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Midsummer's Magic

A 40-year Reunion & A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Reflections on Transformation

My square dancing partner from 4th grade, Lance Atkinson, had invited as many cast members as possible from the 1981 Delta High School production of Midsummer's Night Dream to meet for a reunion at the Shakespeare Festival.

Cedar City’s Sizzler restaurant in Utah was our gathering place for dinner. My husband and I waited eagerly to see some familiar faces. Soon we saw a few friends come through the door. Georgia and Norman embraced in an extended hug. Brothers Russ and Rick extended big smiles and warm hugs. Was that really Lori Dutson? Has it really been 40 years?

After perusing the buffet we met in a back room, but we were all more interested in catching up than eating. Everyone wanted to speak about Mr. Lister, the director, creator, artistic eye and the one who pulled the magic out of us. Under his leadership, our group synergy produced the best rendering of the play that I have ever seen. We reminisced over old newspaper clippings, photos, and playbills that had been kept in a box until now. It was strange to see familiar faces that once were young and now were, well, a bit older.

Sitting across the table from me, Georgia shared her feelings. “When I think of a person who has had a huge influence in my life, the name Norman Lister is at the top of my list. It all started with singing in musicals and choir and ended up including Shakespeare’s, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The thought of doing Shakespeare to a 17-year-old me held little appeal. After all, it wasn’t a musical! However, I was encouraged to audition and because I am “so dwarfish” and “so low,” I was cast as Hermia.”

She continued: “Norman Lister was brilliant in his direction, and the show was a tremendous hit. He believed in me and inspired me throughout my high school years, and because of that, I ended up studying vocal performance. I taught vocal performance at a performing arts high school, and have my own private vocal studio for 27 years now. Thank you, Norman Lister, for the incredible gift you shared of being that rare teacher who has the ability to inspire those within your reach. You’re simply the best and I’ll be forever grateful to you.”

Mindy Moody, who played the role of Helena, drove with her husband for 7 hours from Snowflake, Arizona to join the reunion. After visiting with her for a brief moment, she shared her memories of being in the production. “Mr. Lister moved to Delta my sophomore year of high school. I knew our music program was going to soar when we started the musical that year. His vision for what he wanted to accomplish was amazing! For those three years, he provided numerous opportunities for me to grow in acting, singing, and accompanying. He was the main catalyst in my decision to major in music education at BYU. My senior year, he decided to produce Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” I wasn't that interested: it was spring and I was graduating soon, but I thought I'd check out the auditions. I got the part of Helena. Not only was the play a blast to participate in, but I got to work closely with Mr. Lister in a non-musical setting so the focus was on the acting.”

Cumon David Cropper, who played Nick Bottoms, was introspective as he realized the influence being in the show had on his life. “Mr. Lister: What a great legacy to have touched so many lives in such a lasting and profound way. In the 9th grade it was such a leap for me to commit to audition as a braying donkey. Norman saw that commitment, brought me out of my shell, and set me on a path that I followed to college when I graduated with a BA in Theatre Arts all the way through graduate school when I graduated with an MA in Performance Studies.” It is a perspective that I didn’t fully appreciate until seeing the show again with this “original cast.”

Sitting to my right was Tom Ashby who played Dimitris. With gratitude, he shared his memories of being in the show: “When the opportunity came up to be in “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” —although I didn't know much about Shakespeare as a farm boy and junior in high school in rural Utah—I thought to myself, “If Mr. Lister is directing this, I want in.” The night of the first performance remains etched in my memory. As the lights went up and the audience filled the room, I felt a mixture of nervousness and excitement. But I knew I had put in the effort to remember my lines, and to execute my movements and gestures the way we had practiced it, and we practiced a lot. The mantra was, practice enough until you can get it right, then keep going until you can't get it wrong. Right from the opening scene and the crowd’s response, I knew we had a great performance to give. My nervousness turned to confidence. I fed on the playful enthusiasm of my cast mates which synergistically turned our performance magical.”

After leaving the Sizzler, we made our way to the festival. The sun was low on the horizon and we were all busy talking again and finding our seats. As we watched Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Engelstad outdoor theater, memories were sparked by the lines and plots that we all once knew so well. Looking around I could see many smiles and reminiscing on the faces of my friends. After the curtain call and bows, we met in the dimly lit area outside the theater to get one last photo and say goodbye. It was hard to leave everyone that we had just become reunited with. We all gathered around Lance to thank him for making this reunion possible. He wanted to let us all know who was really responsible by saying,” I really want to thank Norm for having such a positive impact on me and bringing so much joy to my life from way back then to the present. He was the one that really brought us together.“

My husband Andrew had been fortunate to be tutored by Mr. Lister in several plays and musicals and had played the role of Lysander. Other cast members had brought their partners to the show but I was one of the few who had actually seen the 1981 version at Delta High. I went to all the performances because I loved it so much. I have never laughed as hard as I did during that performance. Time flew like fairy dust and it was getting late. We slowly parted one by one until only a few of us were left to walk back to our cars together. Not having memories like we did in our youth, we can’t remember as clearly and it's only a dreamlike memory now, “ Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep we dream.” But for a midsummer’s eve in Cedar City for a few hours Mr, Lister and crew were able to be wide awake reliving fond memories and connections. I might have seen his face or heard him from the shadows say, “So much joy, so much joy... ‘So, good night unto you all.’”

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