I came to the Mickee Faust Club as an outsider both to the Tallahassee theater community and to their particular theater for the “weird community” as it is self-described. The latter I understood to be anyone who is looking at the world or the world looking at them from a different angle. My initiation was as an invited guest by Florida State University and the Mickee Faust Club to preview the documentary film I am completing on the theater actress Caris Corfman. Caris was a graduate of the Yale School of Drama among a distinguished group of alumni including Kate Burton, Tony Shaloub and playwright and comedian Lewis Black. Having gone straight from school to Broadway (Caris’s first New York role was in the original production of Amadeus) she had a distinguished career in theater and film for many years. Until one day she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and in its removal, she lost her short term memory. In that moment Caris crossed the line from abled to disabled, and so incapacitated that she lost the ability to perform. Or so everyone thought. Ten years of rehabilitation and
incredible determination resulted in Caris returning to the stage, finding a way not only to reclaim her life and her place in the theater, but to do so to critical acclaim including a full page feature article in the New York Times. The documentary is the chronicle of that journey, and most importantly, a voice for Caris – that people understand not only the difficulties she had to overcome, but her demand to be respected and heard,
...I miss freedom. In the course of an operation, I went from being independent to helpless. ...Suddenly, I am being told what to do and when to do it and with whom. I have no choice in matters. Others make choices for me. I am treated like a misbehaving child, which ignites my anger and frustrates me more. ...People forget. I am not a misbehaving child; I am a confused adult.
Bringing the film as a work in progress to Florida State University, and receiving the commentary from academics and theater community was important. But the most informed contribution came from many of the members of the Mickee Faust Club who face their own disabilities. Listening to their response to Caris’ story and its interpretation on the screen, relating it to their experiences, theater writing and performance proved invaluable. This was more than realized when viewing the two hour cabaret show presented by the Club entitled All Mixed Up.
All Mixed Up is a collection of often raunchy, over the top, in your face skits as the best of cabaret should be. The fact that many of the pieces were performed and written by disabled members of the Club added another layer of theatricality and meaning. It was not just entertainment but intensely political, sometimes confrontational, sometimes assaultive theater with humor and an edge. There was no ‘sympathy’ vote here for weirdness – what was different among the theater members and the community was held up to be parodied, joked about, but never to be apologized for.
The first and most significant character is Mickee him/herself who acts as a rodent Joel Grey played by Terry. Mickey sets up the evening, in the rat’s outrageous style and attitude, breaking the fourth wall, as a good host should do. Terry is deaf though that is not part of the performance, and one would not guess nor care from the hysterical and manic nightmare clown she portrays. The point is well taken – like us or leave us, this is entertainment, this is shocking, this is fun, and if in the enjoyment of the evening you leave with a new perspective, new way of looking at the world, it is not because you as an audience are being lectured to, or played an emotional hand, but as a byproduct of cabaret mirth. There will be nothing warm and fuzzy here -- certainly not with this mouse.
Actually the evening begins even before the show in the welcoming backyard garden site, with a pre-theater concert. The toe tapping folk music, food and drink offer a gathering place for friends and audience members to meet and feel part of this community. It is a kind of a happening, and you get a sense that the evening will already be “different” with its wheelchair friendly environment and the democratic meeting ground of disabled and abled. There is no sense of entitlement nor its counterpart, disenfranchisement. It’s unlike any pre-theater experience I’ve witnessed.
What is clear as the evening proceeds, is the very notion of deconstructing the traditional idea of disability or the ‘other.’ The outsider (or weird) here is whatever popular culture has determined as different and therefore discardable. To be shelved or fringed, essentially erased from mainstream dialogue. It could be senior citizens having sex as in the monologue of “Re-imagining Stephen Foster” or the naked body revealed by a less than youthful woman in “The First Time My Husband.” Images that are normally hidden and connected with shame and guilt become part of the theatricality and rather than make an appeal, the writing demands our attention and intelligence.
One of my favorite pieces, and the most sophisticated is “Drive by Healing” – a satire about religious do-gooders wanting to cure the performer of his cerebral palsy. In the near physical attack by the zealots who cannot heal him but actually instill real terror in their charity, society at large is held up to the mirror of misguided ‘helper” – self involved, narcissistic, refusing to acknowledge the very object of their rescue mission.
