A classic Shakespeare comedy opened in Burbank this weekend at Woodbury University, with the actors and actresses performing under — and in the branches of — a large tree in the school’s Alumni Quad.
Produced by the Archway Theatre Co., “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is set in ancient Athens and centers around two sets of lovers, a group of playful fairies and a troupe of actors known as “the mechanicals,” all gallivanting in the woods.
This is the third production Archway has presented at Woodbury, most recently staging “Faustus” adapted and directed by Sabel in the college’s library, which used to be a church.
“You could not ask for ‘Faustus’ to be in a more perfect location, with stained-glass and book shelves,” said Hillary Weintraub, who plays Titania, queen of the fairies, in “Midsummer” and has performed in several past Archway productions.
Steven Sabel, Archway’s producing artist director, said the theater company has been based, in the past, in downtown Los Angeles initially seven years ago and then in North Hollywood, adding that the ties with Woodbury came along unexpectedly.
“Half of this business is not what you know, but who you know,” Sabel said.
One of the company members knows Nedra Peterson, Woodbury’s librarian, mentioned the idea of presenting productions on the campus and set up a meeting between the two.
The collaboration clicked instantly, Sabel said.
“I walked the campus, and I went a little crazy,” he said. “[I thought], I can do this play here, and I can do that play there. And how about this one here? And we can do this one back over there, and where I have not been on this campus yet, I’m sure there’s a place where I could do a play.”
Even before the move to Woodbury, the troupe produced on-location projects.
Previously, the theater presented a production of “The Women” at the Pinup Girl Boutique on Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood.
“Again, it was immersive. In this clothing store/beauty parlor, it felt all of those things just by being in that space,” said Weintraub, who was in the production.
Eric Castro, who plays Oberon, king of the fairies in “Midsummer,” said handling Shakespeare’s lines does take some practice and skill.
“A lot of people still play Shakespeare in a speechified way … They know the words, but they don’t know exactly what [they mean]. What this phrase means. Where the inflection is. Where the irony comes,” he said, adding that the Bard often gives many clues about how his words should be performed in the text itself.
Sommer Branham, who plays the mischievous fairy Puck, said the opportunity to perform outdoors is freeing, compared to a more traditional black-box theater.
“When [else] can I play a part that I can climb up a gigantic tree and make some acting choices? It would have been impossible inside a black box,” she said.
The production opened on Friday and continues through Sept. 22 with Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances, all starting at 8 p.m.
Woodbury University is located at 7500 N. Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank.
For more information, visit archwayla.com or call (818) 980-7529.