[Interview] Director Aarne Neeme on ITI’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Courtesy of Intercultural Theatre Institute

The final graduation production for the 2022 cohort of the Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI) is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. True to the ethos of the institute, this production features various performance traditions. I interviewed director Aarne Neeme to find out more about the show.

Why did you choose A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the production for the students to work on?

The choice of the graduation play is a group decision by the teaching staff — relating largely to the student needs and composition. This year we had a relatively large number of talented students, including strong women, which A Midsummer Night’s Dream gave opportunities for, together with the challenges of a Shakespearean play. While I have directed well over a dozen of his creations, this is my first encounter with the Dream, and I am relishing it!

Why did you decide to weave in Beijing opera, Kutiyattam, and Wayang Wong, performing traditions in which students have received some training in, into the show? How did you decide on which characters in the play would take a particular tradition?

One of the aims of ITI is to draw from the rich resources of both traditional Eastern and Western forms. Given the four layers of the play (the Spirit world, Athenian Court, Mechanicals and the “Performance”), it seemed an ideal opportunity to utilise elements of the training to delineate them. While there is no attempt to fully replicate any of the forms, we have simply used aspects to illuminate the differing worlds of the play.

India was the main source of most theatre in Asia, and with its spiritual beliefs, seemed to be the most appropriate for the world of Oberon and Titania. While the formality and morality of Chinese Opera befitted the Athenian aristocracy. This left the largely movement based style of Wayang Wong to the working men, with a touch of Elizabethan theatre for the play-within-the-play.

Courtesy of Intercultural Theatre Institute

What are some of the difficulties in working on the show especially in negotiating across four theatrical traditions?

The greatest challenge is the poetic Elizabeth language (even for native-born English speakers!). Sir Peter Hall puts it as: “The first question that the actor must ask about a Shakespearean speech is not who he is playing or what the character wants, first he must ask WHAT the character says and HOW he says it. The reverse of modern practice.” The delivery requires an understanding of sound and placement to enrich meaning. There was no confusion of traditions in specific characters, as they each belonged to separate forms.

Were there any interesting discoveries in the rehearsal process?

I was struck by the universal similarities of theatre presentation — story-telling through action with the imaginative power of poetry, abetted by music and dance, all on a bare stage lit by the audiences’ imagination. Also our shared human vagaries of being in love confused by infatuation, dream and fantasy, with society’s attempts to control it through reason, rules and the order of marriage. The play presents eight variations of love’s entanglements, leading finally to three marriages, a reconciliation, a meaningless encounter and the ultimate heroic foolishness of dying for love.


Catch It!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs from 3-5 November 2022 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio.

One thought on “[Interview] Director Aarne Neeme on ITI’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

  1. Pingback: [Theatre Review] A Midsummer Night’s Dream by ITI — Sparse treatment showcases actors’ versatility | Isaac Tan

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