To top off the message, it is well performed and written, funny, biting -- the best kind of cabaret skit.
Among the ‘otherness’ profiled in the evening are issues of transgender, race (a monologue about Blackness, womanhood, and Afro American Hair in “Hair Story” and even weight – “The D Diet.” One real reversal of stereotype was the surprise striptease of men auditioning for racy club dancing, and the very eager audition candidate who gleefully disrobes to his very ageing but still willing male body.
Lots of good-humored jokes and songs about sex, menstruation and menopause - and indignities in a skit titled aptly “Dignity” – a paralyzed woman in a hospital subjugated to a tampon insertion by not so well meaning nurses, and the nightmare of healthcare in “Getcher Free Health Care.”
Throughout the skits are augmented by clever animations both as interludes or backdrop projections. There is dance, one especially beautiful African piece called “Amber’s Dance.
If there is a criticism to the cabaret its that in the probable desire to include as many performers and writers in the evening, there is too much of all. Some of the jokes and skits seem repetitious even if they are not. The optimum would be to have two nights back to back - evening A and B, alternating the program, so that the length would be reduced and the variety might have more impact.
The evening ends with a celebratory chorus line style Zombie rag “I Feel Dead” danced and sung by performers who have made it clear throughout the evening that they are anything but dead, nor dismissible.
A (Movable) Midsummer Night's Dream
Produced by the Mickee Faust Club April 22, 23, 29 & 30, 2006
A Review by Elizabeth Bell, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Communication, University of South Florida
Download the original review
I am very pleased to provide a review of the Mickee Faust Club's production of A Moveable Midsummer Night's Dream, staged at Railroad Square Art Park in Tallahassee, Florida on April 23, 2006. This production was funded in part by a project grant from the City of Tallahassee's Cultural Resource Commission, and this review fulfills one of the evaluation criteria set forth in the grant proposal.
Let me begin this review with two notes of congratulations: first, to the City of Tallahassee for its support of this project; and second, to the Mickee Faust Club for recognizing and acting on the need to have their work evaluated as a measure of public accountability. These congratulations are especially important in an era in which funding for community-based arts projects suffers from near-constant attack and near-microscopic scrutiny; at the same time, the distribution of public monies demands public accountability. I am delighted to bring my twenty-five years of experience in the study, theory, pedagogy, and practice of performance to this public accounting process on behalf of both the funding agency and the production company.
My purpose in this review is two-fold: 1) to describe the performance and its theatrical elements in order to document the creative and artistic efforts of the directors, cast, and crew; 2) and to evaluate the success of the production in light of the funded project's goals.
Describing the Creative Efforts
I attended the production of A (Movable) Midsummer Night's Dream on April 23, 2006, produced on three different stages in Railroad Square Art Park in Tallahassee, Florida. I have been long-acquainted with the work of the Mickee Faust company, in published works and through national addresses presented by the company's co-founders, Donna Marie Nudd and Terry Galloway. This, however, was my first encounter with the physical space, the community of people who make this company a reality, and a full-length in situ production of their work. No published article or key-note address could have prepared me for the experience of being there.
Popular Community Culture
The Mickee Faust Clubhouse is nestled in a lush and overgrown acre in an old warehouse district that recalls neighborhood block parties, summer trips to the lakehouse, years of hand-me-down furniture, all spelling comfort and home. The audience, too, contributed to the summer block party atmosphere: children with their hand-held Nintendo GameBoys, elderly men in FSU logo caps, college students in polo shirts and dockers, hippies in tie-dye, bikers in leather, Goths in black taffeta, babies in strollers, women in summer dresses, all mingled and mixed with the characters we would soon meet on stage. Most notable at this stage in the production were the fairies and wenches-17 of them according to the program-who flitted and raced in and through the grounds of the Clubhouse. All sprouted their own interpretations of wings, magical implements, and fairy demeanor.
Mickee Faust staffers manned the table at the entrance, sold tickets for the show and the dinner afterwards, and offered-like good neighbors-the water, beer, sodas, and welcomes that make down-home, home. The hugs were plentiful, the children rambunctious, the food and beverages flowed all around me.
