This weekend was the annual awesomeness we like to call The Midsummer’s Eve Party. It started, as so many of our parties do, with someone (I think it was Jacob) saying that it would be fun to get together and do a read through of A Midsummer Night’s Dream actually on Midsummer’s. And then someone else said that it would be really fun to dress up in crazy costumes, and another person said we should do it outside, with cushions and things to recline on. And then Mariah (whose does nothing if she cannot do it Properly and Thoroughly) took the idea and ran with it. Now every year on the Saturday closest to the summer solstice, Mariah drags eight or nine massive tubs full of costumes (everything from evening gowns to rubber wading overalls, and so much in between) out of her basement and turns the downstairs of her apartment into one big costume shop. People arrive and begin dressing up, with high points going for originality and general craziness. (A common critique: “Yes, that’s nice, but you still look a little too normal.”) Once dressed, people filter out into the back yard, where food (home-smoked turkey breast, grilled veggies, Caprese salad, baked Brie, Mariah’s homemade sorbets and large bowls of trifle) and drink are set out on tables under the trees. The grass is spread with oriental carpets (carefully layered over tarps to protect them from damp) strewn with many, many cushions. Chinese lanterns and tiki torches provide light. After everyone is dressed properly, we pull parts out of a hat, and settle down to start reading the play.
We’ve been doing this for eight years now (possibly nine, but we can’t remember), and every year is wonderful in its own, unique way. It’s a party unlike any other you have every attended. In some ways the interesting part is seeing how the guests respond. It’s so over-the-top, so outside of your everyday experience, that it’s very challenging for some people. The first challenge is the dressing up. Will they really get the crazy aesthetic, or will they refuse to go beyond conventionally pretty/normal? Do they only require a little coaxing (which we’re happy to provide) or are they flat-out refusing to dress up? You never know who’s going to dive right in, and who will dig their heels in and say no. This seems especially difficult for guys, who too often seem to regard any kind of ornamentation as “too gay.” It’s a joy to discover a guy who’s secure enough to go for the makeshift kilt secured by a knitted scarf (like my uncle did this year), or the silver cowboy hat. And then, it’s interesting seeing how people handle their roles in the play. Do they ham it up, really getting into the parts, or are they uncomfortable with anything more than the simplest speaking role? Or do they refuse to have a role at all? Not everyone is comfortable trying to read (or able to pronounce) Shakespearean prose in front of an audience, but it’s always very sad to me when someone doesn’t want to take part, not even one of the roles with only one line.
The flip side of having an awesome party like this is how much work it takes. Mariah starts work months ahead of time, checking the thrift shops for new additions to the costume collection, and organizing strawberry picking expeditions for fruit to make into sorbet. Things ramp up the week before the party, coming to a head starting 24 hours before the party starts. People come over to Mariah & the Duchess’s house to help carry the big bins of costumes upstairs. Rosie smokes the turkey breasts and grills the vegetables in the back yard, and I’m usually working on the trifle, or making fruit tarts. Most of Saturday is spent laying the carpets in the back yard, setting up the racks of costumes, and putting the last touches on the food prep. The work continues after the party too, with people coming over on Sunday to help sort costumes and pack them away again for another year. By the time we got to Dad’s Father’s Day dinner Sunday evening everyone was moving slowly, and showing a strong tendency to flop over onto any available horizontal surface. But don’t worry – we’ll be ready to go all over again next year!