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“The typical Shakespeare production follows an odd convention: a contemporary setting with Elizabethan language. What if we flipped that? Contemporary language with an Elizabethan setting. What might we learn about the plays from putting them through that lens?” 

— Lue Douthit | President of Play On Shakespeare

Recently, GLT Associate Artistic Director Sara Bruner sat down with Education Outreach Associate David Hansen to discuss the unique experience of Jeff Whitty’s “Play On” translation of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which Bruner will direct for Great Lakes Theater’s 2024-2025 season.

David: Who is the perfect audience for a “Play On” production?
Sara: Everyone! It will help new audiences develop an appreciation, as this text will build a bridge between them and Shakespeare. There is more laughter from these audiences, more joy, more connection. A more immediate response, more recognition.

Hardcore Shakespeare lovers, this play is for them as well, because they already understand the text, they have seen these stories told many in different ways – and what is this but an experiment to get us all thinking and talking and get excited about Shakespeare. There is great opportunity for different generations to enjoy this Shakespeare together.

David: How does the “Play On” translation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” compliment the English curriculum?
Sara: There are those textbooks, “No Fear Shakespeare” for example, that explain line for line what every sentence in Shakespeare means. The fact that these guides exist tell us that this stuff is hard. “No Fear” is the simplest version, these texts are not concerned about the poetry of Shakespeare.
 “Play On” playwright-translator, Jeff Whitty is dedicated to the poetry of Shakespeare, and what he, Shakespeare, meant in his cultural context, and Whitty translates that to what it means in ours. It’s so language-based, this endeavor, it makes sense in the context of curriculum as it relates to English and English language.

There is an opportunity to engage students more, because it will pop off the page more. The words will feel more relevant to them instantly. Then they can take a step back and look at the Shakespeare on the page, and see that in comparison to this. This will build a stronger relationship to the actual text.

David: How literate is Whitty’s translation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”? How poetic? How funny?
Sara: It’s incredible playful, funny, and it is a contemporary parallel to what Shakespeare was pursuing with his language, every bit as poetic. You don’t have to pull out your lexicon, it offers immediate access. It’s everything that Shakespeare’s original is, and more, because the audience is provided with more access to meaning and moments than they were before.

David: How would an audience at the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare’s day respond to this “Play On” translation to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”?
Sara: Similar to how we respond to Shakespeare’s language now! There would be a cultural disconnect, a linguistic, societal disconnect. They would still be able to laugh and tell how things are funny, they would get the gist, but I think their reaction would be similar to ours are to Shakespeare’s.

David: What does “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” have to say to an audience in 2024? How does this “Play On” translation bring forward the contemporary relevance of Shakespeare’s text?
Sara: This is a play about all kinds of versions of love and how it can go really right and how it can go really wrong. Whether it’s parent to child, whether its young lovers, or older lovers, whether it’s the guys you work with and you learn to bond through a process like putting on a play, love is at the center of this. It’s a meditation on how love can be great and how it can be hard.

Lysander says to Hermia early on in the play, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” That idea is pretty easy to understand, it’s super poetic, most people get it, and that’s a line that Whitty didn’t change. Because he didn’t have to. What we have access to, we get to keep, and what’s difficult to unlock, this language is the key to doing that. 

Side-by-Side Demonstration

Side-by-Side Demonstrations from other Play On Shakespeare translations:

King Lear

Translator: Marcus Gardley
Dramaturgs: Nakissa Etemad & Philippa Kelly

Act 3 • Scene 4

Lisa Wolpe steps into an important moment in the play King Lear. Lear and his followers have rushed out into the storm and have found shelter out on the heath. It’s as different from his privileged life as king as could possibly have. In a good story, people must make decisions that can change the trajectory of their lives. In this moment of the play, something big is about to change

Romeo & Juliet

Translator: Hansol Jung
Dramaturg: Aaron Malkin

Act 1 • Scene 1

In the opening scene of Romeo and Juliet, we find Sampson and Gregory, played by actors Rodney Gardiner & Amy Kim Waschke, two servants of the house of Capulet, strolling through the streets of Verona. They discuss their contempt for their rival family, the Montagues. We experience the Capulet companions discussing violence as tools to dominate their rivals.


Translator: Migdalia Cruz
Dramaturg: Ishia Bennison

Act 1 • Scene 7

With a performance by actor Wayne T. Carr, this scene (Macbeth, Act I, Scene VII) finds Macbeth as he contemplates the planned assassination of King Duncan. We see Macbeth in a room in his castle, meditating on whether to murder Duncan, which would allow him to seize the throne of Scotland for himself.

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