I detail the setting and atmosphere because a number of Shakespearean scholars have bemoaned the separation of Shakespeare's works from popular culture and from the community carnivals that surrounded Globe Theater productions. 1 Instead of solely "high" art and elite audiences, Shakespeare's works were central to the workino-o classes of Elizabethan England, their entertainments, and political and social lives. Annalisa Castaldo writes of this same centrality in the United States:
In the nineteenth century performances of the Bard's plays were attended by all levels of society, and even western settlers had Shakespeare's plays on their shelves beside the Bible...Rather than being presented on their own, as a representative of elite culture not available elsewhere, Shakespeare's plays were performed with dancers, jigs, mimes, interludes and the like...As the nineteenth century drew to a close, this practice began to die off and the plays were presented alone, as a dry dose of culture to be taken like medicine - healthy, but not enjoyable. 2Before the production even began, I knew I was in the capable hands of an artistic company who understood that Shakespeare's works have always been popular community enterprises-for producers and audiences alike.
The production began in the Mickee Faust Clubhouse, an old warehouse at the center of this wooded acre, with thirty foot ceilings, exposed beams and metal-siding construction, and 15-foot sliding doors on the north and south sides of the building. A two-foot raised platform was the playing area, and for this production a 10-foot inclined ramp lead through the center of the audience to the stage. Seventy-five chairs were arranged in front of the stage, divided by the ramp. When the house opened, both side doors were rolled open, and the audience filled the seats.
In my experience, the opening of any production ought to set the tone for the entire production, forecasting the conflicts and issues to be played out on stage. From a rhetorical point of view, this forecasting creates a set of expectations for the audience that the production should then fulfill-with twists and surprises on those expectations along the way. 3 As the production ensued, I was tremendously impressed with the directorial savvy of this opening scene.
The engaged to be married mortals, Hippolyta and Theseus, enter from down center. They are clearly powerful people (for humans, that is). We know this from their royal garb and crowns. With the entrance of the Queen and King of Fairies, the humans are "frozen" in scene and caught in the magical spell of Titania and Oberon. The first theme of the play is now forecast: "What fools these mortals be," so easily manipulated by the power of fairy-folk. As Titania and Oberon eye and circle each other, the actors are already telegraphing their battle-of.wills-in-progress and the play's second theme: love's tensions, depths, and complexities. Then Titania and Oberon, in turn, kiss their mortal lovers in full and bawdy display, signaling the third theme. This play is sensual, physical, and tempestuous. Be offended! and enjoy! Before the players have uttered a word, the stage is set with power, with conflict, and with no small measure of bawdy delight.
Three different directors controlled the three different worlds of the play: Theseus' court and the Rude Mechanicals directed by Isabelle Potts and Terry Galloway; the Lovers directed by Dona Milinkovich; and the Fairies directed by Kathy Lynch and Terry Galloway. Each director, in turn, capitalized on the strengths of performers, the opportunities available in the physical settings, and the three themes highlighted above. As such, the production demonstrated a rich attention to diverse detail in each of the worlds, but still coalesced in a rewarding whole that built upon and borrowed from the others.
Potts and Galloway's directorial savvy was most evident in the handling of the Rude Mechanicals and the contrast of their broad, humorous style with that of Theseus' court. The early court scenes were filled with unspoken interpersonal tensions and carefully controlled formal etiquette; the Rude Mechanicals were unfettered, uncontrolled, bombastic, and (as their name implies) rude. The contrast was delightful At the same time, Potts and Galloway infused the Court scenes with their own tempestuous sensuality: Hippolyta's costume broadly hinted at bondage and domination, and Theseus seemed all too ready to succumb to her power.
Dona Milinkovich's work with the Lovers really hit its stride as the audience and players moved en masse to the grove of trees in Railroad Park. As we all walked to "a wood near Athens," the fairies and Philostrate guided our way. While the playing area itself was well-defined and circumscribed, the backdrop and stage pieces of actual trees, bushes, stumps, and statuary enlarged the scene. Indeed, we were in an Athenian wood. Fairies moved through the greenery, Puck peeked and ducked, and the Lovers lost their bearings and their senses.
