top of page
latinx theatre, devised theatre, latinx Shakespeares, community shakespeare, bilingual theatre, bilingual shakespeares

A Holtville Night’s Dream

By: Alison Carey in collaboration with the people of Holtville, California

Directed by: Laurie Woolery

Cornerstone Theater Company (Holtville, CA) - 2007

 

 

A Holtville Night’s Dream (2007)

by Jordan Kessler

A Holtville Night’s Dream was an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed in 2007 at the Finley Elementary School Auditorium. It was adapted by Alison Carey in collaboration with the people of Holtville, California, and directed by Laurie Woolery. Holtville is ten miles from the Mexico border, and has a population of less than 6,000 people, over 80% of whom are Hispanic/Latino.[1]

This was a part of The Cornerstone Institute Summer Residency, which “is an annual four-week program that takes place every summer in a unique California community.”[2] Cornerstone is a Los Angeles based theatre company, founded in 1986, dedicated to making theatre with local communities.[3] Laurie Woolery, who directed A Holtville’s Night’s Dream, said “the goal is to empower communities to build on what makes them unique and embrace that heritage.”[4]

The play itself was set in a fantastical imagining of Holtville in the present (2007), just before their (real) annual Carrot Festival and Parade; Holtville is the “Carrot Capital of the World.”[5] I say fantastical because Peter Quince and his acting troupe are supposed to be a troupe of vegetables. In addition, there are repeated interludes from characters of Holtville’s past. For example, there are recurring Viking puppets that the actors refer to as the first people to travel to Holtville. There is also a gaggle of women in traditional Mexican attire that speak exclusively in Spanish and comment on the show throughout it—utilizing chismosas as a theatrical device and akin to a Greek chorus. However, the audience knows the story is set in the present day because the lovers, their parents, Hippolyta, and Theseus have time-specific lines: most notably a joke about MySpace. 

Ten members of Cornerstone Theater Company performed alongside fifty-two community members, and one local youth serving on the backstage crew. The cast members ranged in age from toddlers to middle aged adults. The defining aspect of this adaptation was how the writers re-wrote the play-within-the-play to showcase the story of Holtville’s founding by Jefferson & Greenfield, one man being an innovative thinker, the other having the means to make his business partner’s dream a reality. Together, they diverted the Colorado River to pass through Holtville, turning a previously barren landscape into a lucrative farming town. With multiple cast members portraying vegetables, the “Vegetables try desperately to put on a play about “The Winning of Barbara Worth” while teenagers find themselves tangled in a web of love complicated by football rivalries.”[6] The 1911 novel and the 1926 silent film, The Winning of Barbara Worth, was set and then filmed in the area, and today a country club and resort in Holtville are named after Barbara Worth, as is a junior high school in nearby Brawley.

Additionally, this production was a musical, as the actors sang “If You Wanna Be My Lover,” “Gimme Shelter,” “You are my Sunshine,” and “The Chicken Dance” in the piece. The play opened with a song, “El Amor Que He Soñado, written and performed by Carlos Madrigal, a local musician and cast member. Each song had disparate, detailed choreography. These musical interludes functioned as a way to involve greater numbers of cast members, particularly the young ones, in the performance. Finally, instead of Bottom the human being transformed to have a horse’s rear, Bottom was a Carrot that was transformed to have a duck’s head (specifically, Dippy Duck, the safety mascot of Imperial Irrigation District).[7] Perhaps this was done to make the performance more appropriate for young viewers and cast members.

The set was a proscenium stage, though some characters entered from the main audience aisle. Downstage left was decorated with brooms standing up on their handles to look like crops ready for harvest. Upstage left had a podium for the host of the Carrot Festival. The cohort of women commenting on the show sat directly in front of the stage on the left and right sides and would stand up to share their opinions throughout the show. Puck was a swim instructor, and the fairies were all mirages, who appeared to me as members of a junior swim team. As aforementioned, Peter Quince and his fellow acting troupe members wore large, plush, vegetable costumes, and Bottom as a carrot stood out considering the excitement around the impending Carrot Festival. Other characters that were vegetables included melons, broccoli, corn, lettuce, cotton, onions, and alfalfa, all local crops to the area. The lovers and their families wore casual, modern clothing. Oberon wore a white tank top, a chain, low rise jeans, a bandana, and a gold chain. Titania wore an entirely gold dress - perhaps indicating she is the essential sunshine to this farming community. Dressing the characters in attire customary to the people of the town (and as literal vegetables) combats the common assumption that Shakespeare’s works are reserved for the elite.

The show was performed entirely in English, aside from the cohort of women in traditional Mexican attire who spoke exclusively in Spanish. According to NYU, 810 people attended the show.[8] In the recording I watched, a chorus of comrades in the first row, as well as audience members cheered loudly when characters made their first entrances and had raucous applause at the end of the show. The audience was packed. There was one intermission. The show ran for an hour and thirty-six minutes, excluding the intermission.

This review is written based on this filmed version, available through NYU [9].

OCTOBER 2022

[1] “CA-Holtville City: 2010 Census Ineractive Population Search,” Census.Gov. Accessed 9 Dec 2022.

[2] Cornerstone Theater Company. (n.d.). Institute summer residencies. Cornerstone Theater Company. Retrieved October 17, 2022.

[3] Prior Shakespearean-inspired shows included The Marmath Hamlet (1986), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1988), Romeo and Juliet in Port Gibson, Mississippi (1988), The Winter’s Tale: An Interstate Adventure (1991), Twelfth Night, Or as You Were (1994), Too Noble Brothers (1997), and As You Like It: A California Concoction (2006).

[4] Brianna Lusk, “Holtville Gets a Taste of Shakespeare, Imperial Valley Press, 25 July 2007. A6.

[5] “Carrot Capital of the World – Carrot Parade & Festival,” See California, seecalifornia.com. Accessed 9 Dec 2022.

[6] Brianna Lusk, “Tales, Holtville Lore Brought To Life On Stage,” Imperial Valley Press, ivpressonline.com. 5 August 2007.

[7] Lusk, “Holtville Gets a Taste.”A6.

[8] Carey, A., Woolery, L., & Cornerstone Theater Company. (2007, August 4). Video: A Holtville Night's dream. NYU Libraries. Retrieved October 17, 2022.

[9] To note, I had difficulty with the audio in the recording at times, which challenged my ability to translate with my already elementary level Spanish. 

All ephemera courtesy of Cornerstone Theater Company
A Holtville Night's Dream By: Alison Carey in collaboration with the people of Holtville, California - Cornerstone Theater Company (2007)
Photography by: Todd Kranin
A Holtville Night's Dream By: Alison Carey in collaboration with the people of Holtville, California - Cornerstone Theater Company (2007)
Art by: Estrelles y Flores © Simón Silva 1997
A Holtville Night's Dream By: Alison Carey in collaboration with the people of Holtville, California - Cornerstone Theater Company (2007)
Photography by: Kate Duffly
A Holtville Night's Dream By: Alison Carey in collaboration with the people of Holtville, California - Cornerstone Theater Company (2007)
Photography by: Kate Duffly
bottom of page