All images are by Lindsey Walters, Miscellaneous Media Photography.
I was lucky enough to direct Much Ado About Nothing at the American Shakespeare Center Theater Camp this summer. I had a great time! Some things about it were sort of weird, just because I’m in a very different life stage from everyone else involved (I’m a good bit older than most of the other staff and I’ve got little kids to manage!) and also because Camp Culture is a thing, and as a camp newbie, I often was playing catch-up.
Nevertheless, it was a FANTASTIC experience. The campers were delightful to work with. They were focused and committed and most of them took direction very well. Some of them were the kind of people that I just want to hang out with! I found myself saying, as I was bidding some of them goodbye, “I hope we can work together again sometime”–and not just saying it, but starting to scheme in my mind how it might be a thing that could happen. It was a great project, and they were good collaborators. Probably my favorite thing about this cast was how caring they all were for each other. We had one cast member who had a chronic illness. Although she handled it admirably, there were just times when she needed assistance. I think that having her in the cast made everyone aware, not just of her needs, but of everyone’s needs. I saw them checking in with each other, helping each other, encouraging and complimenting each other, in a way that I rarely see from such young actors.
Also, these students know their Shakespeare. They drew connections from this play to MSND, R&J, Lear (?), the sonnets, Winter’s Tale, and more. I was so impressed with them.
Now that I’ve done this once, if I’m able to do it again sometime, I have a better idea of what they need to know about the text–versus what they come in knowing. I saw, just days before the performance, that one of the other directors had taped the stage diagonals on the floor, and I will definitely steal that idea.
For music, we opened with “I Won’t Say I’m in Love” from Hercules, “Sigh No More,” by Mumford and Sons, in the tomb scene (more on that later), and “Be Okay,” by Ingrid Michaelson, for the curtain call. Having actors sing and dance through the curtain call is such a great idea. So much energy. Would do again.
Lucky for me, the actor who played Benedick and one of my ADs were very musically adept, so they helped make those songs happen. I would not have been able to do it without them.
A few of my favorite moments:
The biggest problem with this play is that Claudio is a douche canoe and does not deserve Hero at all. But I looked at other parallel plays, like, for example, Winter’s Tale, and I thought about how remorse seems to be the biggest thing Shakespeare uses to try to make these cads seem marriage-worthy. In the tomb scene, we had a bunch of…mysterious monk type people singing “Sigh No More” while Claudio mourned. In the last verse (“Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free. Be more like the man you were made to be.”), Hero steps out of the monk crowd, pulling off her hood and revealing herself. He doesn’t see her, but she’s present–not sure how I meant this to read, whether she was actually physically there and spying on him or she was there in his mind, but it was super effective. Pretty much everyone I talked to mentioned it. And it looked freaking cool.
Beatrice and Benedick were just super awesome and I loved every minute they were on stage. They were so precise and daring.
I get chills just looking at those pictures again.
The guy who played Dogberry/Don John was also wonderful. He had such different physicality for those characters, it was a delight to see.
Verges was too cute. I loved the work that they did together. Leonato played well with them, too, pulling off a particular brand of “straight man” that I don’t often see in young actors.
Claudio and Hero were totally adorable together–the sweetness in this Claudio made the end easier to swallow.
And my Borachio! What an amazing young lady. She managed to bring out the character’s pathos…and hilariousness.
OH, and another fun thing was that I had the guys who were gulling Benedick come back on the balcony to watch Beatrice fetch him in to dinner. I haven’t seen that done before, but it’s an effective and textually-relevant gambit.
OH AND during the failed wedding scene, I had Antonio, Leonato, the Friar, etc. passing out roses to audience members to cover the time needed to get Hero into a wedding dress.
Benedick used one of them to woo Beatrice (who was having none of his crap).
AND THEN at the end, during our dancing curtain call, people threw the flowers onto the stage! It wasn’t planned or anticipated, and I don’t think it’s clearly visible in any of the photos, but it happened and it was SO COOL to have that feeling of dozens of roses raining down while they were dancing their bows. Just such a lovely end.
The other day I got a great card in the mail from the camp director. In addition to a sweet note from her, she included some excerpts from my students’ survey responses. I was having a rough month, but this card filled my heart. I loved the specific things they commented on, too, because it told me that I achieved what I set out to do–create a safe, supportive environment so that they could do bold things on stage.
And more pictures! I love production photos.