After 500 Performances, The Donkey Show Still Turns Heads

500 Days of Disco
Dancers perform in the Donkey Show's 500th performance on March 8 at the Oberon theater in Harvard Square. The American Repertory Theater disco show is inspired by Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream".

As The Donkey Show celebrated its 500th performance on Saturday, cast and audience members reflected on the show’s evolution within the Harvard Square theater scene and its ability to continue to engage audiences.

"It's everything that I love,” performer Kyle P. Vanzandt said of The Donkey Show after the anniversary performance. “Glitter and dancing, and [the 1970s singer] Donna Summer.”

Covered with heavy doses of glitter, performers at The Donkey Show don disco-ball bras and feathered outfits, transforming the entire Oberon theatre into equal parts stage and nightclub. The two-hour spectacle is a loose interpretation of Shakespeare's play “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” set to 1970s-era disco music.

The 500th show on Saturday kicked off with disco dancing, led by four male actors dressed as the play’s fairy characters. After an hour, a male announcer welcomed the audience to "a pure boogie wonderland where all you beautiful people can do a little dance and make a little love,” marking the beginning of the theatrical portion of the show.

"I felt like I was Carrie Bradshaw [in Sex and the City],” audience member Crystal L. Curry commented. “It was very much theatrical New York meets Boston-Cambridge...nitty-gritty Broadway.”

The show, created and directed by Diane M. Paulus ’87, began in New York in 1999 before coming to Cambridge’s American Repertory Theatre, where Paulus serves as artistic director, in 2009. Despite the show’s long run, performers agreed that the dynamic nature of the show keeps it fun and fresh.

"[The show] has evolved with every realm of performers, but it has still stayed true to its original production," Hannah E. Shihdanian, an actress in the show, said.

She added that she finds it "amazing that a show can survive for five years in Harvard Square."

500 Days of Disco
Dancers perform in the Donkey Show's 500th performance on March 8 at Oberon in Harvard Square. The American Repertory Theater disco show is inspired by Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Vanzandt called attention to the dynamic role of the audience in keeping the show interesting.

"What makes the show so special is that depending on the audience the show is different,” he said. “I’ve done the show different every single time I’ve done it."

Many audience members said they enjoyed the show’s engaging energy.

"I already plan on coming back,” audience member Amanda E. Manning said. “I plan on bringing my mom.”

According to cast members, it is not only the show’s outlandish acts that make it so endearing to viewers, but also its positive atmosphere.

"It’s a happy place," Shihdanian said. “It’s place where you can be yourself and really express yourself, no matter what age you are and no matter what your orientation is.”

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