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Spokane Ensemble Theatre adapts Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado Much about Nothing’ to the cast and the outdoors

The cast of Spokane Ensemble Theatre’s “Much Ado About Nothing” are learning to battle varying acoustics and the elements in their outdoor production of Shakespeare’s classic play.  (Courtesy Spokane Ensemble Theatre)
The cast of Spokane Ensemble Theatre’s “Much Ado About Nothing” are learning to battle varying acoustics and the elements in their outdoor production of Shakespeare’s classic play. (Courtesy Spokane Ensemble Theatre)

Set during the modern-day over the course of the summer solstice, Spokane Ensemble Theatre’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” follows a group of star-crossed lovers through deceptions, hijinks and camaraderie on a camping trip in the Pacific Northwest.

Hero and Claudia are determined to marry, while Beatrice and Benedick have sworn off the institution altogether. But, of course, even the best-laid plans go awry.

Directed by Juan Mas and Rio Alberto, the production will be staged in the amphitheater at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. Performances began Thursday and will continue 7 p.m. June 16-18, 23 and 25, and 5 p.m. June 19 and 26.

Departing from the original Shakespeare play, the production will feature a diverse cast and several gender-swapped roles.

“We have females playing male roles, we have a female playing a male role … a trans woman playing male role, and we also have a diversity in color in the roles,” he said.

Adapting the show to suit the cast was a major undertaking as it involved pouring over the text to analyze the character descriptions.

Mas and Alberto worked with the cast, taking advantage of their varying perspectives as they decided how to maintain the storyline while updating the show for modern sensibilities.

“It was so enjoyable to hear from the actors … from their own personal cultural backgrounds and saying, ‘This is how I would feel I would be responding now,’ and then personalizing it that way,” Mas said.

Cuts were inevitably made, some in the interest of time, and several for the sensitivity of the content.

“Because some of the descriptions that were very common … in Shakespeare’s time, now we couldn’t justify including without coming across as racist … so we did cut that material out,” Mas said.

Aside from the text, adapting to perform in an outdoor theater – despite inclement weather – has been another challenge.

“Working with some new folks who have never done outdoor theater – as a performer or designer – you have to think of things differently,” Mas said. “Especially on the small budget that a theatre company has to work with. You have to think technically about how and what we can do, relying more on performance than a lot of magical theater tricks.”

The set was built in collaboration with students from the Community School.

“They read our version of the script and helped build some of the props and … they’ve been working with our designers on costumes and set building,” Mas said. “We hope that that experience of being part of the creative process gets them invested even more as an audience member when they come to watch the show.”

A beer garden will open on the museum plaza at 6 p.m. for visitors ages 21 and older. Alcoholic beverages must remain in the beer garden. The concessions stand also will offer soda, water and snacks that can be taken down into the amphitheater seating area.

The amphitheater gate opens at 6:30 p.m. on all performance dates apart from Sundays when it opens at 4:30 p.m.

The amphitheater is an outdoor venue, but, rain or shine, the performances take place.

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