The Guthrie Theater is once again transporting its Wurtele Thrust stage into the magical world of fairies, love triangles, crossdressing and transfiguration for Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Artistic director Joe Dowling is revisiting his signature production for a third time as part of his final season with the Guthrie, marking the end of his 20-year tenure.
There will be plenty of bells and whistles in the production: flying fairies, projected images, elaborate punk-rock costumes and a theater-in-the-round set-up that puts the audience onstage. While the show may serve as a bookend for the Dowling era, it’s also the beginning of a new generation of actors. With rising star Tyler Michaels as Puck, and former Guthrie trainee Christina Acosta Robinson returning to Minneapolis, plus a crop of recent graduates of the University of Minnesota and Guthrie’s BFA Actors Training Program, the show offers a glimpse of what the future of the Guthrie might look like.
“This is a tremendously talented group of young actors,” said Stephen Yoakum, who performed in the Guthrie’s previous two productions of “Dream.” “They are the next wave of young artists that are going to show us the future.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
What: By William Shakespeare. Directed by Joe Dowling and David Bolger.
When: Previews 7:30 p.m. Sat., 7 p.m. Sun., 7:30 p.m. Tue.-next Thu. Continues Feb. 13-March 29.
Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
Tickets: $15-$72. Limited onstage seating also available.
Info: www. guthrietheater.org.
Role: Puck. Age: 26. From: Bloomington. Education: Minnesota State University Moorhead, Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. Career highlight: Theater Latté Da’s “Cabaret.”
“I tend to just throw myself at a wall and see if I can stick to it,” said Tyler Michaels. “Sometimes I can, I guess.”
Michaels was studying aerial arts at Xelias Aerial Arts Studio in northeast Minneapolis when he was approached by Theater Latté Da artistic director Peter Rothstein to star as the Emcee in “Cabaret.” Michaels went on to have a massive 2014, playing roles in “My Fair Lady” and “A Christmas Carol” at the Guthrie as well as in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ “The Little Mermaid.” In September, he earned the Ivey Award for best emerging artist. He also took a turn in directing, along with his girlfriend, Emily King, with the 7th House Theater production of “Jonah and the Whale: A New Musical” at the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio.
Michaels’ sprightly figure and agility make him perfectly poised to play the rascally role of Puck in “Midsummer” — a character who is a kind of fairy version of his Emcee in “Cabaret.” Puck is impish, playful and looking for trouble. Like his jaw-dropping entrance in “Cabaret,” when he dramatically climbed down from the Pantages Theatre balcony, Michaels draws on his aerial skills for his “Midsummer” role, flying in a harness and doing acrobatics on a metal ring called a lyra.
As Puck, Michaels pulls out some aerial stunts but also does a lot of rolling and crawling on the ground, which ties into his character. “I think Puck is sort of like that — he can be this airy, ethereal creature, but he’s also this very earthy, grounded, vicious character at the same time,” Michaels said, adding that he enjoys “playing those two polar opposites.”
Role: Francis Flute. Age: 23. From: Delavan, Wis. Education: U BFA Actors Training Program; Globe Theatre. Career highlights: Open Eye Figure Theatre; Public Theatre of Minnesota; Guthrie debut in “Born Yesterday.”
Michael Fell started out as a BA student at the U but transferred to the BFA program after his first year. A performance of “Ah, Wilderness!” and “The Shadow Box” by BFA students inspired him. “I was like, ‘I wanna do that!’ ” Fell said. He also studied at the Globe Theatre in London as part of his semester abroad.
As Francis Flute in “Midsummer,” Fell is part of one of Shakespeare’s most famous subplots: A group of handymen (or “rude mechanicals,” as they’re referred to in the text) get together in the woods to rehearse a play they will perform for Duke Theseus. As the youngest of the bunch, Flute gets cast as the female lead, Thisbe, who dies tragically in a plot suspiciously similar to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
In the Guthrie’s past two productions of “Midsummer,” the “rude mechanicals” have been made up of Guthrie regulars and Twin Cities favorites. This production’s cast is all new, but there are plenty of familiar Twin Cities faces, including Kris L. Nelson, Peter Thomson and husband-and-wife team Jay Albright and Angela Timberman.
