“You’re doing a dystopian Much Ado?”
Yes. Yes, we are. Now, I know what you’re going to say…
“We may as well put Twelfth Night on the moon! Or Romeo & Juliet in a pet store!”
Well hang on a second. Give me a minute to explain. This isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds.
It’s exactly as ridiculous as it sounds… but it totally, totally freaking works.
Once Upon A Time
The Fella and I had this thought about exploring the circumstances of William Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing in a darker context. We started to piece together a world in which the definition of morals was fluid and confused, and the lives of the characters were burdened with war, disease, fear, propaganda… you know, the usual. We dreamed up a version of the play in which the conflict between the brothers Don Jon and Don Pedro is much more central, and that even the most secondary characters have alliances, opinions and beliefs that are tied to the fate of their community and indeed their world as a whole. The more we talked about this gnarled, dystopian Messina, the more we liked the idea, and wondered how well it might translate to the stage. We decided to see if anyone else wanted to play in the sandbox, too, and after a little searching we found our match in Otherworld Theatre Company. We had some mutual friends who had worked with them, and they liked our ideas for Much Ado. We decided to put on a staged reading as a fundraiser for the company (since Shakespeare is freeeeee) and see how the ideas played out in front of an audience.
Scripts in Hand
Fast forward to February 2015. After three (ish) rehearsals with Otherworld’s artistic director Tiffany Keane, we performed a staged reading of the script, with a dash of costuming and immersive interaction before and after the show. There were drinks and snacks, and guests were encouraged to come as a Moralist (Don Jon’s camp of rule-loving order-mongerers) or the tattooed, punk-haired Revolutionaries (Don Pedro’s folks). Before the show, we mingled with our guests, bantered wittily, and had a grand ol’ time. After the show, our beloved DJ Phoole turned up the volume and we danced the rest of the evening away. It was an excellent night, but we all came away from it with lots of thoughts on how to improve the project. If Otherworld wanted to work on it some more, we decided we’d support that. We loved working with them and we knew that this dystopian show had a lot of potential that hadn’t been fully reached with only a staged reading. Dystopia is best portrayed visually for stage/screen, we decided. In a novel you have time to explain the political, social, and environmental aspects of the dystopia. Onstage you don’t have time to do that – you need to show through costume, light, and set design.
We were thrilled when a few months later Tiffany asked if we’d be interested in doing a full production of this futuristic Much Ado. We said yes. A few months later Tiffany appointed Otherworld ensemble member Mary-Kate Arnold as the director for the show, and plans began a-brewin’.
Back to Rehearsal
Mary-Kate asked us if we would come back to play Beatrice and Benedick – we said yes. She even had us sit in on auditions for the rest of the cast in September. It was thrilling, and surreal to finally be bringing more people into the world of the play, and an odd feeling to relinquish control of that world into the incredibly capable but unknown hands of our director. Would it work? we wondered. Would any of this work? Would it be cheesy or lame? Would it be too serious, not funny enough to still be a comedy? Doubts circled like vultures, but once we started rehearsing the show in December, those doubts began to fade away. The cast was vibrant, young, and out of the ordinary. The worldbuilding had continued between Mary-Kate and Tiffany, and new exciting elements were brought into play: the medication doses, the hallucinations set to music, devices worn by the Moralists to remove their emotions, and the Mother Protector, a blinking, watchful, neutral woman on the set’s TV screens – ominous and omni-present. The show began to take on incredible new life, and developed even more through each and every rehearsal. Even Beatrice and Benedick, whom we had already worked on for some time, changed and metamorphosed into newer iterations of the characters better suited to this severe, science fiction world of Messina. Not only that, but it was developed that the ending could change. Depending on how the audience votes – whether for the Moralists or the Revolutionaries (because let’s be real: there is no good or bad in this world, everyone is both) – the ending of the show will change.
The things that were funny became more funny – and the things that were dark became even darker.
It was working.
Welcome to Messina3004
We’re calling the show “Messina3004: A Dystopian Retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.” It seemed the best option – there are enough changes that it is an adaptation now rather than a straight production. Although the Bard’s words remain, the world and the circumstances are almost all new. It’s terribly exciting!
There are more posts on the Otherworld Theatre blog about various members of the cast, the characters, the world, and the story we’re telling with this particular adaptation. Check them all out! Click here to read more about Drew and I playing our favorite Shakespeare couple.
The show runs Thursdays through Sundays (7:30 PM on Thursdays through Saturdays, 4:00PM on Sundays) from February 5 through February 28, 2016.