Burr Park -- and for the first time, Prater's Mill -- to host Conasauga Shakespeare Coalition production

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Jun. 9—After time-shifting "Twelfth Night" to London's swinging '60s last summer, the Conasauga Shakespeare Coalition will again put a twist on one of Shakespeare's classics, this time setting "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on the American frontier in the early 1800s.

"I don't mess with the heart of it at all, (but) you need a mythic feel for this play, and that's sort of a mythic time in history," said Lane Davies, a veteran professional actor from Dalton who is directing and playing Oberon, king of the Fairies. The 1820s "were a superstitious period," which fits well with the play's magical fantasy elements, and "I always make sure the concept fits the show, not" the other way around.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a favorite of his, and Davies has used it multiple times to launch festivals. He and Bob Boudreaux, who plays Theseus, have also performed "A Midsummer Night's Dream" several times recently in Prague.

Theseus "is the lord of the realm — I represent the law in Athens — but (Theseus) has a relationship with a woman he has conquered, in the mythological sense," said Boudreaux. Hyppolyta is queen of the Amazon warriors, so Theseus begins to question his doctrinaire views on a strictly patriarchal society where men rule women.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" served as the introduction to Shakespearean acting on stage for Davies, when he played Demetrius decades ago at a theater in Houston, Texas, and he's been involved with at least a dozen productions of the play since.

"It's a big title, something everyone knows, and the easiest text in the canon," said Davies, who has spent decades acting on stage, including numerous Shakespearean productions. "It just gets better the older you get."

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is the most performed of Shakespeare's works, as well as the most widely taught, said Wes Phinney, a founding member of the Conasauga Shakespeare Coalition and theater teacher/drama program director at Dalton High School. "It's accessible."

"It's basically rhyming couplets," and each actor/character "has great moments at one point or another in the text," said Brian Webb Russell, an experienced actor playing the role of Nick Bottom. "The lovers are dynamic, and (this play boasts) as good of physical comedy as you'll ever find, if done well."

This play "has everything for every person," he said. With this production, "(we want to) make sure people remember theater is fun and cool, instead of sitting in your house streaming."

While he's performed this play four times, this is his first opportunity at portraying Bottom, the "hapless guy caught in the furor of the fairy world," he said. However, "for a brief, blessed moment, (Bottom) is beloved by the queen of the fairy world, and he gets the last (crucial moment) in the play within a play that never fails to delight."

The Conasauga Shakespeare Coalition was created to perform in the Burr Performing Arts Park in downtown Dalton in accordance with the wishes of the park's late namesake, Jeanne Burr, who provided a $1 million endowment for the park, Phinney said.

"She loved the arts and was a great patron" of them, so much so the founding members (including Davies, Chase Parker, Phinney and Jeff Burr) of the Conasauga Shakespeare Coalition considered naming the company "Burr's Men" — just as Shakespeare's company was "The Lord Chamberlain's Men" and later "The King's Men" — but the modest Burr would have none of the spotlight on her.

The first production in the park, "Henry V," in 2019, "went very well," but there was no performance in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Phinney said. The Conasauga Shakespeare Coalition returned last summer with "Twelfth Night."

Boudreaux was impressed by the "sizable" audiences at Burr Park for "Henry V" when he performed in that production, and he's optimistic about the appeal of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

"The comfort level of audiences is good with this show, and everyone has been exposed to it at some level, so the audience knows what they're getting," he said. "What distinguishes a community is support for the arts, and it's fantastic to have this (production) in the middle of a park anyone can come to, (so) I imagine it'll do really well."

The Coalition hoped to raise enough with last year's production to purchase sound equipment for future performances in Burr Park, and "we were able to do that," said Parker. Audiences can hear that enhanced sound when "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is performed in Burr Park June 23-25.

However, in a first for the Coalition, members will also perform at Prater's Mill this summer, June 16-18. Grounds open at 6 and shows start at 8 each night at Burr Park and Prater's Mill. Tickets for Burr Park performances are available online at https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?show=139575, while tickets for Prater's Mill productions are available at https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?show=139574.

At Prater's Mill, "we can work under cover, rain or shine, and I've always loved that site," said Davies, who acted regularly in several daytime soap operas, including five years as Mason Capwell on "Santa Barbara," which aired on NBC. "It'll be a good contrast," first in the "rustic country," then back in downtown Dalton.

"There are few things more pleasant than everyone sitting around 'a community campfire,'" added Davies, who founded and was co-artistic director of the Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival in Thousand Oaks, California, more than 20 years ago and was artistic director of the Tennessee Shakespeare Festival from 2008 to 2011. "Everyone is watching the same (stage action) in the same summer breeze under the same bright moon."