How Shakespeare Created Mystery Science Theater 3000, And Other Dramatic Musings

Yesterday’s Express-News had a very nice write-up from Deborah Martin about one of my favorite Stone Oak Youth Theatre activities: the San Antonio Stage Script Study Group.  She did a great job covering the origins of the group, so I encourage everyone to visit the link to learn more about what it is and how it came to be.

To sum up: the group’s a book club, with an exclusive focus on plays.  Each month, we meet to discuss, analyze, and share our experiences of a play, and at the end of the meeting, one of us gets to choose the next month’s play.  On the last Wednesday in June – having already read Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Uncle Vanya – it was my turn to lead the way.

I’m still not entirely sure why I chose A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  As a Shakespearean comedy, I don’t believe it’s equal to As You Like It or Much Ado About Nothing.  The characters are driven by the plot far more than they drive it, none of them as strong as Rosalind or Beatrice and Benedick.  And despite the play’s early talk of life or death, the stakes just aren’t that high. In fact, all the conflicts are conveniently resolved an act early, so that the characters can spend the whole of Act V watching and mocking a very bad play, in what might be the first recorded episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

(Yes, I did bring that up at the meeting, and I was entirely serious – the running commentary Theseus and co. offer is so much cleverer than what they’re watching that all they need is a Tom Servo musical number.)

That said, though it’s easily one of Shakespeare’s lightest plays, lightness does not necessarily mean weakness.  And slight though it is, this play is still wildly entertaining.  The human lovers’ misadventures are nicely paralleled with the fairy shenanigans.  The play-within-a-play offers a wonderful satire on the creative process.  And Puck and Bottom are marvelous characters, raising the energy of every scene they’re in.

More than that, the play has simply endured.  Here in S.A., it’s produced nearly every other year.  It’s inspired countless adaptations in film, opera, ballet, and literature (including a beautiful issue of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman that remains the only comic book ever to win a World Fantasy Award – surprisingly, I forgot to bring that up).  As often as people keep coming back to it, it’s clear those shadows have not offended.

I’m sure all of that was somewhere in the back of my mind when I chose the play.  Of course, me being me and all, it’s also possible that I was more inspired by the idea of casting Matt Smith as Puck.

Whatever the primum mobile behind my decision, it now fell to me to put my thoughts into a study guide, make sure that got to the other group members with time to spare, and have my act together when we (being Angela, Tyler, Maxine, Judy, Denise, and Nikki, with Deborah and a photographer on site) met at SOYT.  It goes without saying that I was nervous – I always am when I have an audience, especially when said audience includes the press.  But the show… and you know the rest.

I was fairly happy with how it turned out.  We had a lively discussion, and there was some very kind feedback after it was all done.  I’m glad I was able to keep up the group’s high level of discourse.  Thanks to everyone who showed up and showed their support.

Tyler will take the reins for this month’s play (Ken Jones’s Darkside).  I’m really looking forward to that conversation, and I hope you’ll consider joining us.  For all the information on the group and this next meeting, please visit our Meetup page.

Thanks once again for following along – hope to see you at SOYT on the 31st, and here for the next post.

Until then, “keep circulating the tapes…”

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