Although he founded a theater company dedicated to Shakespeare, Austen Anderson took some time to warm up to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“At the end of ‘Macbeth’ last year, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to direct next,” said Anderson, who is directing the comedy for Animal Fire Theatre that is opening tonight. Like last summer’s “Macbeth,” it’s a free outdoor production.
“I thought ‘Midsummer’ might be fun, and then I said, ‘No, I don’t want to do that show.’ It took me a year of thinking about it.”
The play just seemed too straightforward. “This show gets done quite a bit. We had a reading last year, and it was really fun, and I thought, ‘It seemed like that was kind of easy. Is that it?’ ”
The play about young love is a good fit for the mostly 20-something company. But practical considerations weren’t what changed his mind.
“I did a lot of research on the show,” he said. “When you get into it, the reason it gets done over and over again is because there’s depth to it. I had to find that depth.”
He found the depth in the fairies, researching the mythology behind them and how Shakespeare adapted it to his purposes.
“Fairies used to be the things that went bump in the night,” he said. “The word ‘stroke’ comes from ‘elf struck’ or ‘elf stroke.’ If someone had a stroke, they thought the fairies got him. When ancient men found arrows, they thought they were fairy arrows that had missed.
“It was a way to explain things that were unexplainable. That ties into love because love is unexplainable.”
Jeff Painter of Animal Fire is a fan of the play, which he saw and loved at Harlequin Productions in 2006.
“That was a really amazing production, and that’s probably what got me hooked on Shakespeare,” he said.
Painter plays one of the show’s young lovers, Demetrius, who is in relationship with one woman and in love with another.
“I’ve been cast as a young lover a lot lately,” he said. “This one is easier to get a grasp of because it’s more complicated. It’s not just poetry. He’s after something that he doesn’t have yet.
“I can relate to not having what I want, for sure.”
In the fall, he played Lucentio in Harlequin’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” and he’s not the only one in the cast who’s appeared on the stage of State Theater.
Puck is played by Brian Hatcher, who played Vincentio, Lucentio’s father, in “Shrew.”
Anya Johnson, Animal Fire’s Tatiana, played Helena in Harlequin’s “Midsummer.” “I think this is her fifth or sixth production of it,” Painter said. “It’s one of those shows that gets done a lot.”
While audiences might know this play, they likely haven’t seen it produced in a park because that is still something of a novelty in Olympia.
And the wooded setting is ideal for the show, set in an enchanted forest. “Priest Point Park is the perfect backdrop,” Painter said.
Last summer’s production of “Macbeth” drew more than 1,000 people over its three-weekend run. The company decided to add a fourth weekend for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“It was amazing last year,” Anderson said. “Every weekend the crowd got bigger, so I figured there might be demand for that extra weekend.”