They Do Dream Things True…

A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Eric Tucker at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival

Jason O'Connell, Jeoy Parsons, Mark Bedard, Nance Williamson, and Sean McNall.


Dreams don’t make sense.

Dreams start in one place and flit to another, begin as pleasant memories and end as nightmares. They recklessly blend pieces of past, present and future, give enemies the faces of friends, and warp the most familiar landscape into something strange and parlous. Dreams are as real as sight, smell and taste, and as insubstantial as mist. Dreams have no logic—except that, in the moment we dream them, they absolutely do.

No playwright has ever gotten quite so much mileage out of dreams as William Shakespeare. Whether popping up as powerful portents to shape the fate of kings, revealing divine blessings or curses, or simply inviting us into gossamer visions of a happy future, his characters live in worlds shaped, explained and revealed by dreams.

But in no other play did Shakespeare so totally lose himself to the idea of “dream logic” as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, his ethereal and earthy tale of passion gone mad and familiar turned foreign. In no other of his works are the edges of reality so beautifully blurred. We experience this dream from the inside out, and delight in the madness we find there.

I have had a most rare vision. –Bottom, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

All’s not well in the woods beyond the city of Athens. Titania and Oberon, proud rulers of the fairy kingdom, are embroiled in a nasty spat and are (very loudly) not speaking to each other. All this fuss—and over nothing more than a mere boy, a human child Titania won’t give up. The royal couple’s jealous, magic-fuelled rages have sent the seasons themselves reeling, plunging the natural order into anarchy. Oberon’s solution to this mayhem? More mayhem! A love potion is just the thing, he thinks, to win him a little vengeance and clear the marital muddle up nicely—right?

But the fairy world isn’t the only romantic rumble in town. Blundering into this topsy-turvy forest come a quartet of lovers on the run from authority—aching with desire, pulsing with poetry and passion, and just a little bit punch-drunk on love. The woods are dark, deep and perhaps dangerous, but they don’t care. Suddenly they feel free and far removed from angry fathers, disapproving lords—and the ordinary dullness of the everyday world.

Last but not least, a gormless gang of tradesmen-turned-actors are looking for a place to rehearse their play, a labor of love—if not talent. They too seek escape from prying (laughing?) eyes by slipping off into the forest.

Little do they all know that in the course of a single surreal night, they will all, spirits and mortals alike, come face to face with their fondest dreams and their worst nightmares.

Midsummer plays pretty fast and loose with reality. Figures from the ancient myths of Athens run headlong into the mischievous spirits of medieval Britain, who in turn run smack into 16th century working-class Londoners. Time and place mean nothing in this play. Here poetry flows as easily and swiftly as water. Here innocent desire has a sinister side. Here passion isn’t so much about whom we love as What We Need Right Now. This dream is not theirs—or ours—to control.

This was my dream; what it doth bode, God knows. –Gloucester, Henry VI, Part Two

Elizabethans were obsessed with dreams. In 1576, Thomas Hill’s The Most Pleasant Art of the Interpretation of Dreams became a sensation, boasting the only comprehensive explanation for every possible dream—from picking apples (a good sign) to eating beans (bad luck) to dreaming of the queen (prosperity), to wheat growing out of your torso (…complicated). Simon Forman, the “it” London astrologer, recorded the nightly visions of scores of people who came to him to have their dreams read and their futures explained. On the international stage, the reported dreams of kings and queens—of particular interest in times of unrest—were widely discussed and dissected.

This fascination had much to do with the sheer mystery of dreaming. Then as now, people could not understand exactly why we dream. Were dreams, as in Biblical stories, a link to the divine? Were dreams messages about the future? Were they explicable by science (remembering that the “big tent” of 16th century science included numerology and astrology)? Or were they, as essayist Thomas Nashe put it, a simple “froth of fancy which the day hath left undigested?”

Whatever dreams were, there was obviously a code to be cracked here. There must be a reason and purpose for such a powerful phenomenon. But in an age of exploration and nascent scientific discovery that sought to pick apart and analyze the known world, dreams stubbornly refused to give up their secrets.

