The plays of William Shakespeare are usually performed in theatres.
But plenty of companies - in New York, Sydney and Melbourne, to name a few - have shown that outdoor venues can also have their own special atmosphere. And Canberra is not to be outdone.
Lakespeare & Co is returning for its third year, presenting free public performances of the comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream.
While not all these free performances are adjacent to lakes, they're all outdoors at different locations. The founders of the company have dealt with lots of organisational, logistical and financial issues in bringing their dream - and their Dream - to life.
Directing this production is Tim Sekuless. He was a crew member on the inaugural production, Much Ado About Nothing, in 2018 and played Fabian in Twelfth Night in 2019. He has also directed and acted in productions for other companies including Canberra Repertory Society, where he was on the board for seven years.
He had a meeting with three members of the committee - Taimus Werner-Gibbings, Paul Leverenz and his sister Lexi Sekuless - in the middle of last year. It was part of the "wash-up" after each production where they seek feedback from various people.
Sekuless had no intention of directing for Lakespeare & Co. at the time but offered some dramaturgical thoughts about editing and working on the text for a possible production of Henry V.
"They must have quite liked it - they spontaneously asked me if I would like to direct A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Initially, he said no but was soon enticed, not only by the play but by the idea of providing opportunities for young actors to build up their professionalism in Canberra.
Sekuless collected his thoughts on the play in order to form a vision of the production he could present to the committee.
He's had a lot of experience with Dream: he played roles in the play when he was in year seven and at university as well as a more recent production at the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre.
There have been classes conducted by the Sekuless siblings and others in movement, speaking verse and other elements of the Shakespearean actor's craft to ensure consistency of approach.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy merging characters from both Greek and English mythology, in which young Athenian lovers in a forest are magically manipulated by the fairies who dwell there and who have their own issues.
A number of Shakespeare's plays are "deeply problematic in the Me Too era", Sekuless says, in their overt sexism and exploitation of women. Sekuless says he thought of the contrast between the "overt, explicit patriarchy of 425 years ago" and now, with the "insidious, unconscious biases and cultural prejudices that are unspoken and enforced by the status quo".
Sekuless says he thought of the contrast between the 'overt, explicit patriarchy of 425 years ago' and now, with the 'insidious, unconscious biases and cultural prejudices that are unspoken and enforced by the status quo'.
Sekuless has heavily cut the text and the number of characters. He's inserted some gender-bending and doubling. The Mechanicals, the itinerant troupe of actors who get caught up in the action, are played by the two sets of young lovers. The Athenian duke Theseus and his Amazonian wife Titania have been absorbed into the characters of Oberon, the king of the fairies, and his queen, Titania, merging the "real" and "fairy" worlds. As Sekuless points out, in Shakespeare's time the boundaries between the two were blurred - people believed, for example, that spirits such as the mischievous Puck did everything from curdle milk to cause miscarriages.
This was, he says, before the modern age where advances such as neuropsychology and behavioural economics gave us explanations for the unconscious and other phenomena. But he's mindful of the way such things as fashion and social media can influence and restrict people, much as the beliefs of an earlier period affected people then.
"Freedom and love are the themes that stand out to me from my earliest experiences of the play," he says.
The characters seek freedom from the tyranny and restrictions of those in power and the joy of love, but neither is simple to attain. While all this might sound complicated, even heavy, Sekuless believes some productions overemphasise the darkness in the play. He wants people to come and enjoy the comedy and romance of the play, and if some audience members are looking for deeper aspects, they will find them.
Sekuless, and the company, hope people will pack out the performances and enjoy one of Shakespeare's best-loved comedies as the sun sets.
- Free performances of Shakespeare by the Lakes III:A Midsummer Night's Dream are on at Tuggeranong Park on February 14 and 15 at 6.30pm, Kambri at ANU Outdoor Amphitheatre on February 16 at 4.30pm, February 21 at Glebe Park at 6.30pm, and February 22 and 23 on Patrick White Lawns in front of the National Gallery of Australia at 4.30pm. Ticketed performances: Shakespeare Down the Pub is on at Typica Cafe (formerly Ona) in Manuka (food service from 6pm, show at 7pm) and there will be dinner and show performances at Pialligo Estate Winery on February 27 and 28 at 7.30pm. More information and bookings: lakespeare.com/.