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February 16, 2011

Building the Dream – Ken MacKenzie

Ken MacKenzie
Ken MacKenzie is a designer and member of the 2009/10 Soulpepper Academy. As a set designer, Ken’s work has appeared on stage in
Oh What a Lovely War, The Cherry Orchard and Window on Toronto. Ken also designed costumes for Death of a Salesman and his work has appeared in the Prague Quadrennial. For 2011, Ken will be the set and costume designer for our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

A long, long time ago when I was at least a foot shorter than I am now – in grade eight, I think – I had my first experience with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was cast in a production at the tiny Annex Theatre at Bathurst and Bloor. I was a fairy. Not Puck. Certainly not Oberon. Not even one of the diminutive Peaseblossom, Moth, Cobweb, or Mustardseed. I was simply a nameless fairy in Oberon’s train and my existence in the play was comprised of looking impish and tossing around a papier mache moon with my fellow nameless fairies.

I speak of it now as though it were a rough and amateur production but truthfully my memory of it was that it was a quaint, funny and worthwhile show. It was an introduction to Shakespeare for me that ignited a deep appreciation for what a master craftsman he was.

It seems to me that almost everybody has had some previous experience with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Either they read it in high school, they saw a production of it a few years ago, or maybe they saw one of the many movie adaptations. So going into this rehearsal, there was an effort to make the familiar unfamiliar again; to bring something new to the show that none of us had seen before, with, of course, the stipulation that whatever we do, it has to serve the performance.

As a result, our hands are full in rehearsal. Literally. Everybody has taken on not just their role, but a kind of “theatre fairy” role in which we all play a part in the creation of the play. We have become the shadows in the play who are responsible for the lights, responsible for the sets. We evoke the magic of the Athenian woods as well as the theatre itself all from crude hand held instruments such as flashlights, bells and mason jars. As a designer, it’s a real treat to watch as the cast becomes the forest, and becomes the nightmares, and conjure the spells.

There’s a glut of both generosity and creativity in the rehearsal room. Because of my own excitement of being a part of that atmosphere, and to be in the thick of the Athenian wood, I’ve done one of the truly unoriginal acts in this process; in addition to designing the set and costumes, I’ve agreed to dust off my wings and reprise my role as a nameless fairy.

Photo supplied.