A Midsummer Night’s Dream

An integrated performance of William Shakespeare’s well known play (2008)
The Disability Trust, Sport & Recreation Services
in conjunction with Wollongong Workshop Theatre, Wollongong. Case study prepared by Ryan Kiddle, Manager, Sport & Recreation Services.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream cast

Sport & Recreation Services (a service of The Disability Trust) have offered sport and recreation programs for adults and children with disabilities throughout the Illawarra for the past 15 years. The service conducts a variety of sporting and recreational activities as well as working in partnership with mainstream organisations to provide further opportunities for participation. This includes providing training and support to trainers, coaches and administrators in mainstream sport and recreation organisations.

One of the many Sport & Recreation Services programs on offer is the Altogether Drama group, an amateur theatre group for people with a disability. This group has been operating for 15 years and meets every Saturday morning in Wollongong to develop their acting and stage production skills and rehearse production pieces.

Wollongong Workshop Theatre (an amateur theatre group based in Wollongong) were approached in 2007 to co-produce the Illawarra’s first integrated drama production, alongside Altogether Drama (Sport & Recreation Services Disability Theatre Group). As many members of the Altogether Drama group had expressed an interest in performing a Shakespeare piece, it was from here that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was chosen for the production. Wollongong Workshop Theatre had been previously invited to Altogether Drama’s recent performance “Sex and the Steel City”, and from this had offered their support to integrate the Altogether Drama actors into one of their productions.

Actors, cast and crew were assembled from both The Disability Trust and Wollongong Workshop Theatre (WWT). A total of 28 cast and crew members were assembled, with support from the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre also provided. Seven actors were from Altogether Drama with sixteen actors from WWT. The production crew comprised of three WWT members and three Sport & Recreation Services staff, with two support staff from Sport & Recreation Services also provided.

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PROCESS

A Midsummer Night’s Dream castOnce A Midsummer Night’s Dream was chosen as the production piece in mid 2007, regular meetings were established between Sport & Recreation Services management and WWT production staff. This Shakespeare piece was chosen by the Director from Wollongong Workshop Theatre as he was able to adapt and simplify the script for the Altogether Drama actors to allow them to follow the storyline but not replace the Shakespearean language. This piece was also chosen to clearly link it to the theme of “Australia”.

It was from here sponsorship and funding was gained to ensure adequate resources and exposure for the production. Sport & Recreation Services management took to the task of applying for funds through Wollongong City Council’s Cultural Grants, which were successful in gaining limited funds for the use of the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre for the production. Both parties also worked together to ensure effective media coverage, including radio interviews and advertisements, television news stories and article in Wollongong’s local print media. An emphasis was placed on the fact that the performance was one of the Illawarra’s first integrated productions, and highlighted the ability of Altogether Drama actors alongside WWT actors.

An information night was held in early 2008 to identify available and interested actors from WWT. Altogether Drama members performed on the night to showcase their ability on stage. This also allowed for WWT actors to ask any questions to Sport & Recreation Services staff in regards to working with people with disabilities, and assist to break down the barriers between mainstream and disability theatre groups.

The script was developed by the director using adapted Shakespearean language to assist with the learning process for people with a disability. The script was also given an Australian theme and was focused around a Boab tree which became the image for all advertising material as well as the set design.

The script was completed in April 2008, and was given to all Altogether Drama members once completed. A picture script was also developed for one actor from Altogether Drama to assist her to learn her lines. All actors were put through the audition process to identify character roles. This was a new experience for Altogether Drama actors, however they were able to learn their audition piece in the weeks leading up to the auditions during weekly workshops at their regular Saturday morning sessions. The auditions were conducted to ascertain who was going to be playing what role, and were kept as close as possible to real auditions alongside WWT actors to ensure Altogether Drama actors were able to experience what it is like to audition for a production.

Once auditions were completed and roles were assigned, Altogether Drama members continued to meet weekly to rehearse and work closely with two support staff to develop their skills for the production during their Saturday morning class. All actors were given a role and were cast according to their previous experience and skills. A recorded reading was held to ensure actors were able to use an audio version of the play to practise at home.

Full cast rehearsals commenced in August 2008 with both Altogether Drama and WWT cast members working together two days a week for 8 weeks. Although the Altogether Drama actors had been rehearsing on Saturdays as a group, this was the first time (apart from auditions) that the full cast had come together to rehearse. This intensified to three days a week closer to the production week. Support staff was provided by Sport & Recreation Services at each of the rehearsal sessions to ensure adequate support was provided to the actors with disabilities. There was an increase in production meetings between the two organisations to ensure that communication channels were open and that all issues could be resolved.

