The Donkey Show

By Lauren LaDeau

The American Repertory Theater, or A.R.T. is a resident theater producing shows for the Boston area. The 2009/2010 year marks the 30th anniversary of the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. Since its start, it has rendered over two hundred productions. Partnering up with the Moscow Art Theater, it also serves as an institute for young artists.

In the fall of 2008, a new Artistic Director, Diane Paulus, was appointed. She came from New York with fresh new ideas that are revolutionizing the American Repertory Theater and changing the way we think about theater. With her lead, the A.R.T. developed a new concept which they refer to as “Experience the A.R.T.” With this new idea, they are giving the viewers an experience in theater they have not had before. There is no longer a separation of stage and audience, but cohesion of a social occasion and production. Their mission is to give the audience “a voice, a sense of ownership, and a feeling of importance in the theatrical event.”

The A.R.T. is presenting a festival this season called Shakespeare Exploded, featuring The Donkey Show, as well as Sleep No More, and Best of Both Worlds. The Donkey Show was brought to Boston after its successful six years in New York City and additional sensation from London to Seoul. It is an interpretation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream through a disco (yes, disco!) fantasy, featuring 70s hits, roller skates, feathers and of course, disco balls. The audience is right in the action too and can even dance along to the famous 70s hits.

I attended the Donkey Show recently with some friends and want to share our experience with you. Even before entering the venue, we were mingling with the characters walking down the street and couldn’t miss the 70s bouncer at the door. As soon as we got inside we were directed to the dance floor, where the disco ball was spinning and the lights were flashing. Our attention was immediately drawn to the men in small, tight, sequined metallic shorts, whose bodies were doused in gold glitter. They were sending quick waves and blowing kisses our way as they were breaking it down on top of large silver boxes in the middle of the floor. They even made their way over to dance with the “audience.” I put this in quotations because as soon as we set foot on the dance floor we were not in the year 2009, but had become part of the 70s disco club Oberon.

For about the first 45 minutes everyone was encouraged to dance and loosen up to the 70s tunes from the groovy DJ. The characters mingled, offering dances and conversing, making us feel we were truly transported back to the 1970s disco experience. We were able to recognize the characters and stories before the actual performance really began. The song and dance began, but the audience was still involved. People who bought table seats did not miss out either, because the characters jumped on top of tables, climbed on railings, and sifted through the tables.

The Donkey Show was definitely a raunchy take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, incorporating song and dance made popular in the 70s and mixing sexuality and humor. It was truly an experience that anyone who attends would enjoy. Those who grew up during the time will be taken back to their days in the disco, and those (like myself) who only knew of the 70s as disco music and bell bottoms will experience a culture that they never could have actually imagined before. It was a captivating performance that essentially melded the audience into the play, almost making the viewers forget they weren’t in fact at a disco club. One can expect to be humming a tune like “We Are Family” while shaking the glitter off on the wayout – and for days afterwards!

Photos Courtesy of the American Repertory Theater

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