‘Much Ado’ About Something
It’s not every play Tessa Carr asks students to “have fun with the language.”
Carr, a Shakespeare buff and theater instructor at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, wants her students to have fun all around, a notion commonly – but also mistakenly – disassociated with the works of William Shakespeare.
With the upcoming production of Lees-McRae Performing Arts’ “Much Ado About Nothing,” Carr’s company is learning just how fun the Bard can be.
“We’re having a great time,” said Carr, who’s directing the play. “It’s wonderful to laugh all through rehearsals.”
Clever dialogue, comic situations and memorable characters are all part of the experience, but there’s a particular aspect she relishes – the students’ discovery of the language.
“They’ve worked very hard on understanding the specificity of every word they’re saying,” she said. “Not only do they have to understand the general gist of the speech, but they have to understand how every word makes sense in that particular speech.”
The students, ranging from freshmen to seniors, realize it’s a challenge, but Carr said it’s one they’ve happily embraced.
“I think it was really intimidating for some of them up front,” she said, “but it’s so wonderful when a student turns to you and says, ‘I know what I’m saying! I know what I’m saying!’”
Admittedly, most of her students approached Shakespeare with some trepidation, “but when they become fans, when they realize how beautiful it is, how playful it is, they really enjoy it,” Carr said.
It’s a situation not only unique to students, but to audiences at large. Shakespearean English can seem intimidating, but the language is essentially the same, she said, adding, “It’s just the order and cadence of the words.”
“The key for me … is to allow your ear a good 10 to 15 minutes to be in shock,” Carr said. “If you can just relax and really be present and listen to the words, within 15 minutes it’s like this Elizabethan brain kicks in, and you know exactly what they’re saying. The language is the same – we do know this language.”
It’s immersive theater, but this particular production takes it up a notch. Carr and technical director Danielle Baisden Curtis have designed a set in that recreates Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in Hayes Auditorium, complete with a stage that extends into the audience area.
The similarities don’t end there, Carr said, adding that performers will deliver asides and soliloquies to the audience members, rather than speaking over their heads. Houselights will be dimmed, but bright enough for the players to see the crowd. “We’re playing this directly to the audience,” she said.
Plus, ushers will be dressed in Elizabethan garb, and they’ll be serving hot cider prior to the performance.
“Much Ado About Nothing” is a tale of eavesdropping and misinterpretation, following two pairs of lovers with their own unique takes on love and the humorous mayhem that ensues.
“It’s very accessible,” Carr said.” The jokes and physical comedy still play well … and there’s still something incredibly timeless about his exploration of human behavior. The love stories, the ridiculousness of courtship, the misunderstandings – I think there’s a lot for audiences to jump into.”
The play stars Kadey Ballard as Beatrice, Andrew Coston as Benedick, Cidney Forkpah as Innogen, Ethan Henry as Claudio, Holly Knowles as Balthazar, Catherine Langston as Ursula, Tony McClenny as Don John, Wyatt Neff as Leonato, Christopher Nelson as Borachio, Osmary Nieves as Hero, Corbin Pickett as Oatcake, P.J. Pirkle as Dogberry, Miky Prather as Verges, Michael Rogers as Friar, Jake Sheffer as Conrade, James Shimo as Don Pedro, Brad Skinner as Seacole, Randi Sowards as Margaret, Jarrett Koski as Sexton/Antonio and Carrie Atkins as Boy/Messenger.
Performance dates and times are Nov. 17 to 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 20 at 2 p.m. All performances are held in Hayes Auditorium on the campus of Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk. Tickets are general admission and sold at the door. The box office opens one hour before show time.
Tickets are $12 for adults and $5 for students and children. For information, call the box office at (828) 898-8709.