Milinkovich has a keen eye for physical work, and she signaled the conflict, power, and bawdiness in each of the
stage pictures told a story that complemented and enhanced the language of the scenes. Milinkovich used the breadth and depth of the playing space to great advantage. Some entrances were thirty feet behind us, and lovers chased each other across and through actual woods. As their costumes became increasingly disheveled, the physical surrounds took on an ominous and obvious power to do playful, but very real, harm. The mud-scene brought this physicality to a climax that the audience had been led to expect, but when real water and mud were flung, the audience's surprised reaction was both loud and appreciative.
Kathy Lynch and Terry Galloway created the Fairy World in a lovely hierarchy of power and influence. The children provided a theatrical "fill" to the Fairy World, loading the bottom of the hierarchy with minions that brought no small measure of delight to the audience-many seeing their children and grandchildren in a Shakespearean play; the second tier of the hierarchy was beautifully filled with Titania's court - Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed. These performers took their physical cues from Titania, and again the stage pictures always complemented and enhanced the language of the scenes. The third tier of the fairy hierarchy was amply filled with Puck, and, of course, at the top of the pile was Titania and Oberon. Each level of the hierarchy found the costuming more elaborate, the stage presence more commanding, and the work of the scenes more central to the action of the play. This world was lush and full, shot through with power, dramatic tension, and conflict, and the sensuality of all was both playful and authoritative.
Terry Galloway with her many years of experience at the University of Texas's Shakespeare at Winedale summer program acted as a roaming director for this production of Midsummer. Her careful and insightful suggestions helped ensure that the three worlds overlapped, built on each other, and coalesced in great festive fun. All four of the directors took advantage of the physical spaces to embody and enlarge the character work of the players. Most importantly, the four directors never let loose of the three through-lines of the play: power, love, and sensual physicality.
The level of performances in community-based arts projects is oftentimes uneven due to the different levels of performance competence and experience in the company, and this production was no different in that
regard. The program notes warn,
Our company for this production is no different than our company from past productions, a mutt mix of grizzled Faust veterans and raw, terrified recruits some of whom have been thrown into substantial roles that require an expertise they did not at first possess. To misquote Puck: If we shadows have offended,/ We think we ought to be commended!
I agree, wholeheartedly. Let the commendations begin.
Ensemble work is central to a successful production of A Midsummer Night's Dream-whether courts, fairies, Rude Mechanicals, or lovers. And these ensembles shined through the work of performers who raised the bar and set the standard for their ensembles-not so much carrying more than their weights, but bringing a level of believability and depth to their characters that demanded an in-kind response.
In the Court scenes, Marc Masonbrink as Egeus set the bar: he was outraged, offended, and instantly set the tone that demanded a response from all the other players. So Jeff Gray as Theseus had a problem to mediate; Sherri Kasper as Hermia had a case to make; Derek Barton as Lysander had a plan to invent; Jimmers Micallef as Demetrius had a reputation to defend; and Donna Betts as Hippolyta had a show to laugh at and enjoy. Without Masonbrink's clarity and conviction, none of the other performers would have had such clear obstacles to navigate. In the final act, the Court settled comfortably into the background, letting the Rude Mechanicals steal the show. The only disappointing note of the entire production, for me, was the loss of some of the play's funniest lines as the Court heckles and comments on the Rude Mech's Pyramus and Thisbe. Drawing audience attention away from the Rude Mechanicals and to the Court is a near impossibility, but waiting for laugh lines, pointing with line and eye focus to the Court, and making those moments bigger might have helped salvage some of that hilarity. Indeed, Philostrate.played by Frank Lynch and Lori Violette-with cue cards was a brilliant directorial move to feature Shakespeare's hilarious parody of entertainments of the day and to emphasize for the audience Philostrate's lines. I do wish the same directorial savvy could have had it both ways with the Rude Mechs's Pyramus and Thisbe and the Court.
In the Lover's world, Donna Marie Nudd set the bar: her command of Shakespearean diction was flawless.each turn of phrase was clear, each moment punctuated physically and emotionally. Indeed, Nudd did the translation work necessary for any successful performance of Shakespeare-always finding the plain sense of the words and action. In turn, Kasper, Micallef, and Barton rose to the multiple occasions to act, react, and play with and against Nudd's confusion and outrage. All the Lovers are to be commended for the exceeding athleticism demanded of them in this ambitious staging.
