Though a midsummer’s night dream might seem a little distant right now, auditions are being held this week for Detroit Lakes’ sixth annual Shakespeare in the Park production.
Those interested in auditioning are invited to come to the Historic Holmes Theatre (826 Summit Ave.) between 7 and 9 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, May 8-9; or from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 10.
Shakespeare in the Park director Nikki Caulfield cautions that anyone auditioning for this year’s play should be prepared for a challenge: The 2014 production will be “Titus Andronicus.”
Billed as “Shakespeare’s most violent play,” it is also one of the Bard’s most rarely performed works — for that very reason.
“How is this kind of violence OK in a movie theater, but not on stage?” Caulfield mused. “I’ve been wanting to dig my fingers into this show for years.”
In the Elizabethan era when William Shakespeare penned so many memorable theatrical works, the action of “Titus Andronicus” might almost have been considered tame by comparison to some of the bloodier plays of the same time period, she added.
Nevertheless, the play was undoubtedly “Shakespeare’s biggest box office hit” during his lifetime, Caulfield noted.
“Despite the fact that it’s not very popular in contemporary theaters with a Shakespearean repertoire, the Elizabethans just loved this show,” she said. “It was very, very popular.”
It was also Shakespeare’s very first attempt at writing tragedy — and the long monologues that would characterize some of his later, more famous work in the genre are notably absent here, Caulfield said.
“There aren’t a lot of soliloquies in this,” she added. “It’s really pretty snappy dialogue.”
Instead, the play is filled with lots and lots of violence — most of it deadly in nature.
“This is more than just tragedy, it’s an Elizabethan revenge play,” Caulfield explained. “It’s not just sad… it’s revenge piled upon revenge piled upon revenge piled upon revenge — until everybody’s dead.
“The more crazy gory you could make it, the better it was for the Elizabethans,” she added. “This is not the most violent play of its era, by far. For Shakespeare, it is, but compared to his contemporaries, it’s not.”
Nevertheless, even by today’s horror movie standards, it would be considered pretty darn bloody.
“There is a rape,” Caulfield said bluntly — and not only that, but the methods of ensuring the victim’s silence are appalling.
“Her hands are cut off and her tongue is removed, so she can’t tell anyone — it’s a heartbreaking scene.”
And that’s not even the worst thing that happens.
“Eight of the characters die in the last scene,” Caulfield said.
The entire cast consists of eight women and 10 men, so that means nearly half of them expire in the play’s climactic scene.
In fact, the violence is “so over-the-top extreme” that it becomes almost funny at times, Caulfield said — “though I’m known to have a pretty strange sense of humor,” she added.
“The end scene is twisted, but it’s fun. (This play) walks the line between tragedy and black humor a lot.”
One of the challenges she and the actors will face “is how to handle scenes (like the rape) tastefully, but still make an impact,” Caulfield said.
Because of this, she added, “I’m looking for actors who are willing to dig into the text and think about what they’re doing.”
(It’s also why she’s requesting that the actors who choose to audition be at least 16 years of age.)
Caulfield said that in looking at the play’s theme, she was strongly reminded of a famous quote from Mohandas K. Ghandi: “An eye for an eye will leave everyone blind.”
“This play is about what happens when revenge gets out of control,” she added, noting that while people deal with setbacks and tragedies in a variety of ways, getting even is a horrible coping mechanism.
“This is a smart play with a lot of action,” Caulfield said. “There’s so much meat in this show that it’s going to be a lot of fun for the actors to dig into it.”
Once the cast is chosen, rehearsals will take place nightly, Monday through Friday, from May 19 to June 26. All rehearsals will take place at the Detroit Lakes City Park bandshell — weather permitting, of course, because there is no overhead cover for the stage or seating area.
Though the rehearsal schedule runs from 7 to 9:30 p.m. every day, “if you are not in the act being rehearsed that evening, you do not need to attend rehearsal,” Caulfield said. “Schedules will be provided to the cast before rehearsals start.”
Detroit Lakes’ Shakespeare in the Park will present “Titus Andronicus” on June 27, 28 and 29 as well as July 3 and 5. All performances begin at 7 p.m. except for the Sunday matinee on June 29, which begins at 4 p.m.
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.