Gabriela Geselowitz (Hunter ’13), a double Theatre and Journalism major, undertook a rare and ambitious senior thesis project. Her production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with a steampunk twist, generated waves amongst Macaulay Hunter students, with sold out shows playing at Macaulay Central on April 15th, 16th, 17th, 21st, and 22nd at Macaulay Central.
So what inspired Geselowitz to crown her four years at Hunter with this project? And what exactly is “steampunk” for the uneducated amongst the masses (myself included)?
I sat down with Gabriela to find out why.
JJ: What inspired you to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
GG: The Hunter Theatre Department has no specific requirements for producing an Honors Thesis, and I felt that just writing a paper wouldn’t be as much of practical use (or a test) of what I had learned. I decided to create some sort of performance, and essentially sat down and wrote out a list of what inspires me. A Midsummer Night’s Dream and steampunk both stuck out because they seemed to fit naturally together. So I just ran with it from there.
JJ: What exactly is steampunk and how did it play into your direction of the play?
GG: Yeah, so the steampunk thing. I’ve had to explain steampunk a lot lately. The simplest answer I can give is that it’s a creatively anachronistic twist on Victorianism, so that’s what I did with the visual elements of the play. Different characters fit into different alternate versions of Victorianism, and our set had a mechanical look to it. My various designers were all brilliant.
JJ: What did you hope to achieve and send as a message to your audience?
GG: I was hoping first and foremost that the audience would have fun. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favorite play in part because it’s hilarious, but people have often said to me that they don’t find Shakespeare funny. And although it sounds like a contradiction, I was also hoping on communicating through steampunk some of the more serious undertones of the play, like gender and class, and maybe even show how steampunk can be taken more seriously as a genre.
JJ: Did you expect the type of turnout you received at each of the nights’ your play was on? What is the response to the play you’ve received thus far?
GG: Tickets were free, but we ended up selling out our run! We had wait lists to replace people who didn’t show up, so we were full almost every night. I was confident turnout would be good, but I didn’t think it would be that good! The audience was mostly friends and family of the cast, crew, and creative teams, but we also got curious outsiders, like Hunter or Macaulay students, and a few faculty members.
In terms of response to the play, that was the tricky thing. I heard a lot of great feedback, but I directed, and people self-moderate when it becomes personal. Objectively, I think it went pretty well. I’d say the more “serious” aspects of the play got lost, but the compliment I heard the most was how fun it was and how accessible the material was. This is fantastic, because I wanted the humor of the play to come off first and foremost. Every night I’d sit there and hold my breath waiting for the audience to laugh, but they always did. I think I was able to show why A Midsummer Night’s Dream is so engaging to me, and how amazing the text is if you don’t look at the language as an obstacle. Closing the play was surreal and poignant after all the work I put into it (and still am, as we tie up loose ends with the likes of money issues and finding pieces that got lost during strike), but I’m super happy I did it, and super lucky I met the people who helped me along every step of the way.
JJ: Erm, there was a strike while you were directing?
GG: Oh “strike” is when you take down the set after a show closes, and we’re still trying to account for everything.
JJ: Haha, got it. How did you finance your production?
GG: I financed my production through my Opportunities Fund.
JJ: What was it like having the comedy played at Macaulay?
GG: I was really lucky to have the Macaulay space. It was easy to get there from Hunter each day (if not as easy to get back to the Hunter dorms after rehearsal), and it was such a blessing that it was free. In addition, the staff at Macaulay were awesome. The security guards knew the cast by the end of the production. It was also great being able to use the building more than I have in the past, and to bring people there who hadn’t been there, or even aware that it existed.
JJ: Is this the first theater production you’ve directed/produced?
GG: I’ve never done anything of this magnitude! I directed Hunter’s entry into Macaulay SING last year (and we won!), but that was nothing compared to this. It consumed my life for nearly four months.
JJ: What did you learn about producing this play?
GG: I learned not only about the directing process, but about managing a team. My departmental advisor gave me free reign, so I had no one to answer to, which was a first. I had lots of support from my production team, but it was scary that when I made a mistake so many other people were affected, and I had to learn to claim responsibility when things went wrong. Also, because of the smaller scale of the production, I had to do things that wouldn’t necessarily have fallen into the director’s role. So I think I learned something about nearly every facet of theatre production (pro-tip: actors like when you feed them). Seriously, I would not have made it two weeks without support, especially my Stage and Production manager, HyoJu Hong, who knew what I should be doing even when I wasn’t doing it.