At first, Fell was a little intimidated. “I am definitely an outlier, going into these rehearsal rooms and being with these people I’ve seen for years in Minneapolis act who I admire so much,” he said. “It’s been pretty awe-inspiring. Sometimes I just sit and listen.”
Soon, Fell found that it wasn’t so scary after all. “They’re some of the most generous and kind people.”
Role: First Fairy. Age: 22. From: Kennesaw, Ga. Education: U BFA Actors Training Program; Globe Theatre. Career highlights: “Mary T. and Lizzy K.” at Park Square; “Come Anyway” at Mixed Blood.
Nike Kadri is something of a “triple threat” in the theater — not only can she act, but she can sing and dance, too. She uses all of those skills as First Fairy.
Choreographer and co-director David Bolger “has talked about how he wanted the fairies to be really strong and something to fear,” she said. “I love that because I think it’s great for a female and for an audience to see a female in that place of power and strength.”
Kadri has gotten to know the Twin Cities community, making connections with artists she’s met through the BFA program, such as Shá Cage, who acted as a mentor when Kadri created her own one-woman-show about her experiences as a black female artist. “It’s difficult as a minority to break into anything — any industry — just because there are fewer of us and fewer doors opened for us,” she said. “It’s important to create our own work — tell our own stories so an audience gets to know our point of view and then, once those minds are opened, the doors are opened.”
Unfortunately for Minnesota, Kadri has her sights set on joining the Actors’ Equity union and relocating to New York after the “Midsummer” run. The two decisions often go together for young Twin Cities actors because of the limited number of Equity roles here.
“That’s where my heart wants to go,” she said. While she’s enjoyed getting to know the Twin Cities, “I want to take those experiences to a new level — a new atmosphere.”
Role: Demetrius. Age: 26. Hometown: Fridley. Education: U BFA Actors Training Program; Globe Theatre. Career highlights: “Colossal” at Mixed Blood Theatre; Montana Shakespeare in the Parks; the National Theater; Georgia Shakespeare.
As Demetrius, one of the four lovers whose emotions are manipulated by a fairy potion, Casey Hoekstra will do a lot physically in “Midsummer.” At one point Hoekstra and fellow BFA grad Zach Keenan, who plays Lysander, get stripped nearly naked by the mischievous Puck, using specially designed tear-away pants.
Although he’s most comfortable with classical text, Hoekstra has tried to develop other skills since graduating, especially as it relates to physical theater and new works. At the same time, he’s learned that his classical expertise is a selling point for him. “I want to be more well-rounded, but it’s less important than I thought it was,” he said. “If you have a specialty, the more you can collaborate,” he said.
Christina Acosta Robinson
Role: Titania/Hippolyta. Hometown: Lewistown, Pa. Education: MFA in acting from Yale School of Drama; A Guthrie Experience for Actors in Training. Career highlights: “The Color Purple” at Milwaukee Repertory Theater; “The House of the Spirits” at Mixed Blood; Barrington Stage Company; Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Syracuse Stage; Pittsburgh Playhouse.
The fairy Titania has always been a dream role for Christina Acosta Robinson. She did a Titania monologue for her audition for the 2009 A Guthrie Experience summer program. “So it’s special that the same role has brought me back to the Guthrie,” she said in an e-mail. She’ll also be playing Titania’s human counterpart, Hippolyta, the Amazon queen captured by Duke Theseus.
This is Robinson’s third time in the Twin Cities. After In 2010 she performed in Mixed Blood’s “The House of the Spirits.” “Being back Minneapolis for the third time is making me want to move here,” Robinson said. “Every time I’m here I feel at peace.”