As the Ides of March draws nearer, students, director of Much Ado About Nothing challenge stigmas of Shakespearian literature

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Veronica Teeter

Julia Ammons (center), actress in the Civic Theatre’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and senior, dances with actor Jonathan Doram during a dress rehearsal on Feb. 6. The dance takes place in celebration of the wedding between Claudio and Hero during the ending of the play.

Emily Carlisle

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” The actors at Civic Theatre are living by this quote from William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” as they prepare to perform one of the most beloved Shakespearean works, “Much Ado About Nothing”, which plays February 7 through tomorrow. “Much Ado About Nothing” is a classic love story, set after a war in Sicily. However, according to the director of the show, Emily Rogge Tzucker, one of the fun yet challenging parts of producing one of the Bard’s plays is deciding where to set it.

“You often have to figure out a setting for the play. You don’t always have to put it in Renaissance costumes and someplace in Italy,” Tzucker said. “You’ve got to think about a place and a time that highlights the story and makes sense, so the setting doesn’t distract from the actual work.”

Julia Ammons, actress in the production and senior, said Tzucker placed the show in the furthest place from Sicily in the 16th century.

Veronica Teeter
Stephanie Johnson (LEFT) and senior Julia Ammons (RIGHT), actresses in the Civic Theatre’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” stand at the ready in their maid costumes during the opening scene. Ammons said she believes it is important to keep Shakespeare alive even if it takes effort to read his works.

“Picture what you normally think would be in a Shakespeare production; like monologues and grandeur and traditions, except we’ve set it in 1940s Los Angeles,” Ammons said. “So (Tzucker) made one of the main characters, Leonardo, a big movie producer. It is set at his big mansion in L.A.  And as soldiers are coming home from war, World War II, in this case, they return to a city as opposed to an island in Italy.”

Tzucker said she knew exactly what she wanted when it came to the show’s setting.

“I knew that I wanted it to have an American setting to make it more accessible to our audience. And the play happens right at the end of the war, so I had to figure out a time in American history that was at the end of a war,” Tzucker said. “The play is a romantic comedy and romantic comedies are always fun and everybody’s a little glamorous; it’s not very rough and edgy. Plus romantic comedies in America really became a big thing in the 1940s right when World War II ended. So for me that seems like the perfect time period.

“There’s also dancing in most Shakespeare comedies,” Tzucker added, “I wanted a time period that had great styles of dance, it just really just fit exactly what I had in mind.”

But it is not just the location that can challenge audiences. Chloe Wareham, co-president of the CHS Shakespeare club and junior, said that she has seen a disconnect between students and the Bard because of language, too.

“Some people treat (Shakespearean dialect) like it’s a whole different language. But the stories and the language are interesting, even if it is hard to understand,” Wareham said. “It definitely takes a little bit of practice, but it’s not really too labor-intensive. A lot of times I’ll  read through a passage and then if I’m feeling a little bit lost, then ‘No Fear Shakespeare’ (a website geared to help translate classical literature to modern English)  is always my friend.”

Ammons said she also noticed a stigma surrounding Shakespeare.

“I think there’s a big stigma around Shakespeare being boring. People don’t understand the literature and the phrasing in the dialect, but I think it is important to keep that literature alive even if it requires a little more work on the reader’s part,” she said. “We have so many shows nowadays that are very progressive. ‘Dear Evan Hansen’, for example, has screens onstage to add to the digital feel of the set. But Shakespeare is just as interesting and it is so important to keep what theater was founded in alive.”

Tessa Collinson, Gray Martens

Tzucker also said she believed keeping this pillar of Western literature alive was important.

“I am a college professor, I’m an actor and a director, but I imagine many high school teachers struggle with making students understand the importance of these texts,” she said. “Everyone is so engaged in their screens that this type of story can just take you away from all of that. I also think that Shakespeare’s plays or any play for that matter were ultimately written to be performed. When they were written, they weren’t written in book form. Each actor just had their lines with the cue from the previous person, which to me especially says they were meant to be performed. So seeing them either in movie form or live on stage is a great way to make the content more accessible.”

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