No wonder Shakespeare liked them so much.

O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you. –Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet

Even as the age they lived in tried, haltingly, to bring some sort of intellectual order to a chaotic world, Shakespeare and his theatrical contemporaries kept right on jumping in puddles and reveling in the splashes they made. Neoclassical theorists denounced theatre’s impossible leaps through time, spirits breaking into the human world, and shocking violence onstage. Shakespeare answered with ghosts, fairies, some pretty fabulous gore, and feats of time travel. He and his worlds were not to be so easily fenced in or pinned down.

Perhaps Shakespeare’s unflagging interest in dreams came from his seeing them not just as plot devices or crowd pleasers but as symbols of the unknowable. Richard III and the would-be Henry VII share prophetic pre-battle visions; Shylock anxiously recounts dreaming of money bags (a sign of impending loss); Romeo describes a dream-Juliet who raises him from death. Across genres and worlds, Shakespeare’s characters are frightened by dreams, mocked by them, guided, comforted and grieved by them, but never once are their dreams, the unexplained part of them, ultimately found unimportant.

From his earliest plays, Shakespeare seems fascinated by the uncontrollable and indefinable in human nature and how best to capture it onstage. Othello’s wild jealousy, Lear’s plunge into madness, Juliet’s “boundless” love, Antony’s unconquerable passion–these characters are not entirely rational. They fall victim to their own desires, fears and loves. And the harder they or those around them try to curtail their emotions, the more damage they cause—for good or ill.

More often than not, Shakespeare seems to take a cautionary view of the irrational. The man who created Iago knows the blood-red vein of darkness, even madness, that runs through all of humanity. He understands the terrible havoc it can wreak on the world.

So it’s a pleasure when, as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare shows us that our inborn chaos can be worth celebrating. Sometimes we’d be lost without it. It isn’t clear thinking that propels Helena into the woods after her straying Demetrius—it’s her heart. It isn’t wisdom but passion that governs Lysander and Hermia and makes them willing to defy law and family. For these lunatic lovers, uncontrollable love is the prime mover, the elemental force that will change every day of their lives…starting right now, onstage, as we watch.

Shakespeare seems sure we’ll root for this foursome and their crazy stupid love–and why not? He knows who we are: impossible, unreasonable creatures ourselves, oh-so capable of incredible heights and depths, of passion, laughter and outright absurdity.

We are the stuff his dreams are made on.

We are the music-makers

And we are the dreamers of dreams. –Arthur O’Shaughnessy, Ode

No art form is more dreamlike than theatre. From the moment we enter a performance space we agree to believe in an alternate reality: where strange vistas and cities appear before us, where time means nothing, and where actors transform into lovers, families, friends and enemies. We agree to embrace that transformation. We agree to be swept off into other worlds.

Director Eric Tucker celebrates Shakespeare’s delicious dream-spirit, whisking us off into a world where one actor can transform into three different people (not to mention the occasional animal, household appliance or rocket) before our eyes. And in the spirit of Shakespeare’s endlessly playful melding of past, present and future, our Dream offers snippets of the contemporary world woven together with the most luscious poetry the 16th century ever heard—or saw.

All done with five actors and a patch of dirt—the stuff dreams are made of.

Filed under: General

The Crowning Donation That Inspired A New Goal

Rose-Marie Boller

Rose-Marie Boller (Right) with The Pearl's Artistic Assistance Jess Blue Gormezano

Last night,we told you how close we were to our record-breaking goal of $70k in 70 Days, including unlocking our $25,000 Leadership Matching Bank.

Within minutes, dozens of you clicked to donate gifts big and small.

Then The Pearl’s first-ever subscriber, Rose-Marie H. Boller, gave a single gift that put us over the top.

We are inspired to do something big for her.

Rose-Marie has been an integral part of The Pearl’s 30-year history, a valuable part of its present, and will continue to be an essential supporter in the future. She believes, like so many of you, that The Pearl is her theatre and it needs her support.

