‘Shake’ing up ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Posted 4 days ago

SILVER LAKE — Mark Hansen sat alone at a picnic table outside Stoody Hall.


Three others were on a porch swing and inside the hall a puppeteer bellowed anguished cries.

For three weeks, members of Shake on the Lake theater troupe have been rehearsing at Stoody Hall, part of Silver Lake Institute, preparing for tonight’s third open-air, waterfront production.

Inspiration is what it’s all about.

“It’s not the same as in a dark rehearsal room,” said Chad Bradford, director for the production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” “Especially in Shakespeare, there are so many nature images and this place fits into that.”

At first glance, Stoody Hall and its temporary inhabitants give Silver Lake a communal feel.

Permanent residents and summer vacationers stop by to watch and ask questions. The troupe plays music at night and performs in the village of Perry, doing improv and folk.

And tonight, hopes are many come to The Perry Public Beach off Walker Road to lose themselves in Shakespeare and the only live outdoor theater festival in Wyoming County.

Josh Rice, a 1999 graduate of Perry High School, came up with the idea in 2011 when Pilar McKay put the question out on Facebook.

“I asked what people would like to see here,” said McKay, a 2000 graduate of Perry. “Josh was in Little Rock and wrote that he’d like to see Shake on the Lake. So we just did it.”

The first performance came in 2012 with an abridged version of the complete works of Shakespeare.

The troupe followed that with “The Comedy of Errors,” drawing people from throughout Western New York, from Alaska, Vermont, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

“It’s growing every year,” said McKay, who serves as managing director. “The community has been super supportive and the village has offered a lot of help.”

This year’s production features 11 people, all with vast experience in theater. They live in Little Rock, New York City, Chicago and Nashville. McKay lives and works in Washington, D.C. and intern/stage manager and puppeteer Margaret Gayford is from Warsaw.

Most have known each other for years, mainly through affiliations with Rice.

Coming back to Silver Lake every year is like a homecoming.

“It’s very immersive,” said Courtney Bennett, 29, of Little Rock. “We all live and work together for three weeks and it’s like a vacation for us. It’s a job but we get to make great art together.”

Bennett plays three parts, Helena, Titania and Hippolyta.

“People are going to see a lot of fun,” she said. “This is my favorite play of all time. It’s definitely his best-crafted play.”

Jordy Neill, 25, is spending his second summer at Silver Lake.

“It’s beautiful,” he said. “All of us are friends and we’re all over the country so this is where we reunite.”

Reunite, rehearse, perform and “play off each other,” he said.

“We do a lot of improv and it’s very physical and that comes from Josh,” he said.

Rice says people will find the play engaging.

“It’s fantastical, hilarious and shows the human follies of live,” he said. “We’ve put the element of puppeteering into the production, which makes it unique and we have a lot of improvisation and interaction with the audience. We want it to be accessible to people. A lot of people are afraid of Shakespeare and the language so we want to get rid of that fear and it’s what Shakespeare would have wanted.”

At Bradford’s direction, the cast does just that.

“People are going to experience something different,” Bradford, 30, said. “It’s fun and magical and there’s a great element of spectacle to it. Fast, fun and physical are the buzzwords.”