Creative collaboration leads to jazzy reimagining of Shakespeare’s comedy
A Jazz Dream could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for University of North Texas theater students.
Even those students who make a career in theater might not get a chance to be part of a world-premiere musical, and freelance director Maggie L. Harrer is holding the student performers to a professional standard in the project.
“I told the students that I needed them to be available to me, even if they weren’t called for a rehearsal,” Harrer said. “I explained that I’ve given myself to this project 100 percent for these seven weeks, and if I need them to be here, they have to be here.”
A Jazz Dream, The Musical is inspired by one of William Shakespeare’s most popular plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Harrer recruited UNT English professor and Shakespeare scholar Kevin Curran to serve as dramaturge, the editor who cuts the play and arranges it for the cast and crew.
Then, Harrer invited UNT music professor and sought-after jazz composer and arranger Richard DeRosa to lead graduate students in arranging late 19th- and early 20th-century jazz songs. DeRosa also led graduate students to compose music for transitions and atmosphere.
Theater and dance students perform the show.
Harrer said she had long wanted to adapt the Shakespearean comedy to a musical, and was thrilled to find out just how much jazz talent and skill was on the campus when she was invited to build the show.
“I had no idea about the jazz program here when I first agreed to do the project,” Harrer said. “It was like destiny, really. It was like this was fated for us to come together.”
The premiere is a few steps further than what artists refer to as a “workshop show.” At the workshop stage, a project might not have a script, characters or even a fully formed story. Often, producers will use the workshop to hammer out the story, script and characters out — only to revise the show heavily.
A Jazz Dream is a musical adaptation about the Athenian royalty throwing a pre-wedding bash, only to have the wild and wily world of forest fairies affect their celebrations when they drug the Athenians’ hormonal teenage children. When the magical world and municipality collide, hilarity ensues and love busts out all over.
The director said the students have been privy to the nuts and bolts of building a show.
“They get to see us work things out,” Harrer said. “They get to see how the discussions go to get things done.”
Bob Lavallee, the guest artist brought aboard to design the set for the show, said he prepared to present a “master class” to technical theater students.
“That has been part of it,” he said. “They’re not only participating in this show as it unfolds into this whole show, but some of them have been part of these discussions on a more detailed level.”
Student crew members, faculty and guest artists met during Monday evening production meetings, when faculty designers would report on their designs for lighting, costumes, stagecraft and everything in between. Production meetings are part of professional theater.
“We meet for an hour, and it’s a full hour,” Harrer said. “Solving countless problems is part of the job.”
Harrer said she was happy to bring in radio, television and film students charged with making a promotional video for the show and a longer, “making-of” documentary.
The musical opened to some good buzz on social media sites last weekend, and it runs through this weekend, closing on Sunday.
Harrer said the collaboration has been driving the departments and students toward one end: telling a timeless story about the tensions between the old and young, order and passion, and duty and love, in a new way.
UNT senior Austin Struckmeyer, who is pursuing a double major in music and theater, plays dual roles of Theseus — king of Athens in the original play and a Wall Street giant in this adaptation — and Oberon — king of the fairies in the original play and a traveling street magician in the adaptation.
Harrer has set the story in New York City, where the barons of Wall Street are up against Occupy Wall Street protesters and street artists.
“The adaptation into modern times makes it very easy to relate to,” Struckmeyer said before the show opened. “The beauty of Shakespeare is that the things he wrote about are universal and have endured for the last several hundred years, and the particular perspective we are taking in this show is very topical and very relevant, particularly with the … election and political strife.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
A JAZZ DREAM, THE MUSICAL
• What: World premiere of an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
• When: 7:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday
• Where: University Theatre, in the UNT Radio, TV, Film and Performing Arts Building, at Welch and Chestnut streets
• Details: Tickets cost $10 for adults, $7.50 for students, seniors and UNT staff. For reservations, call 940-565-2428 or visit www.danceandtheatre.unt.edu .