Midsummer Shakespeare goes nautical for ‘Much Ado’

Jul 22, 2019

This weekend, Midsummer Shakespeare and the Glass Horse’s Shakespeare in NB will bring “Much Ado About Nothing” to Onset in a unique performance designed for the South Coast.

Set in a modern day yacht club, Shakespeare’s beloved comedy has been updated with some gender-bending — Friar Francis becomes Mother Frances, Leonato is Leonata — and some of the finer plot points have been brought up to date.

When she started working on the play, Director Maura Van Voris thought about how to bring the story about nobility on an island off the coast of Italy into a context familiar to audiences. 

“It has to be a group of people that would take an entire month off during the summer, just casually,” said Van Voris. “Of course, growing up in the area, I was thinking yacht clubs, those huge summer houses, that kind of idea.”

The setting works especially well because many of the performance venues are just steps from the water: the Onset Bandshell, Tabor Academy, and Shipyard Park in Mattapoisett. The script is also full of nautical references and jokes.

“It’s really a unique experience to see Shakespeare out in the open air,” said Jess Wilson, of Midsummer Shakespeare, who plays Beatrice. Wilson also lives in Onset and is on the board of the Onset Bay Association.

The set is a seaside garden, with a dock extending towards the audience who will be in the water (at least in the character’s eyes). 

“When we put a show on, I don’t want it to be the same as any other show that’s been done of it,” said Taylor K. Corbett, a co-producer from the Glass Horse Project, who is playing Dogberry.

Van Voris said that the show has been shaped extensively by the cast, including Onset resident Leeandra Booth, who plays Margaret.

“You know when you get a group of people together and it’s just laughter and light — you feel that when you come in, and everyone’s really dedicated,” Van Voris said. “I love that as a director, to watch what they create.”

Another of the show’s co-producers, Korey Pimental of the Glass Horse Project, said that making Shakespeare accessible to everyone, regardless of their education or background in the theater, is important to him. 

“I like that we’re keeping Shakespeare progressive, because I don’t have patience for Shakespeare the way that people think about it. There’s a reason why we still perform Shakespeare. There’s a reason why we still study him, and it’s not just for all the sex jokes,” said Pimental. “I like that we’re taking this man, this people’s playwright, who was really writing for the commoner back then. There shouldn’t be a divide between the commoner then and the normal person now.”

Corbett said that the play is largely about communication (and miscommunication), and includes many themes that are still relevant to people today: the subject of a woman’s “purity,” gossip, an unmarried woman who, to her community’s dismay, says she doesn’t want to get married.

“The plot, the characters, the people are as real now as they were 400 years ago,” said Wilson, who noted that many beloved movies are based on Shakespeare’s plays: The Lion King is Hamlet, West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet, and She’s the Man is Twelfth Night. 

“A lot of it focuses on communication and how we communicate with people, and that’s always a relevant thing,” said Corbett. “It’s nice to know that works that were written then, and even before then, like the ancient Greeks — they were writing about these human problems that we always have to deal with, no matter what the time-frame is. That’s beautiful to me.”

Pimental and Corbett said that they have an “obsession with quality” and have worked hard to make sure the play will be an incredible experience for the audience.

“I think that this entire project has been fuelled by the desire to come together and just bring Shakespeare back to the world,” said Pimental.

“It’s not just the desire — it’s the need,” chimed in Corbett.

“Much Ado About Nothing” will be performed at the Onset Bandshell at 6:30 p.m. on July 26, 27, and 28. For a list of other performances across the South Coast, go to www.facebook.com/theglasshorseproject. The performance is free but donations will be accepted. 

Theater enthusiasts can also look forward to the Glass Horse Project’s staging of “Eurydice” by Sarah Ruhl, a play that retells the myth of Orpheus from the perspective of Eurydice, his wife, which will be performed in late January 2020.