The cast and crew of a 'Midsummer Nights Dream.' (photo by Michael Hallisey/Spotlight News)
DELMAR — Rumor has it that James Yeara is retiring.
“That’s the rumor I hear,” said the longtime Bethlehem Central High School teacher and director.
Yeara has taught at Bethlehem Central for 33 years. Next week, he turns 59, and no one on the school staff was around when he first brought William Shakespeare to the stage in 1988. His first mistake was voicing his thoughts about retirement a few years ago. Each cast from 2012 has believed their director was leaving. Today, the rumor continues to circulate around the high school auditorium as he prepares students for this year’s production of William Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“Midsummer Night’s Dream,” plays at the Bethlehem Central High School on the evenings of Dec. 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 7 p.m., and afternoon showings Dec. 11 and 18 at 2 p.m.
This year the Theatre Without A Net shifts the setting of Shakespeare’s comedy from Greece to 1969 Woodstock.
To this day, Woodstock is known for the magical music festival that represented more of a microcosm of a generation than a three-day concert. And, though that festival retained the name Woodstock, the music, the dancing, the entire congregation took place on a farmland in Bethel. Still, that hasn’t deterred Woodstock from becoming a center for liberal arts.
“It’s sort of a mythology that’s grown up in the town of Woodstock, of the mavericks and the free spirits,” said Year. “It’s commercialized as any place else. Theseus talks about, ‘The power of the imagination.’ He doesn’t believe it. He thinks it’s all ridiculous that there are fairies there. For Shakespeare, there were fairies there. There was a spirit in the woods. And, with Woodstock, we worked with that.”
The original plot circulates around the marriage of Theseus to Hippolyta, but there is a bit of a love triangle that plays out between four young lovers and the hijinks brought on by woodland fairies. Squint your eyes, and maybe you see fairies when looking back at 1969.
“It was a revolutionary time,” said Hunter Frederick, who plays Titania. “There was a lot of thinking, the freedom of thought. It goes well with the show. Having fun and being free.”
This year’s production will be the last for Hunter and her twin sister, Heather. The 17-year-old seniors graduate in June with aspirations of continuing drama in college.
Heather and Hunter are not too far removed from the mischievous play of the fairies they portray in the production. Growing up as identical twins, they recalled attempting to fool their third-grade teacher. However, they admit there is enough differences between their appearance to help people tell them apart.
“Though, I’m sure if we did it now, we could get away with it,” said Heather, who plays Puck.
Both actors credit their director for enabling them to place themselves inside the heads of each of their characters. Answering the questions of who they are, and what do they want?
“He’s a great director and teacher,” said Hunter. “He’s taught for such a long time, and now he’s retiring.”
For the record, Yeara has no plans to retire at the end of the year. But, had he made plans, he would leave on the same Shakespearean play his collegues once told him would be too difficult for high school students. Before 1988, and before earning tenure, Yeara was discouraged from producing Shakespeare as a whole. Today, he has students earning accolades for reciting the bard.
Nonetheless, it remains to be seen if Yeara will continue on to see the vast amount of changes scheduled for his auditorium.
Last month, district residents passed a $32.2 million bond referendum, the cornerstone of the project is a $7.8 million renovation of the existing high school auditorium, including: new seating, lighting, acoustics, and air conditioning; the addition of a new “fly loft” above the stage; addition of a sound and lighting control room; and expansion of the stage proscenium to provide more usable stage space and greater visibility for audience and performers, as well as allow the stage to be extended into the pit area.
“I’m getting to the point that it would be lovely to stay until they actually renovate this,” he said. … I don’t know. Four years is a long time.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.