“What’s that? A … a … flower?! On a tree? And pink?! It’s pink too?! My goodness, Lilian, I thought you said we we’re visiting the University of Michigan!”
Indeed you are sir, and we all know what this means! That’s right you antsy Ann Arborites, you stalwart scholars of spring-term, you veritably vibrant visitors of this great state. If you are reading this, you are witnessing the most magical transformation that Michigan’s mother-nature has to offer: Summer.
With the return of our beautiful sunshine, comes all kinds of things, such as visible sidewalks, cumulonimbus clouds, and even real, live, human faces! But more importantly, it’s the return of one of the University’s favorite traditions: Shakespeare in the Arb!
Started in 2001, Shakespeare in the Arb (or SITA) is a unique production in that there is no fixed stage. Instead, audience members follow the action as it unfolds across the vast Arboretum and become immersed in another reality. The show originated when RC Drama professor Kate Mendeloff was asked to direct an outdoor production as part of a three-year Ford Motor Company grant for Arts in the Arb. Fifteen summers and a whole lot of Elizabethan-style costumes later, SITA has become an Ann Arbor summer ritual.
Full disclosure: I will be acting in SITA this summer season. But one advantage of being part of the show is having access to the great individuals who make it happen. So I sat down with the legendary Kate Mendeloff and asked the tough, hard-hitting questions about this year’s production of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Current: Why do you think these productions have been so successful?
Kate Mendeloff: The Arb is a very special place in this community. The opportunity to be outside and enjoy good theatrical entertainment in the summer, especially when the weather is warm, is a very pleasing thing. So you get culture, you get nature and also the fact that it moves really tickles people – they don’t have to sit in one place. Plus, things are happening all around, so I think it’s just a really good combination.
What’s something that you hope audiences get out of this production?
I want them to appreciate the beauty of Shakespeare’s language and particularly the way he uses nature in his language. When you have a speech like “All the world’s a stage,” and you’re really feeling as if it is, that moment is so magical. I think that connection between art and nature is very important to me and was very important to Shakespeare as well.
What’s your favorite part about directing these shows?
What I love is creating this reality, or this sense that when you go into a production of SITA, you really feel as if you’re in this other world. I try to have the audience not only focusing on what’s right in front of them, but over there there’s another scene happening, or you see people walking along in character, or you see people singing, and you just feel like the life is all around you. Theatre can do that. It can transport you to another reality.
What is it like to work with Shakespeare’s material in the 21st century?
Well, what I really like about doing this is that I don’t need to update it. I feel like Shakespeare, similar to all great writers, is timeless. The themes he’s dealing with, about love and life, are as pertinent now as they were then. People will see themselves in this play and they will laugh when they see themselves, and I think that’s really true of all of Shakespeare’s comedies. They continue to be popular because they aren’t dated.
What are some things people can look forward to from Love’s Labour’s Lost?
This is an early play of Shakespeare’s, but it is really a very delightful play. I think the fact that it’s not well-known makes it special. It’s going to be a great deal of fun to watch, and I just encourage people to come!
This year’s performances will be Thursdays through Sundays, June 9th-26th
For more information, go to lsa.umich.edu/mbg/happening/shakespeare_spring.asp
You can follow SITA activities on Instagram (@shakespeareinthearb), Snapchat (@SITArb), and on Facebook