Picture this: The Shakespearean comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream set in 1964, the king and queen morphed into a priest and nun set to leave their religious vows to be married, the four young lovers played by two black and two white actors, ripples from the Second Vatican Council and the Civil Rights Movement onstage amid the poetic musings of history's most renowned playwright.
These directorial choices aroused varying responses among the 17 seminarians from Mount Angel Seminary that attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on Sept. 27 and 28.
|Mount Angel Seminary students, faculty, and guests on the bricks outside the Thomas Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. |
Photo by Paula House.
"That was jarring," seminarian Paul Grandi of the Diocese of Tucson said. "It added a layer to the play beyond what Shakespeare intended. It took me out of his world."
The seminarians journeyed four-and-a-half hours to Ashland, Oreg., to see A Midsummer Night's Dream and King Lear. The trip to Ashland is an annual staple for those double-majoring in literature and philosophy and other interested students. Literature Professor Creighton Lindsay said the tradition started around 2006 with a group of seven students.
"I like it when the students get excited about something, whether they are critical or not," Lindsay said. "It's a joy to share my appreciation of things, when students give themselves over to the pleasure of theatre."
King Lear similarly evoked varied reactions. In a climatic scene of the cognitively declining king enduring a tremendous storm, two of the main characters were stripped of their positions and seeming dignity. They were also stripped of all but their underwear. Some liked the symbolism. Others thought it went too far.
"They do that just to get a reaction out of us," said John Hesla, seminarian for the Archdiocese of Portland.
Grandi appreciated the scene.
"They captured some moments beautifully, like Lear in the storm and his descent into madness," Grandi said.
In addition to the plays, seminarians experienced sleeping over at the Southern Oregon University Newman Center, a game of bocce ball in the park, sharing dinners at Standing Stone Brew Pub and Pasta Piatti, and time away from campus.
"It's nice to be off the hill to just relax with other seminarians and the good doctors and their wives," Hesla said, referring to two of the four faculty members that also attended, both of whom brought their spouses.
For 10 individuals, Saturday featured a backstage tour of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Students were led by an actor as a tour guide, sat in the green room, saw a time-lapse set change, walked behind and on the Elizabethan Stage, and learned that student groups such as theirs make up 25 percent of ticket sales.
"Studying literature in general and Shakespeare in particular is a wonderful way for seminarians to challenge themselves," Lindsay said. "Students tell me literature is good training for becoming a priest, because in literature you get to explore a variety of the types of people you might see in your diocese or parish."