Follow the fairies

Arts Abroad

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When you go abroad, you don’t always know what you’re in for. You can have your whole trip planned down to the bathroom breaks and wind up on a totally different adventure.

In 2014, my parents, sister and I went on a cruise to Europe. We left from England and set sail for France, Scotland and finally Ireland over a 10-day period. I was 16, and I was every bit the angsty romantic millennial you desperately hoped I wouldn’t be. A cruise was a chance to fall in love with a stranger at one of the bars I wasn’t old enough to get into. We could go on dates and play games that I was terrible at, such as ping pong or shuffleboard. We’d leave the ship together late at night and discover local secret spots. That kind of romance was what cruises were made for. This was my opportunity.

None of that happened. I don’t think I talked to a single person my age on the entire trip. If that surprises you, it shouldn’t.

I went on a cruise expecting the love story of a lifetime, but I got a story that was much dreamier.

When we arrived in Dublin, my family didn’t really have anything planned. We strolled the city and playfully pointed out any businesses that shared our last name. We made way too many jokes with taxi drivers and waiters about how Irish the name Shannon O’Hara was. After that fun wore off, we wandered onto the campus of Trinity College, Dublin.

My dad had a sudden interest in seeing the famous Book of Kells, which was kept in the college library, so we searched for what seemed like hours to no avail.

And then, out of nowhere, they appeared.

Four or five college students surrounded us. They were all wearing tutus and vines and were waving around plastic magic wands. “Come away!” they called out. “Come hither! Follow the fairies! Hee-hee!”

They took off at a run and only ever slowed to turn around and shake their wands vigorously at us. My parents were amused; I was fascinated. We chased the fairies as they skipped and danced across campus, and eventually they led us to a small glade, where they had set up a makeshift stage.

Their theater on the grass was maybe 10 feet across. There was a table, some chairs and a painted forest backdrop. The fairies corralled my family — along with a few other confused passersby ensnared by the mysterious gimmick — and had us all sit on the lawn.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming,” one of the fairies said. “Without further ado, I present to you William Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream!’ ”

I looked over at my parents, half-expecting them to want to get up and leave to resume their search for the Book of Kells. But though they were no Shakespeare fans, they were entranced by the spontaneity of our situation, and so we stayed.

I had read and seen “Midsummer” before, but this interpretation was something entirely different. Hermia and Lysander sprinkled in phrases such as “throwing shade,” “on fleek” and even “YOLO” into their Shakespearean iambic pentameter. Puck took a phone call from Oberon on his iPhone 3, and his ringtone was “Stayin’ Alive.” When it ended, they all took a quick bow and scurried off, leaving us sitting on a lawn wondering if it hadn’t been us who were dreaming this whole time.

Before that day at Trinity College, the last time I had stepped foot on a college campus was when I visited UC Berkeley in eighth grade. The only thing I remember about that trip was some guy on Sproul offering free kettle corn to anyone who downloaded his app. In many ways, this play was my earliest introduction to college life. I was only an incoming high school sophomore at the time, so I hadn’t given college much thought yet. Nevertheless, my trip to Trinity got me excited to go to a university.

Without even knowing it, the students who put on “Midsummer” captured something far more magical than anything in Puck’s love potion. Their performance became my idea of what college would be like: fast-paced, creative, adventurous and fun. College was about getting lost in a new place, chasing your curiosity and discovering things you never knew existed. It was about searching for one thing and finding another, and getting a great story out of the whole thing.

No fairies have whisked me away to Memorial Glade yet. If that surprises you, it shouldn’t. When you go to college, you don’t always know what you’re in for. You can have your whole college experience planned down to the bathroom breaks and wind up on a totally different adventure.

“Arts Abroad” columns catalog Daily Cal staff members’ arts and culture experiences while studying or traveling abroad.

Shannon O’Hara writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on growing up through entertainment. Contact her at [email protected].