We’re aiming to raise another $30k in celebration of her 30 Years of support and we need your help!

Now is the time to start building your legacy at The Pearl just as Rose-Marie did 30 years ago.

Donate Now!


Filed under: General

There’s No “I” in…



And there is no such thing as an empty theatre—even when there isn’t a soul in sight.

Well, perhaps more accurately, there is no such thing as a theatre that isn’t “inhabited.” Whether in performance or not, every theatre is constantly cluttered with small, familiar reminders of productions past, from bequeathed coffee mugs and ragged show cards to cheerful graffiti in tucked-away corners. A theatre is never truly vacant, only waiting (impatiently!) for a next round of occupants. The past is never left behind—and the future beckons invitingly.

The crammed, cluttered theatre itself is a fitting symbol for Terrence McNally’s And Away We Go, a whirling, imaginative journey through the joys, missteps, anxieties, and triumphs that have faced theatre companies across the ages, from less-than-ideal acting weather in ancient Greece, to a cut-short rehearsal at The Globe, to a bemused closing night in 1950s Florida. Puritans may close the theatre, money may be scarce, the muffins may come late, but these intrepid souls face every challenge head on—as a freely-chosen, fierce, and motley family.

The idea of artistic community lies at the heart of And Away We Go. In the world of the stage no single person, voice, or vision rules supreme; instead, the experience is a cacophony of passionate voices, each exulting in the messy work of collaborative creation and thriving on the potent back-and-forth between playwrights, actors, and audiences.

In the spirit of And Away We Go, we look at how that sense of company and community, of relationships—between actors and playwrights, artists and audiences, and art and society—have morphed and changed as the world wags on.

The Chorus and Audience

The ancient Athenians were a very civic-minded people. From political office to religious observation to military service, an astonishingly large amount of public life was, at some point in a citizen’s life, compulsory. It was both a duty and an honor to serve the city and its gods in whatever way one could.

And the theatre of Athens was no exception. The entire community came together to prepare, fund, and perform its stories. Every year, in anticipation of Athens’ major theatre festival (honoring Dionysius, the god of wine, theatre, and most other fun things) young men from across the city were drafted into the chorus—a sort of jury duty for the stage.

These youths were housed, fed, and trained, learning movement and choreography, music and poetry, until every gesture, every line, was exactly what the playwright desired. They would then step out before their neighbors and into a staged world of gods, heroes, and high tragedy. For most of these men, this would be their one and only performance experience; for a select few, it was the beginning of a career.

Between the drama festival and the various chorus-only competitions that took place in the course of the year, most of the men in any play’s audience had likely been onstage at some point in their lives, creating a uniquely intimate understanding between playwrights and the general public. They wrote stories for an audience who knew in their bones what it was to inhabit them—who knew the wealth of shared myths and legends that bound the city together from the inside out.

The voice of the chorus, as written by the likes of Sophocles, Aeschylus, or Euripides, could truly be said to be the communal and everlasting voice of the people.

The Talent

Playwrights and actors have often enjoyed (or occasionally endured) incredibly intertwined professional lives, practically living in one another’s pockets. The traveling commedia troupes of the early Renaissance, the joint-stock theatres of Shakespeare’s London, the star performers of the Restoration—the resident writers of such companies knew the exact talents and limitations of the men and women who performed their plays.

Shakespeare’s close-knit company worked together for the better part of two decades. We can see this intimate relationship between writer and company in the confident inclusion of the Welsh-speaking Lady Mortimer in Henry IV Part One—he could not have penned the character if he didn’t have someone in the company able to speak the language. We probably see it in the plays written in the late 1590s, in which there are always two witty young women (Hermia and Helena, Olivia and Viola, Rosalind and Celia). Our author must have had two particularly gifted boys in the company. And we see it in an accident blessedly preserved by a compositor: Shakespeare’s mind wanders for a moment, and his written stage direction reads “Enter Sinklo” in reference to the actor rather than the character—a notoriously thin man who Shakespeare often wrote being mocked for his size by other characters.

