Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is one of his most popular comedies because fairies are a big part of the story, said Heike Hambley, who is directing Merced Shakespearefest's free production opening Aug. 11 in Applegate Park.
"We all like to believe in impish creatures that take care of nature and have influence," she said. "Fairies appeal to us because we want to believe in them."
Actors adore them, too. About 50 people showed up to audition for just 25 parts, with many saying it was their favorite play. Hambley said she was surprised at how many actors who normally like playing big roles were content to play minor parts as long as they were fairies.
The play centers on a magical night in the forest, where humans and fairy royalty interact and Puck performs lots of mischief. It ends with a triple wedding ceremony.
This is the second time the 11-year-old Merced Shakespearefest has staged the play the last time was in 2006. As new twist, Hambley is dressing the human characters this time in steampunk style, a fashion that combines elements of the late 19th century with gadgets and technology.
"I find it incredibly theatrical because we can find things and sort of recycle and repurpose them," she said.
The emphasis on gadgets is a nice contrast to the fairies' nature-inspired looks, Hambley added.
Cast members range in age from 5 to 70 and include several family combinations, including Eric Bocks (Bottom) and his daughter Elizabeth (Ladybug); Traci Sprague (Puck) and her daughter Lorelei (Mustardseed); Jim Bennett (Oberon) and his son Bennett Young (Inkcap) and Bert Roper (Philostrate) and his grandson Keegan Rieg (changeling child).
Katharine Steele Brokaw, an assistant professor of literature and a Shakespearefest board member, will give a short talk to the audience before the show.
The production will run about 90 minutes and will include dancing, singing, original music by local composer William Dunham and a stage fight.
The show also includes a play within a play as six laborers, known as "the rude mechanicals," stage a performance based on Greek mythology. The characters are familiar to anyone who has worked in community theater. There is the person who only wants to play starring roles, the people who are shy and can barely speak, and those who need lots of direction.
"It's just so much fun to see these roles of amateur theater people that were written 400 years ago," Hambley said.WHAT: Merced Shakespearefest's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
WHEN: Aug. 11-19; 10 a.m. Saturdays and 6 p.m. Sundays
WHERE: Applegate Park, 20th and O streets, Merced
CALL: (209) 723-3265