In the Fairy world, Terry Galloway set the bar: Galloway's Titania was outrageous, physical, funny, and terribly powerful-capturing a multitude of ways in which women who wield power must do so in strategies of diversion, subterfuge, and humor. The characters in the Fairy World picked up on these subtleties and ran with them. Peggy West as Puck was both solid and ephemeral, playful and serious, powerful and subservient. Jeff Smerling's Oberon was steeped in the self-satisfaction of power and simultaneously annoyed at the ways his power was challenged and eroded. Titania's court, Elizabeth Pardue, Jessica Tice, Anna Viel, Megan Shelfer, and Eva Hulleman, punctuated and reinforced Titania's power in all its contradictions: beautiful and humorous, obedient and resistant, sensual and self-pleasing.
The Rude Mechanicals were astounding all around, and it's difficult for me to single out one performer who set the bar. Sam Atwood as Quince had an amazing stage presence, fluency with Shakespearean diction, and anchored all the scenes as the Mechs fluttered around him. Jeff Futch's Bottom was a delight, his energy contagious, and his physical commitments were always dead on. Isabelle Potts, Bill Adams, Diane Leiva, and Elizabeth Vigil rounded out the Rude Mechanicals beautifully, especially in their rendition of Pyramus and Thisbe. For me, one of the biggest strengths of the show was watching the gradual development of the Rude Mechanicals.from a rag-tag bunch of amateurs to the hilariously polished and brilliantly rendered final act.
They grew as an ensemble, they grew as performers, and they provided an amazing analogy for the whole production: we're doing this as a community, and we' re going to surprise you! I couldn't help but be reminded that in 1964 the Beatles, as part of the 4501h anniversary of Shakespeare's birthday, also performed the Pyramus and Thisbe scene from Midsummer. Wes Folkerth 4 compares the Beatles' performance to the "formal" celebrations staged at Stratford:
While the Around the Beatles skit may not be well-acted in the imperial Shakespeare tradition, it does contain a great deal of the kind of comic festive energy that seems to have been completely absent, and also sorely missed, from the more formal festivities that took place at Stratford. The Beatles' performance, though obviously irreverent, was conducted in a spirit of conviviality and festive participation that would become a foundational component of their own myth, as well as that of the generation that they came in many ways to represent.
All of the Mickee Faust performers had a contagious "comic festive energy" and brought "a spirit of conviviality and festive participation" to this play-one that is too often "completely absent and also sorely missed" from many Shakespeare productions. All' of the pedormers, veterans and terrified recruits alike, should be very, very proud of their performances as contributions to the Mickee Faust mythical spirit of raucous and wily "community theatre for the weird community."
All Shakespearean plays are monumental endeavors-for directors, for performers, and for stage craft technicians. The company made some marvelous decisions in stage craft to take advantage of their physical surrounds. First, the production began at 8pm. This allowed the production to be staged in natural light and outside for the majority of the show. The balmy spring weather and cool breezes were perfect, and I never lacked for a sense of theatricality that stage lighting can bring to a production.
The production was also staged in three different playing areas. This meant three different stages had to be dressed to four very different effects: the court of Theseus and Quince's house; the Athenian wood; and the palace of Theseus. The Clubhouse stage was dressed with a simple backdrop of rich cloth for Theseus' court and a throne upstage center; pulling the backdrop away revealed the wall of Quince's house for scene II. The Athenian wood was built of platforms and canopied hammock for Titania's bed. The Playhouse grounds' bandstand provided Theseus' palace. On all the playing areas, the staging was simple, yet adorned with small and large touches that suggested, enriched, and filled out the scenes. Flowering plants and low shrubs lined the platforms and canopies in the Wood. The three-foot tall wedding cake adorned the palace stage, even as the audience enjoyed real cake in the last act.
Any outdoor production is a challenge for sound. The company utilized a sound system for the Athenian Wood that provided background music and effects as well as amplification. Outdoor productions also demand attention to noise extraneous to the production. What could have been disastrous became a highlight of the show. The Railroad Art Park is adjacent to a railroad track. In Act III, at the beginning of the Mud Scene, a train roared through. The Fairies froze the action of the Lovers and welcomed the train. In the minute it took the train to pass, the fairies engaged in 111 kinds of mischief and merriment: stealing shoes, moving plants, picking flowers, and so on. The audience was delighted.
