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Classroom becomes stage in

Nov. 5, 2009

A class meets to read and discuss Shakespeare's play, "A Midsummer Night's Dream." As the class begins, the students chat among themselves about the usual things – their personal relationships, school events and such.

Then something unusual happens. The students and professor begin to slip into the play, becoming the characters and performing their actions as if taken over by the power of the verse itself.

A classroom becomes a forest. Students become lovers, clowns and supernatural beings. Suddenly, a November evening is transformed into midsummer and the spectators find themselves in a theatrical dream.

Thus begins CSU Monterey Bay's production of the classic play. Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5-7 and 12-14 in the Meeting House, located on the corner of Gen. Jim Moore Boulevard and Divarty Street. Admission is free, but seating is limited.

The student actors are enrolled in a class taught by the play's director, Professor Will Shephard.

"In traditional theater, the audience is separate from the stage," Shephard said. "I create a space shared by actors and spectators. The stage is all around the audience - it's a very intimate experience," he told the Monterey Herald.

Shephard calls the performance "environmental theater," a term coined by director Richard Schechner to define dynamic interaction among actors, audience and performance space. Shephard worked under Schechner's direction in The Performance Group in New York.

The concept originated with director Constantin Stanislavski at the Moscow Art Theater's Second Studio and was incorporated into the work of director Jerzy Grotowski and the Polish Theatre Laboratory in the 1960s. Grotowski became Shephard's mentor when the two worked together in Poland.

The production will take place in the student's actual classroom, which used to a small church. The space lends itself well to this kind of production because it's intimate, with space for about 70 audience members.

"In environmental theater, the actors are very close to the audience, but they are definitely acting in a play," Shephard said.

The actors will wear their own clothes, but will don masks in character. Shephard is a mask maker. He made the ones used in this performance more than 20 years ago, repainting each one for different productions.

According to Shephard, the play is ideal for environmental theater because of its fantastical nature.

"At one moment we are in the court, the next moment in the depth of the forest. It's tremendously funny. All sorts of mischief takes place. The audience sits in one seat and it transforms to all these different environments. It starts as a class and comes back to a class.

"That's the real magic of theater - you're not sure where you are. Through the magic of performance and sound and light, it all comes together in a charming and entertaining way," he told the Herald.