It is fascinating to think how drastically different theatre might have been with a slight shift in “the talent” on hand. We will never know what Richard Burbage sounded like as Hamlet, but how might Hamlet, or Othello, Julius Caesar, or Lear have sounded had Burbage and Shakespeare not lived their theatrical lives together? If Molière’s actor Rene du Parc had been thin instead of fat, how would all those blustering comic servants have changed? If Anton Chekov had not known and loved Olga Knipper, would Masha in Three Sisters still be as vibrant? Such collaborations fundamentally shaped the great works we have inherited.

The Stars…and the Bars

From the late 17th century onward, the lives of actors became the stuff of tabloid stories.

Glamorous (and infamous) stars had their portraits sold in shops and the secrets of their lives splashed across the gossip pages: pert Nell Gwyn, whose wit won the heart of an English king; Colley Cibber, whose colorful private life eclipsed his onstage ventures; Beaumarchais of Figaro fame, who thumbed his nose at the French aristocracy. Across Europe, the theatres that housed these stars touted them in an ostentatious and ever-changing menu of melodramatic love stories and light comedies. Playwrights both great and mediocre knew how to mine these famous players, happily handing them star turns to suit their talents and the taste of the public.

But even in the midst of such seemingly straightforward delights, Enlightenment playwrights faced considerable challenges. As the 18th century wore on and political upheaval began to foment across the Western world, the ruling classes saw how powerful these players, given the right words to speak, might be. Censorship ran rampant. In a time when the wave of a majestic hand could sweep a play off the stage or a playwright into prison, writers willing to speak their minds risked much. And the very fame of their performers increased the power of the theatrical pulpit to a potentially dangerous point.

This era would soon see what Durant, And Away We Go’s novice French playwright, calls the “gathering storm clouds of revolution,” burst—and in a way that had not been true at any point in history, the community of theatre artists began to find its own voice in the wider world.

The Revolutions

From the moment Nora closed the door in A Doll’s House to the first glimpse an audience had of a vagabond beneath a lone tree in Waiting for Godot—three generations of playwrights struggled to confront and portray the realities of human existence.

In doing so, they were in conversation and conflict with the past, and in conversation with each other in a totally distinctive way. Ibsen and Chekhov’s Realism defied the “artificial” artistry of the Enlightenment and Romantic period, while Shaw consciously pivoted from Ibsen’s fiery passion into mischievous laughter. Then, when half a century of brutal war left the world reeling in its wake and struggling to understand a universe both violent and anarchic, Absurdists like Beckett offered a chaotic “reality” that blatantly subverted the superficial order previous playwrights had championed.

In rapid succession, ideas were tried, shared, and overturned, to be replaced by new approaches and new insights. This was theatre that hoped to lead its viewers to shockingly new ideas. It was a uniquely provocative relationship between artist…and artist. The theatre must and would change—and the artistic conversation that passed between these visionary artists altered the course of the 20th century.

The Horizon

Our collaboration with Terrence McNally has been a thrilling adventure for our company. After 30 years, The Pearl remains the proud home of a Resident Acting Company, built on the belief that the deeper the collaboration between artists can be, the more rewarding the art. To celebrate that spirit of collaboration with this world premiere play has been a truly joyous experience.

The journey of theatre is one we undertake together, as friends and colleagues, as fellow artists, and as family. It is a relay race across history, over wildly different terrains and with unlikely runners—actors and playwright, naturally, but also audiences, patrons, and all those who love theatre from the edges of the stage—and in so doing, ensure its survival as surely as if they trod the boards themselves.

We are only the latest in the long line of artists carrying the torch, and the time will come when our leg of that race will end. But if we’ve done our work well, the clutter and clamor of all we leave behind will enrich the inheritance of those who come after—we’ll linger as friendly spirits in the work of those who follow.

There is no such thing as an empty theatre—even when there isn’t a soul in sight.

Thank goodness.

Filed under: General