It says something for Helen, our director’s, vision and planning, that she could envisage how filming Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2021 could address the limitations of Covid regulations. Her rehearsal spreadsheets were a miracle of logic and infinite variations!
As actors, we didn’t have to worry that much: turn up, either in person in a damp and mosquito-ridden garden (sorry, Helen. Some of us were designed as mozzie snacks…) or on Zoom, at a specified time, and do what was required. There were occasions (much more frequently for the directors, but occasionally for us too) when we had five minutes to get from one scene in one garden to another in another at the other side of Wivenhoe.
In all likelihood, Hollywood will never come calling on this particular actor; I suspect that my star is now unlikely to shine in Tinseltown. But this year’s production has made me aware of some of the differences between film and live performance. For a start, there is no sense of continuity. I know the play quite well, but when we reached the “speed word run” rehearsal, although we were fine within scenes, we were completely at a loss about scene sequence (What happens next? Is it me??)
Secondly, and Midsummer Night’s Dream possibly lends itself to this more than some other of Shakespeare’s plays, rehearsals were tightly segregated by number and by group. Fairies never met mechanicals (apart from a spot of illicit ear fondling between Titania and Bottom); mechanicals never met the lovers. As a social group, we did miss each other! We’ve always loved watching whole rehearsals to see the magic unfurling. Helen was able to arrange a quasi “dress rehearsal” when regulations allowed (some of the scenes had already been filmed by this point, but we needed a chance to watch each other!)
And, as others have commented, we didn’t have to travel to reach our spot. No storming on or off; no climbing onto a stage encumbered with a plastic sword or a long dress: filming began when we were in situ. This was odd; I always feel that you can set a mood by the way you enter a space, but we needed to summon emotions from a literal standing start! In fact, I found that limitations of movement (I’m a big arm-waver, it appears) when you have one fixed camera, could be very demanding. “Use something else rather than storming about to show your frustration…”
Was 2021 the same as previous productions in the execution? No, it was entirely, completely different! I missed the buzz of an audience and the backstage camaraderie. However, this was an inspired opportunity to try something new when nothing else was happening out there, to work together as a group and to produce such an outcome. I’m so grateful to have had the chance to try it!