VIU’s Malaspina Theatre recently put on its first play with a live audience since March 2020 with A Drama Class’s Dream. The performance, which ran from October 13-16, is Theatre professor Ross Desprez’s adaption of the play-within-a-play from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The play was a fun, fantastic, and whimsy return to live theatre—for both the performers and audience.
The play opened with the house lighting remaining on and backstage equipment staying visible as the drama students playing drama students took to the stage. Some entered from the audience. The situation felt real, with the messy, backstage quality.
When Puck cast a spell on the students, the theatre went dark and a curtain slid over the backstage area, creating a more traditional stage setup and marking a clear distinction from the modern-day rehearsals to the Shakespearean magic.
Although the play was shorter and smaller than usual productions, the department’s care and attention to detail did not suffer. The preshow playlist featured songs ranging from Coldplay’s “Magic” to Queen’s “A Kind of Magic.” In other words, exclusively songs featuring references to magic.
The same tongue-in-cheek quality underlined the entire production. The play opened on a mismatched group of theatre students faced with the very real possibility of failing their Acting 101 class unless they could preform Shakespeare. They consulted the humorously over-sized book containing the Bard’s works, only for Puck, a character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to appear and cast a spell on them.
To recap: real-life theatre students played fictional theatre students who played characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream who were putting on a play within that play.
Confusing? Watching it was anything but. The show transitioned seamlessly from Shakespearean text to the students worrying about Bottom not answering his Snapchat messages, one of Desprez’s modern-day additions.
The characters were recognizable student archetypes: the bookworm, the unenthusiastic goth, the over-enthusiastic drama student, and the student athlete (sporting a VIU Mariners jersey). The simplicity worked well for the hour-long play; the audience got to know the characters quickly.
Each actor excelled in their role, from the perfectly sly and mischievous Puck portrayed by Athena Bardonnex to Daleel Monjazeb as Bottom, who held the audience in the palm of his comedic hand.
Michael Joseph, who excelled hilariously in his role of Flute, describes the production as “a great experience.”
“I’ve done lots of musical theatre in past years,” he said. “So, going from that to Shakespeare was a really fun kind of challenge and getting to perform something onstage after about 2 years was great!”
Bardonnex described rehearsal as “a tight time crunch,” but also has an appreciation for the educational aspect of the experience.
“It’s been a very fun and slightly stressful experience,” she said. “I think my biggest takeaway from this is that I still have a lot of practice and learning to do.”
“But there’s nothing that tops the thrill of performing in front of a live audience for me,” Bardonnex continued. “Being able to make people laugh is the most satisfying feeling.”
Many audience members found the show to be amusing and fun, such as English student Kenzie Ferreira who attended the final performance on Saturday evening.
“As someone who wasn’t familiar with the play … I thought it was entertaining,” she said. “It looked like [the cast] had so much fun with it, and [that] made the audience have fun too.”
Although the audience was limited in size by COVID-19 restrictions (the 300-seat theatre is currently limited to half-capacity), the atmosphere filled the room. The Theatre Department professors and students in the audience roared with laughter as Desprez stepped onstage in the role of the stern drama prof about to fail the scrambling students.
“The play was great fun to work on,” Desprez said. “The cast was enthusiastic, and I’m delighted with the end result.”