Shaping dreams

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  /Courtesy photo/UNT, Justin Curtin
From left, students Bolt Harvey, Cameron Potts, Devin Miller, Justin Relyea, Russell Sharp and Klarice McCarron portray free-spirited street artists, dressed in bright colors, and the “mechanicals,” dressed in plaids and denims, in A Jazz Dream, The Musical at the University of North Texas. The costume designs draw on everything from avant-garde pop musician Lady Gaga to the classic blue-collar worker to the bold-color-loving fashion designer Marc Jacobs.

Faculty lend skills to bring the Bard into modern NYC

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last story in a three-part series about the making of a world-premiere adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. University of North Texas dance, theater, jazz and composition faculty and students have joined a pair of professional guest artists to build the production.

It’s taken three departments to raise a world-premiere musical at the University of North Texas, guest director Maggie L. Harrer said.

Harrer, a New Yorker, set up camp at UNT to lead the musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream. She has spent weeks translating her ideas about A Jazz Dream, The Musical to students in UNT’s dance, theater, music and composing programs.

Harrer will be the first to say her efforts aren’t single-handed.

Dallas-Fort Worth scenic designer Bob Lavallee was recruited to take Harrer’s fantasies and turn them into a physical space that communicates the themes of the play in a glance from the audience members’ eyes. Harrer set the story in New York City, where the barons of Wall Street are up against Occupy Wall Street protesters and street artists.

Harrer said UNT faculty have played key roles in taking the story and making it look real — and a little magical, too.

Barbara Cox designed the costumes. Harrer presented the award-winning designer and seamstress with a scrapbook of images for each of the tribes that appear on stage.

The fairies and street artists are all punches of color and slices of geometric shape — a la Lady Gaga and haute couture designer Marc Jacobs. (Harrer even included a photo of designer Junya Watanabe’s interpretation of the famous Elizabethan collar of paper-stiff ruffles. Watanabe built a sheer, soft ruff collar that cascades from his waifish model’s neck. It’s royal in size, but angelic in its whisper-light weight. Consciously or not, Cox worked the concept into Titania’s garb — the Queen of the Fairies is robed to float.)

The Wall Streeters head to the masked ball in costumes they’ve found in the Egyptian room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The actors are decked out in clean, classical lines, elegant draping and cool shades that convey privilege.

The “mechanicals,” the traveling actors who come to perform a love story for Theseus and Hippolyta on their wedding, get a blue-collar look. Harrer’s scrapbook includes images of New York workers — plaid, denim and hardhats.

Adam Chamberlin designed the lighting. Richard DeRosa, a professor of jazz composing and arranging in the College of Music, led graduate students in the arrangements of late 19th- and early 20th-century jazz songs.

English faculty members Kevin Curran and Jacques Vanhoutte trained students to handle Shakespeare’s language and consulted with Harrer in her edits of the script.

Harrer had praise for the production’s look.

“Each of the other UNT designers — from Ken­neth Verdugo’s painting of the amazing Egyptian room backdrop to Mario Tooch’s incredible, beautiful construction of these massive set pieces, to Zoya Provencio’s amazing wigs that are actually giving each fairy an individual ‘life,’ to Alison Martinez’s amazing makeup that is defining each character — all have added additional layers of meaning to this production,” Harrer said.

Chamberlin had the difficult task of bringing out details in costumes and sets, and glazing the production with emotional touches using light.

His work is especially visible during the opening, when the Wall Street royalty parties at the Met.

“I took two different ap­proaches designing the lighting for the Egyptian room scene in A Jazz Dream,” Chamberlin said. “The scenic elements Bob had designed gave the stage the grandeur of the actual room in the Met. I wanted to provoke the feeling of intimacy within the grandeur.

“I have had the opportunity to attend fundraising events at the Met, and have always been struck by the small pockets of intimacy one can find when having conversations. I also, however, wanted to show how when the ‘principals’ of an event are addressing the event — in this case, Theseus — the pockets seem to give way back to the grandeur.”

Chamberlin said the color choices came from the original images Harrer had sent as research.

“I took the bright pinks and lavenders, but I wanted the scene to also connect the cool blues of the opening museum looks, and the deep blues and lavenders of the latter park scenes,” he said.

Chamberlin said his Central Park designs are based on a part of the park called “the Ramble,” a section of winding paths and wooded plots that the lighting designer explored a lot as a child in New York City.

Lavallee used sheer drapes with leaf shapes on them to suggest the woods. Chamberlin said he washed the scenes in pink and red.

“The mindset and emotions of people deeply in love, to me, is very similar to the world of fairies,” he said. “There is a magicalness about it, a wonder, as if the world around you is tinted by your emotions. For this, I wanted the pinks, reds and lavenders to creep from the edges of the action to the blues of the forest.”

Chamberlin, who designed for the world premiere of Tandy Cronyn’s one-woman show The Tall Boy and a number of world-premiere dance performances, said the project has directly benefited the students.

“This show has been an incredible experience for my lighting and sound technology and design students,” he said. “They have had the opportunity to work on a large-scale production with elements ranging in lighting — from moving lights and haze to focusing lights on scenery that is constantly moving. And in sound, with equipment I was able to bring in, they had the opportunity to sound-engineer over 18 wireless microphones, a jazz band with a 12-person chorus, and all of the speakers and monitors that were required.”

The students got more than a technical education.

“They saw and were able to absorb the process that goes into a new production where the production team [members] all have unique visions,” Chamberlin said.

Lavallee, the freelance designer, said the faculty and the students participating in the scenic design did the heavy lifting — literally.

“I’m not an engineer. I’m just the designer,” Lavallee said. “I tell them, ‘I need it to be this size, it needs to turn here and then push up against that thing over there.’ They make it happen. I train crews and techies early on. When they walk up to me and ask what angle a set piece needs to move to before it pivots — or anything having to do with measurements — I tell them to talk to the person who’s in charge of the set construction.

“I can’t do what they do, and I’m like Maggie. I’m incredibly impressed with how the faculty at the university have been able to bring all this to life.”

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is


Bringing the Bard to the Big Apple

Director Maggie L. Harrer has set the jazz musical adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in New York City. In A Jazz Dream, the barons of America’s financial and political world are attending “A Midsummer Masque” party in the Temple of Dendur (a.k.a. “the Egyptian room”) of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with its classical Grecian architecture. That’s where Theseus, the Duke of Athens, enjoys a gala with his fiance, Hippolyta.

Outside the museum is Central Park, where young street artists and Occupy Wall Street protesters — the “fairies” of Shakespeare’s comedy who believe in and use magic — are out in the outdoors and nature, where the titans of industry aren’t in charge. The “mechanicals,” the traveling performers who have been hired to entertain the wealthy elite, represent a portal between order and passion — or at least a chink in the armor of order.

— Lucinda Breeding



What: An adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

When: Final performance is at 2 p.m. today.

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

Parking: Lots are available near the building on Welch Street, and a parking garage is located at Welch and Union Circle.


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