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Shakespeare in Yosemite Goes Big for Magical ‘Midsummer’

April 15, 2024
UC Merced Shakespeare in Yosemite cast
Cast members, from left, Steve Lyon (rehearsal assistant), Marion Roubal (Bottom), Sofia Andom (Titania) and Tonatiuh Newbold (Oberon). Photo by Amir Shirzadibonab.

There’s nothing small about this year’s Shakespeare in Yosemite production. It boasts the largest cast in the program’s seven-year history and, for the first time, features a full band to deliver the score and propel the musical numbers. The headcount for park staff in the cast is an all-time high.

“The stage will be very crowded for the curtain calls,” director Katie Brokaw said.

Then there’s the whole “a tale 90 years in the telling” setup for “A Midsummer Yosemite’s Dream.” The play, scheduled for performances April 25 at UC Merced’s Wallace Dutra Amphitheater and April 26-28 at Curry Village Amphitheater in Yosemite National Park, is inspired by a 1934 production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that never happened.

According to letters in the park’s historical archive, University of California and Yosemite officials discussed mounting a “Midsummer” production in front of Yosemite Falls. It would be directed by revered theater director and Austrian Jew Max Reinhardt, who fled to the States to escape the closing fist of Nazism. For reasons lost to time the plan fizzled; Reinhardt later staged the play at the Hollywood Bowl with a cast that included Mickey Rooney and Olivia de Havilland.

Spring forward nine decades to Brokaw, a UC Merced English professor who adeptly mixes the Bard with themes of ecological awareness and environmental protection, alongside catchy music and nifty dance moves. “A Midsummer Yosemite’s Dream” riffs on human impacts to the park’s ecosystem evident by the ’30s, such as motor vehicles, overzealous fire suppression and the damming of the Merced River.

The play opens in 1934, with its main fairy folk — Titania, Oberon, Puck and Ariel (representing water, fire, earth and air, respectively) — choosing to escape this fraught time by hibernating in a fire-scarred sequoia.

“We will return … when the mortals might once again live in balance with us,” says Titania, portrayed by UC Merced alumna Sofia Andom.

UC Merced Shakespeare in Yosemite performers
Rehearsing: Left photo (by William Serg George), L-R, Mickey Clark (Monkeyflower), Roubal, Hayden Namogostar (Juniper). Right photo (by Amir Shirzadibonab), L-R, Wayne Agbanlog (stage manager), Mia Hinshaw (Lysandra), Joey Serrano (Demetrius).

They emerge in 2024 and Shakespeare’s story plunges forward, as misfired enchantments scramble attractions among four young lovers while a group of local (and hilarious) skilled workers prepare to perform their play within a play, “Pyramus and Thisbe.”

Shakespeare in Yosemite productions could easily be called “Yosemite in Shakespeare” – the Elizabethan playwright’s words are weaved through lines and songs that celebrate the park’s soaring beauty and emphasize the vigilance needed to preserve it. Brokaw and music director Tonatiuh Newbold assembled a song list that draws from artists ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Gnarls Barkley.

Seven Yosemite rangers or members of the park’s hospitality staff are cast as the workers, along with UC Merced Professor Dave Ardell. Marion Roubal, a park ranger and telecommunications clerk, plays the boisterous Nicky Bottom, who is comically cursed with a donkey’s head by Puck’s mischievous magic.

“I get to be larger than life. I get to be the clown,” said Roubal, who has a degree in classical music and served as an associate director. She said rehearsals at the park were a joy. “We strengthened bonds and created new ones,” she said.

Shakespeare in Yosemite — scheduled around Earth Day each year — resonates with students in the production.

Mia Hinshaw (Lysandra): “I joined the show this year because performing in Yosemite is an experience that can't be matched,” the second-year psychology major said. “I see Lysandra as this charming character who fights for love. The dynamic between the four lovers is witty and sometimes competitive, but always caring.”

Wayne Agbanlog (stage manager): The first-year mechanical engineering major who caught the performing arts bug five years ago. “I saw the casting poster and signed up on a whim,” he said. “I’m just happy to be involved in theater here.”

Joey Serrano (Demetrius): “There’s so much talent in every member of the cast and crew,” said Serrano, a first-year global arts and writing major. “I can’t wait for audiences to see what we have in store for them. It’ll be an absolute blast!”

Sedney Suarez Gordon(associate director): Gordon, an interdisciplinary humanities graduate student, was part of “Fire, Water, Poison, Hope: California in 2023,” an original student-written play staged last fall. Gordon is from a Colombian island in South America. “Where I grew up, there is a deep connection to nature,” he said. “Connecting the dangers of climate change to the universal language of Shakespeare is so powerful.”

As Roubal noted, the mission of a park ranger is two-fold: provide enjoyment and education for today’s visitors while preserving the park for tomorrow’s.

“The message in the Yosemite in Shakespeare productions fits right in with what the National Park Service looks for,” she said.


Wallace-Dutra Amphitheater, UC Merced campus, 6 p.m. Thursday, April 25.

Curry Village Amphitheater, Yosemite National Park, 5 p.m. Friday, April 26; noon and 5 p.m. Saturday, April 27; noon Sunday, April 28.

How to Get to the Yosemite Shows

UC Merced buses will offer transportation to the park April 27-28, sponsored by the Outdoor Experience Program. Cost: $30 for UC Merced students, $60 for others. The buses will take you directly to the noon show and you’ll have time to hike afterward.

YARTS bus service from downtown Merced to Curry Village. Merced County and Mariposa County residents can apply for free bus tickets to the April 26-27 performances.

Driving yourself to Yosemite: For the noon April 27-28 shows, attendees need to book a morning reservation in advance. For the 5 p.m. show April 27, the park can be entered without a reservation after 4 p.m. If no reservations are initially available, check later; additional reservations are released one week in advance, on April 20 and 21.

No reservation to attend an April 27-28 performance is needed if you have a prior reservation at a Yosemite hotel or campsite that weekend or plan to enter on a bus. No reservation is needed for the Friday, April 26 performance.