Costuming was terribly creative and quite beautiful. The colors and textures signaled relationships among the Fairy folk, the paired lovers, and the court. Power and royalty were marked by rich and elaborate details and repeated leather motifs; physicality and sensuality were heightened by the use of body suits and carefully positioned details, especially in the costumes of Titania and Oberon. The Rude Mechanicals' costumes and make-up for Pyramus and Thisbe literally stole the show.
The attention to technical detail and the transformation of limitations into opportunities for creativity are the marks of a very capable set designer and technical director, Dona Milinkovich. Other technical designers --Dana Holsclaw, Jimmers Miccalef, Jeanette Peterson, Susan Gage, Chris Durfee, Diana Kampert, Barbara Roberts, and Margeaux -- are also to be commended for this technically rich, multi-layered, and always festive production.
Goals of the Project
In the grant proposal, the Mickee Faust Club sought to increase local and national visibility for their creative work in two ways: expanding the artistic scope of their company by performing "serious" theater and acting as a model of culturally ambitious projects for community arts.
A (Movable) Midsummer Night's Dream exceeded in meeting both of these goals. This was a tremendously ambitious project: a full-length Shakespearean production, three different stages, more than forty costumed players, and a technical crew of more than thirty. If Mickee Faust is nationally-known for its political parodies and cabarets, then Mickee Faust has proven with this production that it is also more than capable of "serious" theater with high performance and production standards. Their choice of Midsummer was a perfect vehicle for the company to demonstrate that "serious" theater is also participatory, festive, community-centered, and inclusive. Indeed, Shakespeare came to life in its all its bawdy, infectious, and power-loving, power-manipulating grandeur and folly in a wooded acre, warehouse district.
As a model for community arts projects, the production was stellar. Midsummer brought together and featured a community of immense variety in terms of ages, ethnicities, physical abilities, lifestyles, professions, and experiences. All communities are articulated through power, love, and sensuality: the staged play mirrored the community, and vice verse. Adults with disabilities worked in central roles in the production; children and adults of all ages brought energies to the audience, cast and crew; amateurs and professionals learned from and taught each other about the experience of the theater.
I would venture that Mickee Faust is not only one "model" for community arts, but an exemplar. Companies around the nation ought to be learning from and emulating their practices of involvement, activism, inclusivity, and artistry. This production company not only gave us Shakespeare, but gave back to Shakespeare the community.
About the Reviewer
Elizabeth Bell received her PhD in Communication, with an emphasis in Performance Studies, in 1983 from the University of Texas at Austin. She has taught at the University of Texas, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is currently Associate Professor of Communication at the University of South Florida. She is the recipient of more than ten teaching awards from college. state. and national associations. Most recently she was named Gender Scholar of the Year by the Southern States Communication Association. Bell's production work includes performing, directing, and adaptations for the stage in university and community productions. She has published dozens of journal articles, book chapters, and is the coeditor of From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender and Culture (Indiana UP, 1995). Her coauthored textbook, Theories of Performance: Selves, Scenes, Screens (Sage), is expected in 2007.
1 See for example, Lawrence Levine's Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence ofCultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1988) and Gary Taylor's Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History From the Restoration to the Present (New York: Oxford UP, 1988).
2 "A Text of Shreds and Patches: Shakespeare and Popular Culture." West Virginia Shakespeare and Renaissance Association: Selected Papers. Volume 20, 1997.
3 My rhetorical approach to performance is guided by Kenneth Burke, especially his Counter-Statement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1931/1953/1968) and Philosophy of Literary Form (New York: Vintage, 1957), where he so carefully delineates the rhetoric and politics of art, especially as crafted in Shakespeare's plays. Burke, it is important to remember, began his career as a theater critic for The Dial.
4 Folkerlh, Wes. "Roll Over Shakespeare: Bardolatry Meets Beatlemania in the Spring of 1964." Journal ofAmerican & Comparative Cultures 23: 4 (Winter 2000), p. 75-80.