you don’t have a strong Helena, you don’t have strong lovers. They’re all strong, but that role in particular I felt, if I didn’t have one I wouldn’t bother doing it. Rachel Nutchey has been in the Bridge Project for three years now and is a very naturally funny girl in a very odd, Helena way. The minute we knew she was hanging around for another year, I personally felt we had to do Midsummer now – because she may not be here next year. When you get a zaney Helena, you have to do it. We choose the plays in that way every year: it’s about who’s here and what roles suit the ensemble, and seizing that opportunity while we have them.
Why do you think Townsville has an affinity for Shakespeare?
Does it? I don’t know – I think it has an affinity for the event. I can’t quite explain it – I love Shakespeare anyway, but there’s something about this event that’s very emotional for me and it seems to be like that for anyone involved, and becomes an experience; a massive challenge. It’s so hard, but when you walk out the other side of it, you can’t wait to start again. I can’t quite describe it, it’s quite magical. And I think that rubs off on the audience, and whether you participate as an actor, member of the production team or audience member, that whole sense of challenges accepted is there. I think the audience also accept the challenge in having this outdoor theatre – and bidding for the front tables, there’s a physical challenge as well! It’s a different feeling for me, I’m attached to the event emotionally. I really dearly love Townsville, and our audience in particular, for embracing it year after year and showing us that the love, energy and hours we put in to it pay off. People come along, enjoy it, and get in the spirit. It is a makeshift theatre, so part of that is also dealing with creature comforts of the outdoors! Bat poo, possums, and wildlife. Unplanned things could happen during the show, and it’s part of the charm!
Looking forward to being back on stage?
Yeah I haven’t been on stage yet this year, so I am really looking forward to it! I’ve played Titania before, so it’s a bit of a cheat I suppose, but I’m an older Titania now than when I first played it so will be very different. I also have an Oberon, played by Phil Lambert who is a dear friend of mine and we’ve been performing together since I was 18, so getting him up from Melbourne to perform opposite me for these roles has been super fun. Again it’s quite emotional, because he played Prospero to my Ariel in our first ever Shakespeare together here in 1995. I do love acting and feel it’s not like riding a bike – you have to keep doing it, you can’t just not act for a long time and expect to be as good as you were last time. I made a deal with myself that I have to get on stage at least once a year, and I always have to pick which one that is!
Have you seen a lot of interest from the public during bump in?
It’s beautiful once we get in the park; ticket sales go up immensely because of the presence of us being here! We’ve got a lot of attraction at the moment because of the set – because it is quite beautiful and we’re getting kids coming up wanting to play in the castle. It’s always beautiful and people are always so respectful and lovely and come up to say hi and ask what production we’re doing this year.
There’s so many Shakespeare plays that aren’t outdoors but a majority of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is outdoors, so it works perfectly for this! I’m very proud of the four actors playing the young lovers. People are going to be really impressed.
Catch Theatre iNQ’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Queens Gardens from 12-24 September, with tickets available here.