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June 9, 2020

Director 'Dreams' up modern twist to Shakespeare classic for online SVSU play

Karla Kash is no stranger to directing challenging productions of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Once, she led a group of fourth graders portraying the zany Athenian characters featured in one of the world’s original romantic comedies. 
 
The Saginaw Valley State University assistant professor of theatre later this month will lead another challenging rendition of the play when she directs SVSU's second production presented via Zoom, the popular Internet teleconferencing program utilized by theatre companies during the pandemic. Audiences can watch the play live online for free at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 18. 
 
The Internet-based production allows actors to play roles from the comfort of their homes, with each actor occupying a single panel in a multi-panel video session. The setup means Kash will be organizing the production design and leading rehearsals with cast and crew remotely. 
 
“I tend to be a very physical director during rehearsals, so this will not be easy for me,” said the Dayton, Ohio native. “You’re missing that in-person human interaction that comes when you’re in the room with each other, but there are advantages to this format too.” 
 
One of those advantages: The audience will have unlimited access to her students’ work. 
 
While the play will be performed live, a recorded version also will be available for those unable to attend the debut.  And, while audiences will miss out on attending a play at SVSU’s beloved performing arts venues, the seating capacity is unlimited on the world wide web. Since SVSU hosted a Zoom production of “Macbeth” in mid-April, the recording has been viewed more than 9,700 times on Facebook. 
 
Kash said audiences can expect plenty of production value in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The play will also provide a very modern hook to the story's traditional aesthetic. While the cast will be portraying the classic characters in the setting of Athens, there will be 2020 elements including actors dressed to resemble people living during the COVID-19 pandemic. The characters will include “essential workers” as well as recognizable 21st century political figures and pop culture icons wearing protective face masks. 
 
“Since Shakespeare has been done so many hundreds of times, I think it’s good to play with it,” Kash said. “We are all living through this pandemic. Since it’s a comedy and since we all need a good laugh, I wanted something a little tongue-in-cheek in nature.” 
 
Kash said the production’s costume and set design crew will play critical roles. Clothing will be delivered to the homes of cast members not already equipped with the kind of wardrobe necessary for the play. The students and staff typically assigned to create elaborate settings in SVSU’s theatres instead will provide “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”-appropriate digital backgrounds that Zoom can utilize while still capturing acting performances in the foreground. 
 
While this production will mark Kash’s first time directing a play online, she has experience as an actor in the format. She played a role in a recent Midland Center for the Arts production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” 
 
“It’s a challenge as an actor,” she said. “I enjoy challenges.” 
 
The cast largely features SVSU students, but four of the 14 roles will be played by out-of-state professional stage actors that Kash previously has worked alongside. 
 
“This is going to be a great learning experience for our students to work with professional actors we couldn’t otherwise invite to participate in a campus production,” Kash said. 
 
Those students also will learn plenty from Kash, the latest addition to SVSU’s Department of Theatre faculty. Kash joined the university in August 2019. 
 
Her professional theatre experience includes acting, directing and serving as a fight choreographer. She played a role in the cast or crew of more than 150 productions. 
 
Kash’s “first loves” were musical theatre and dance, inspired in part by a formative experience attending a production of “Annie” as a young girl.
 
“After that, when I got home, I put on the album for ‘Annie’ and sang it at the top of my lungs,” she said. 
 
After taking acting lessons in high school, she continued pursuing her passion in college. She earned her bachelor’s degree in acting – with an emphasis on musical theatre and dance – from Wright State University in her hometown of Dayton. Later, she received a master’s degree in acting from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. 
 
Professionally, she worked in theatre in New York City and San Diego. Then she began a career in higher education on the faculty at Iowa State University before moving to her most recent stop at the University of Albany. Throughout the years, she also led theatre initiatives overseas including the Musical Theatre Summer Training Program at the International Lyric Academy in Italy. 
 
Along with teaching her first courses at SVSU this academic year, Kash also directed the university’s production of “Home For The Holidays” in December 2019. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be her second directing job at SVSU. 
 
To watch the production live on June 18 or to view the recording afterward, go to SVSU’s Department of Theatre Facebook page at https://bit.ly/3ctWDKX