Dance It Out, Shakespeare Style

Colleen Kollar Smith, co-director and choreographer

“This is not 42nd Street.”  Colleen Kollar Smith is very definitive when she clarifies her approach to choreographing A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Musical, which opens for previews August 30.  Rather than layering on the expectations of a traditional musical theatre piece onto the words, Colleen has found that the words of Shakespeare have actually guided her hand.  Or rather, her feet.”The process has been remarkably organic,” she says, as we sit down during a rehearsal break amongst the sounds of set construction and strains of sopranos reviewing their descants.  “The movement is already built in and all we have to decide is how it supports the story and how to move in and out of the songs in a natural way.”

Tonight, they will attempt a stumble through of Act I, which involves quite a few tunes and dance numbers.  The songs involved are taken from the 1960s, an era that Colleen associates with singing along to the music that her mother used to play in the car.  Even if you think you aren’t familiar with the tunes of that era, she assures, you will be finishing the lines of the songs along with the actors on stage.

“Somewhere inside of you, you will recognize the music and say, ‘Yes, that speaks to my history,’” she says with a slight touch of nostalgia.

Even though she is four months pregnant, Colleen is intensely interactive with the cast – not only with their dance numbers, but also in the blocking of the scenes.  Both she and co-director Christy Yael are quick to stand and direct the actors as they work out their actions and movements.  Tonight, a new apparatus – the introduction of the rope swing into Hermia and Helena’s quarreling – has been the subject of much decision-making.

Christy Yael and Colleen Kollar Smith assist Lauren King, as Hermia, as she tries out the new set piece.

While Colleen has choreographed for Intrepid before (Season Two’s Romeo and Juliet), this is her first directing gig for the company.  She doesn’t seem to mind wearing two hats for this production:  decisions about what serves the play and how to interpret Shakespeare’s text span any gulf there may be between her two roles.  “It’s all about what puts the text at the forefront,” she says.

Christy Yael and Colleen Kollar Smith discuss the blocking of the lovers’ scene.

Colleen is quick to give accolades to the cast, and cites the casting process as the most challenging part of putting together the show so far – more than organizing any big dance numbers.  “We took a lot of time casting,” she says, explaining that actors were needed who could not only carry the Shakespearean text, but also the singing and dancing requirements of this production.  “I think even if audiences know these actors, they will be surprised by what they will be doing in this show,” she says with anticipation.  “We really do have the best cast.”

Kevin Koppman-Gue as Lysander, Colleen Kollar Smith, and Lauren King as Hermia
This pic may or may not involve some stage combat.

Colleen is still blown away by how smoothly the process of incorporating dance movement into A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been and believes it really does speak to the universality of the Bard.  “It just works,” she says.  “It also makes the production approachable, for those who might be intimidated by the thought of seeing Shakespeare play.”

Colleen plans to bring her own four-year-old daughter to a performance, and is perhaps looking forward to recreating some of those “magic moments” she had with her mother while singing and moving to the sounds of the 1960s.  She is hoping that, after immersing themselves in this two-hours’ traffic of groove-able tunes, audiences leave with a similar urge to dance it out as well.

- T.T.