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Returning to live theater is a midsummer night’s dream

Needham Community Theatre cast members rehearse "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Needham Community Theatre cast members rehearse "A Midsummer Night's Dream."Handout

After a yearlong delay caused by the pandemic, the pieces were finally falling into place for Needham Community Theatre’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The group had secured an outdoor venue in Newton Highlands that would comply with the state’s rapidly changing guidelines for public performances. It had a mid-July date, which seemed ironically more fitting for this particular play than the original debut in May 2020.

When Needham Community Theatre board member Nicki Ramshaw sent an e-mail to the cast members proclaiming, “We’re doing ‘Midsummer’ in midsummer!” most of them responded immediately that they wanted to return.

Unfortunately, though, a couple of the actors were no longer available due to various life changes. One had moved away, another had a new baby.

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Most pressingly, someone was needed to play Hermia. “Things were just crazy and complicated enough that we didn’t want to hold open auditions the way we usually would,” said Ramshaw.

Fortunately, Ramshaw, who will play Puck, remembered a talented young actor named Eliza Morton who had played her daughter in “Miracle on 34th Street” in 2015. Even more fortunately, Morton, now a rising high school senior, was available and interested in the summer production. And even more fortunately still, Morton had played the same role at a Concord Academy production in 2019, so she already knew the part.

For Morton, a 17-year-old from Lexington who has been passionate about both theater and film since early childhood and has the professional resume to prove it, returning to the stage after a year of lockdown is a midsummer night’s dream indeed.

Though she kept busy with Zoom performances, a playwriting club and a few film opportunities, “It was a huge loss to go a whole year without any live theater,” Morton said. “Productions over the past year have meant filming or recording yourself and sending it in. After a year of that, it feels fantastic to be rehearsing outside with other people in a live setting. On Zoom, even with everyone present and reading their parts, you don’t react to each other the same way. Nothing is like the magic of being in a performance space.”

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Moving from an indoor theater to an outdoor stage will necessitate some changes in the direction, Ramshaw said. “Originally we had a very different concept. Now we’re going with the more outdoorsy, woodsy look.” But, she pointed out, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” takes place in a forest and naturally lends itself to open-air staging.

“We wish we could do more than a couple of performances, and of course we’re sorry as a Needham-based troupe not to be in Needham,” Ramshaw said. “But the space in Newton is perfect for these circumstances. It has electricity, an outdoor stage, lighting, bathrooms.”

Looking out over an audience for the first time in fifteen months will be a remarkable experience, Morton imagines. “There’s a specific moment I love in live theater where you can hear the audience react,” she said. “It’s something I’d appreciated on some level before, but I hadn’t understood how important it is to me. Missing out on all these months of performing has really made me realize how much I love it and how much I missed it.”

The performances will take place at 7 p.m. on July 17 and 18 at the Hyde Playground Bandstand, 90 Lincoln St., Newton Highlands. Admission is free. For more information, go to www.needhamtheatre.org.

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Nancy Shohet West can be reached at nancyswest@gmail.com.