All Female Shakespearean Cast Celebrates Christie Day

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Ashley Garrett

Five fur adorned mattresses lay in a semi-circle on the stage of the lecture hall. Many students looked around the hall confused and unsure about what was to happen. The lecture hall had been transformed into a whole new world very different from textbooks and whiteboards.

Every year the English Department celebrates by having a presentation of a Shakespearean play. This years play was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The performance took place on April 19 and was performed by The Hudson Shakespeare Festival Players.

This annual event first started in 1984 and is known today as Christie Day. This celebration is in honor of the founder of the English Department, Sister Mary Joannes Christie. While Sister Christie was an active professor at Mercy College, she often gave many presentations about Shakespeare and was known to make her love for the writer very apparent. The current English Department continues to share Sister Christie’s love by having a Shakespeare performance every year.

“The Mercy College tradition of Christie Day connects our scholarly community with the rest of the literary world in annual celebration of Shakespeare’s words and their influence on our world,” said Dr. David Kilpatrick, Chair of the Department of Literature and Language.

This year’s performance was earlier than in past years. Throughout the years here at Mercy College the English Department often celebrates Christie Day as close as possible to April 23, which is Shakespeare’s assumed birthday. This year however the day was celebrated earlier in order to ensure that A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be performed. It was critical to the English Department that this particular play would be performed because the capstone classes for the English majors are studying the play.

After the performance, the cast indulged the audience with a Q and A session.

“I enjoyed, as did the students I’ve talked to, their candid insights into the creative process, from how they remember lines, get into character, and overcome —or just deal with—stage fright to the challenges and joys of following your dreams,” said Dr. Kristen Keckler, program head of the undergraduate English department.

The play used modern elements throughout, such as well known music choices and the use of cell phones. Despite using these modern elements, the actors spoke in Elizabethan English, keeping true to Shakespeare’s language, but were still very understandable for the viewers. The play followed Shakespeare’s story but was portrayed differently from the way most who know the play would expect. An all female cast performed the play. This is a very large change from plays performed in the past. Originally, all of Shakespeare’s plays were performed by men, including all of the women characters.

“Only 10-12 percent of Shakespeare’s lines are written for women,” said actress Maggie McDowell.

Even though A Midsummer Night’s Dream does have two main characters who are women, the men throughout the play consistently have more lines. Having a cast of all women made a once very traditional play into a modern play, much needed for this day and age.

“The casting choice was a bold contemporary subversion of the Elizabethan all-male convention,” said Kilpatrick.  “An all female cast on a set designed like a slumber party forced us to see the relationships in this familiar favorite in an interesting new light.”

And clearly, the actresses loved the opportunity to perform in roles that they never had an opportunity for in the past.

“It’s been a really fun experience. We get to explore what its like to be like a man and how they take up space and have personalities where we don’t need to ask,” said actress Emily Ota.

   A Midsummer’s Night Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most well known comedies. As one would expect, it was full of laughter and head scratching moments. The play focuses around Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius.  The relationships between the four main characters is very familiar to those that know any Shakespearian works.  Hermia’s father wants her to marry Demetrius while Hermia is in love with Lysander.  Helena is not only friends with Hermia but she is also in love with Demetrius.  After Hermia is given an ultimatum by her father her and Lysander plan on running away to get married against Hermina’s father’s wishes. Helena hears about Hermia and Lysander’s plan to run away and tells Demetrius. Helena then follows Demetrius into the woods hoping that he will realize his love for her. While in the woods chaos quickly ensues. Mysterious fairies are at play, a nasty love triangle is formed, and a man’s head is transformed into that of a donkey’s. In true Shakespearian comedic fashion, the play is resolved with a classic “They all lived happily ever after” scenario.

This years Christie Day was the 31st celebration for the English Department. English Major, Jayliss Pichardo, 23, believes that this event is important for English majors. “The play was funny and really put together well.  I’m glad that they have this event every year.  People don’t always take English majors seriously.  They only think that we just write papers.  This event proves otherwise.”