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Clubbing with Shakespeare at The Donkey Show

Three years ago, freshman me walked through Harvard Square on a Saturday night and saw a long line of people dressed in absurdly glittery (and awesome) 70’s attire. A friend and I stopped, stared, and asked some glitter-rocking people what they were waiting in line for. “For The Donkey Show,” they told us, “a Midsummer Night’s Dream-themed club.” “Shakespeare. And clubbing. Together?,” I thought. “Perfect.” We weren’t old enough to get in so my friend and I vowed we’d dance the night away with Shakespeare our Senior year. So this past weekend, my friends and I crossed The Donkey Show off our Senior-To-Do list, and here are some thoughts (and opinions and questions):

First off, I’d like to say how much fun it was. I danced to “Stayin’ Alive,” sang “I Will Survive” at the top of my lungs, saw beautifully sculpted men dance shirtless, and watched a funny rendition of A Midsummer’s Night Dream in a club-like setting.

However, I’m still wrestling with the idea of the club as a container. The truth is that although the idea is to make a space where theatre and clubbing meet, I didn’t get the feeling that I was actually at a club. I’m still not sure why this is. Was it the fact that people were expecting a show? Was it the fact that people weren’t dancing on one another, like at other clubs? Is it because the lights weren’t low enough? I don’t know why, but I didn’t feel that same sense of danger I usually feel while at a club.

I did, however, feel some sort of danger on the dance floor when a character resembling Midsummer’s Demetrius approached me to dance, followed by a clingy girl, whose demeanor seemed a lot like Midsummer’s Helena. It was obvious that they were a part of The Donkey Show world, but once the three of us shared conversation, it became obvious to me that I was also a part of it. As “Demetrius” flirted with me and “Helena” tried desperately to get his attention, my world and that of The Donkey Show intersected. The clean-cut divide got messy. It was interesting feeling like I had walked into a world that I felt I didn’t belong to, and have that world acknowledge me like I was very much a part of it. It wasn’t anything like a transition from spectator to performer, but it felt like the performer and myself were on an equal plane, something I don’t think I’ve felt before. My role as spectator blurred, and I appreciated it.

A second thing I appreciated was the range of people on the dance floor, from couples, to groups that looked like they belonged to a bachelorette party, to college students, to middle-aged men. This sort of thing would be rare in a club. But, again, were we at a club, anyway?

I also enjoyed how many young people were present. Often times when I watch theatre I feel like one of the youngest in the room. At The Donkey Show, I felt like I was among my own age group.

During bows, four characters revealed themselves as another character in the play, i.e., the character modeled after Oberon took off his white suit, wig, sunglasses, and mustache to reveal that the actress behind him had also played the character modeled after Helena. And the character modeled after Lysander took off his suit, sunglasses, and mustache to show that he was also the actress who played the half-naked burlesque-like character modeled after Titania. I could NOT believe it. I’m still in shock that two utterly different characters were played by the same person. The reveal also made me ask, “Why are the Oberon, Lysander, and Demetrius-like characters on stage female?” Was this choice made to balance the casting of an all-male fairy ensemble, and a male Puck-like character? Was it a practical decision? If so, how does it fit artistically? I guess one way, is that there was a certain magic to the reveal, a magic that definitely belongs to a play like Midsummer’s.

And a final thought. I’ve never seen theatre use a space in the same way that The Donkey Show did. It asked the audience to be in the round, rather than the show. Actors circled around us as they performed on stage, on the tables to our left, on the walkways to our right and the stairs behind us. Their mode of transportation was interesting too since they moved straight through the audience, sometimes on tall glass-looking blocks. Audiences were shepherded out of the way by a company member dressed in “70’s meets forest fairy” garb and a whistle.

All in all, The Donkey Show was unlike any experience I’ve had. It pushes the boundaries of what theatre can be and will have you asking, “Am I at a club or a show?,” all the while dancing and singing like you’re in a scene of Saturday Night Fever.

About gbfontenele

Director and dramaturg in training. Free spirit and questioner from the beginning.

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