In the great theater tradition, young actors and artists have sought apprenticeships for generations to continue their education and cut their teeth in the big leagues. Many regional theaters in the United States still offer these apprentice positions, both formally and otherwise. For the next generation of actors, the spots are coveted and not taken lightly.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie BFA Actor Training Program a few years ago, Eleonore Dendy became one of the young actors-to-watch coming out of a training program. Currently she can be seen on stage at the Guthrie in Minneapolis, playing Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I caught up with Eleonore during the last week of their rehearsals to discuss the production and the the challenges she has faced while working on Shakespeare (her first time tackling his work since school) for a modern audience.
C.W.: You are a classically-trained actor, but have you had a lot of experience working on Shakespeare outside of a classroom setting?
E.D.: Zero. This is my first show I’ve done outside of an academic setting with Shakespeare. Since graduating, I’ve only done contemporary work, so I was excited to revisit my training and dive deep into text work.
Director Joe Dowling’s particular take on the play is notoriously fantastical and draws on many colorful and technical elements to embody the larger-than-life, dream-state quality of the script. Without giving any surprises away, can you tell us a bit about how modern technology is used to enhance the story this time around?
The technical elements really come into play because more and more, audiences are expecting spectacle in productions. I think all productions, really, but especially in a show like this. It’s so hard to answer that question without giving away what we’re doing…this version…is like watching an IMAX movie, but with real people in front of the IMAX movie. To take a production like this and appeal to a modern audience, I think that embracing modern technology and where we are and how we interact with our world really comes into play; as well as incorporating musical elements, that are visceral and that are relatable. That’s why contemporary music is used in our production: to bring the play forward in time for a modern audience. What I’ve also noticed…from our training, and how we’re being coached in this show, the text is delivered in a much different way, I suppose. I think obviously using the scansion, the words and the rhymes; but there’s an irreverence to pronunciation; a contemporary feel, that I wasn’t used to embracing.
So there’s a preciousness with the language that you’re used to, that you don’t necessarily have to adhere to?
Exactly. We are exploring when we can bend the rules. Audiences are really interested in that.
How do you think this production is unique to others being produced today?
Ultimately this incarnation of the production is quite a bit darker than any version Joe has done in the past, or that I’ve seen. We know A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy, obviously, but—we don’t really think about what a dream is, what it can be. A dream can be a nightmare, it can be disorienting, it can be so many things. I think the production shows that range in a really nice way. Many people know the story, and it’s easy to understand. But it allows for a lot of creative surprises and visual treats. Audiences want to see what a theater does with this piece that they know. Plus it’s winter in Minnesota, and it’s a really smart idea this on the stage for people to escape the winter and escape to a warm, ethereal dream world.
Has there been any specific historical or critical research that you’ve drawn from in this process? Why were you drawn to these?
The Guthrie provides us with huge dramaturgical packets, which is wonderful. The packets have everything we need to know about the history of the piece, fun facts, and whole stories that are referred to in the play. For me, I always am interested in what people’s names mean in the world…there’s this one part that helps me key into Hermia. She has this monologue when Lysander invites her to run away, and she says yes; she uses these romantic images, like doves, Cupid’s arrow…and then she throws in: “And by that fire which burned the Carthage queen/ When the false Troyan under sail was seen,”–a reference to the story of Dido. When Dido’s lover left her, she made her sister tie her and burn her at the stake so he would see her dying as he left…it’s funny to me that someone would put that in the middle of something about love, relationships, etc. This super violent image!
She works herself up quite a bit!
Yes! But the four lovers in Midsummer..they’re kids, and everything is so…the stakes are so high when you’re in love for the first time. It was this interesting, really weird and creepy window into that relationship and that person’s feelings. So finding pieces like that within the text is a lot of fun and informative.
Obviously, at this point, you are still in rehearsals—and just now adding tech elements. But is there a particular scene that you love doing?
Absolutely. Act 3 scene 2 is…when we do 3.2 it really feels like our show. 3.2 is where the lovers are lost in the forest, the men have had the love juice squeezed into their eyes and everything builds up to the four of them meeting up and having this huge altercation. Everything unleashes. All of Puck’s mischief comes to fruition. Titania and Bottom, their relationship has developed and he turns into an ass. That scene is so long, but the action moves so quickly…it’s like a roller coaster. That’s the scene where we in the cast really get cooking, and also where Hermia gets to become a creature and lose her mind and..that’s where she finds her voice really. It’s fun to play! That scene is like a little boost every time we get to it.
Is there anything you’re really grappling with?
There are a few things…I think in terms of just being on the thrust stage..there’s a sweet spot in that space, and filling that space vocally can be difficult. The Guthrie is one of the few theaters that doesn’t really mic shows at all, so transitioning from the rehearsal room into the theater can be pretty challenging. As far as the play goes, the show opens with us hearing the explanation of Hermia’s betrothal to Demetrius, and her romantic feelings for Lysander.The law states that, should she not marry Demetrius has decreed, she should be put to death. So the story starts with this incredibly high-stakes, dramatic scene that opens this comedy…as an actor, making that jump can be really awkward. You want to be in the world of the play but it’s so far been difficult to make it cohesive style-wise. We enter a topsy-turvy world. That contrast is fantastic and important, but if you don’t balance it right, it looks we’re doing two different plays that don’t complement each other. That first scene, for me, has been the most difficult . To go honestly from that, to all these ridiculous antics that follow, and being true to both…to make that journey make sense to the audience, rather than going from truth to cartoon. But everyone in the cast and artistic staff are amazing story-tellers, and holding fast to the truth of what Shakespeare wrote is important to us. We are always striving for that.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream opened on February 13th and runs through March 9th. You can purchase tickets at www.guthrietheater.org.