Two full dress rehearsals were held the two evenings before the run. Production week saw a run of 5 shows from October 22 to 25. Each show and dress rehearsal had three support staff employed by Sport & Recreation Services to assist the actors with a disability. The shows were a huge success with audience members comprising of local school groups, community organisations and relatives and friends as well as the general public.

STRENGTHS

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

  • Increased opportunity in the arts for people with a disability in the Illawarra.
  • Increased community awareness of the abilities of actors with a disability in the Illawarra.
  • Positive outcomes and indicators for integration and inclusion in mainstream activities. Talks have continued for further collaborations.
  • Support staff involvement assisted both WWT Actors and their understanding of working with people with disabilities and the Altogether Drama actors in developing their skills to create a successful performance. Support was given to find suitable transport options to and from rehearsals such as bus routes, train timetables etc. if own transport could not be supplied. Support staff was funded by The Disability Trust.
  • The long lead up rehearsal time gave the Altogether Drama actors sufficient time to rehearse to ensure they were able to perform at a similar level as the WWT actors.
  • Regular production meetings were essential to keep open lines of communication.
  • Community Grants funding allowed for the use of an appropriate venue, and the development of an effective set, props and costumes.
  • Support from the venue (Illawarra performing Arts Centre) was provided through bump in and out, and by providing lighting assistance that was cost effective.

CHALLENGES

midsummer_03Routines changed for some Altogether Drama actors and extra support was needed to ensure that these people were able to meet the demands of the production. This meant extra staff from Sport & Recreation Services was needed.

Initially, the integration of the two acting groups created tension, however over time this eased and gradually allowed the talents of each actor to work together to create excellent individual performances.

Some actors from WWT were not fully committed to the rehearsal process. This resulted in a number of people stepping into roles that were working with Altogether Drama actors and thus made it hard for them to relate and react to characters in the play due to the changes of cast members.

The production was of a much larger scale that previous productions attempted by Altogether Drama members, and although they were up to the challenge, the longer run did make some cast members lethargic and tired.

With such a large cast and crew, full cast rehearsals were hard in the space available (WWT). The venue used to rehearse made it hard for all actors to be in the same space at the same time. Costs associated with using a larger space prevented this from happening.

As the performers had previously worked in the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre and were aware of the performance space, there were no real issues when the space was used the first time. If a different performance venue was to be used, this may create the need for more time in the space to adapt to the change.

Communication of events between the two organisations at times broke down, leading to a misunderstanding of certain rehearsal times for various actors. As people with a disability need to be prepared due to the nature of the rehearsals (e.g. transport training or transport organisation) a list of rehearsal times were sent in the early stages of the production by one organisation, however these were changed weekly by another organisation, without conveying the information to each other. This created confusion for actors, and it was therefore decided that the number of production meetings would increase.

As the production run included night performances, some of the Altogether Drama actors had to work throughout the day, and were slightly fatigued come time for the performance. By the final performance, it was noticeable that some of the actors who had also been working through the week were quite tired and lethargic. It was encouraged that the actors maybe take leave from their employment if available.

OUTCOME

A Midsummer Night’s Dream castA Midsummer Nights Dream was performed at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre from the 22nd to 25th October 2008 across 5 shows (2 matinee and 3 evening shows). Each performance saw excellent crowd numbers with a sell out final show. The performance showcased the skills and talents of both WWT and Altogether Drama actors, and audience members were supportive of the integration of both groups and the efforts involved by all. It is envisaged that in the next few years both groups will again come together to perform another piece.

  • Increased community awareness of actors with a disability and their ability to perform and interact with mainstream actors on stage.
  • Inclusive practices performed in a drama setting.
  • Partnerships developed between Arts organisations in the Illawarra and The Disability Trust.
  • An integrated production, culminating in five performances which were attended by large crowd numbers at all five performances, including a sell out crowd at the final performance.

Cast:

Bill Dalley, Peter Scrine, Katie Jones, Ian McColm, Juliet Scrine,
Benjamin Verdon, Luke Berman, Rowan Keyzer, Rachael Murphy 
Sam Ford, Gabi Harding, Gemma Parsons, Tony Hammond, Phillip Prentice 
Malcolm Allison, Troy Newberry, Susie Hamers, Rachel Head, Jacque Skinner 
Belinda Dawson, Sandra Roche, McKenzie Scrine, Darcy Scrine

Crew:

Director: Lajos Hamers

Producer/Support staff: Michael Norris

Producer/Support staff: Ryan Kiddle

Producer/Support staff: Skye Darling

Stage Manager: Tessa Parsons

Assistant Stage Manager: Julie Hicks

Set design/ construction: Simon Greer

Make up: Zoe Jenkins & Glenda Darling