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The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

Performing arts department opens ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Averie Perrin
Anna Ames ’24, as Beatrice, looks down at Benedick played by Jack Smith ’25.

The Upper School Performing Arts Department opened the fall play “Much Ado About Nothing ” to audiences Oct 26, 27 and 28. The show follows two couples as they overcome obstacles and eventually marry at the end of the play.

First performed at the Globe Theatre in London, the play is over 400 years old. The school’s production features a plot set in the present and touches on current events, according to Director and Performing Arts Teacher Sabrina Washburn.

Washburn said she created the modern adaptation to help audience members better understand the plot.

“I wanted to do a modern adaptation of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ because I believe that we often treat these plays like they’re some untouchable, old thing that [needs] to be revered and respected as classic literature,” Washburn said. “But I see them as plays that are meant to be seen and heard. This play in particular is so playful and funny and sarcastic. For me, it was sort of a no-brainer to do it in modern times because my hope was for students and our community to see it through that lens.”

The school recently performed, “Much Ado About Nothing” featuring dance numbers and singing. Washburn said she decided to include dances to give audiences a break from the difficult language.

“I’m a dancer and choreographer, so [the script] spoke to me to include dance,” Washburn said. “I also think it’s a nice brain break for the audience who have been listening to this different kind of English. Watching the dance gives their brains a moment to relax and look at something new.”

The plot of the play is driven by the villain, Don Jon, who attempts to break up the intended marriage between Hero and Claudio, resulting in accusations of infidelity and public shaming. Clara Berg ’25, who played Hero, said the moral of the play can be applied to modern times.

“I saw parallels between modern justice and Hero’s trope because of what we hear, what we believe and the conclusions that we jump to,” Berg said. “Although it is dated, and some of the language and the ideas are over 400 years old, [the play] being presented in a more modern way helped audiences connect it to the modern world around them. One of the main lessons was how rumors spread. One of the meanings of [the title] is gossip and how we should not trust everything we hear. That is relevant our within our school.”

Berg said the mature themes in the production were portrayed well because of their similarities to the daily lives of teenagers.

“The main themes of romance, betrayal and sex were handled well because it was all consensual, and we had a safe rehearsal space with workshops and support,” Berg said. “Putting it in modern terms and [relating it to] what you would see teenagers on the Quad or at parties doing in real life helped make everyone feel more comfortable. We weren’t teenagers in the play, but making sure that it was appropriate and realistic made it more friendly [for] our target audience.”

The show included several stage kisses between couples in the show. Berg said there were different factors in the production process that made her feel more comfortable with the intimate scenes.

“There was a little bit of awkwardness about the kisses in the play, but [the actors had] an intimacy workshop which [worked] on proximity and being comfortable with the other person,” Berg said. “One thing that I appreciated was [Washburn] letting us have control and making sure that everything was tightly choreographed and [that] there was no improv. I liked that when I had to do some more smooching near the end, I didn’t actually have to kiss my partner, [instead] I just kissed my thumbs. Communicating with my partner and finding substitutions that [worked for me] on stage made it a lot more comfortable.”

The production also featured Visual Arts Teacher Reb Limerick, Performing Arts Teacher Rees Pugh and English Teacher Jocelyn Medawar as members of the neighborhood watch. Medawar said though she did not expect to act in the production, she enjoyed being part of the cast community.

“I had offered to help students learn their lines and understand what they were saying because Shakespeare can be hard,” Medawar said. “Before I knew it, [Washburn] had sent an email asking me, Mr. Pugh and Mx. Limerick if we wanted to be in it. I hadn’t thought about that, but it sounded like fun. I didn’t expect that I was going to have so much fun. I was so nervous to memorize my few lines and so petrified that I would forget them. It was such a wonderful surprise to start having so much fun.”

Medawar said she was welcomed by the student cast backstage during the show.

“I was a little worried that we’d be stepping on the students’ toes and that they wouldn’t like having us backstage,” Medawar said. “But what I really loved was how welcomed I felt, the spirit backstage and that the students seemed happy for us to be there. That meant the world to me. Ms. Washburn is creating a beautiful space for students. Theater is a space where students come together and create real community. The fact that she brought the three of us into it was special, and I will treasure it forever. I’m very grateful to her.”

President Rick Commons said more students should have attended the play to support the cast members.

“I was blown away by how every single actor on the stage made the language come alive,” Commons said. “Their gesturing and acting was a [very] beautiful thing to behold and I was just a little disappointed that more students didn’t come to see it. We all collect ourselves in the gym to watch the girls volleyball team or the boys basketball team, and I felt like the team on the stage deserved that kind of support.”

Assistant Director Zoe Roth ’24 said having the teachers backstage was a comforting presence for the cast during the performances.

“The teachers added both a sense of maturity and silliness to the show,” Roth said. “They warmed our community and made us feel more comfortable. They sang along to the songs in the show, recited the lines backstage and were also helpful. Ms. Medawar helped with translations for the [language] which was really helpful for everyone.”

Roth said one of her primary responsibilities during rehearsals was to help the actors understand their monologues.

“I did a lot of monologue work with actors to make sure they understood what they were saying,” Roth said. “I looked up what the words meant and then determined which words were supposed to be emphasized.”

Unlike other plays the school has recently shown, this year the show featured dance numbers and singing. Isaac Tiu ’24, who played Claudio, said the modern dance numbers made the play easier to understand.

“I enjoyed the dances, even though we had a hard time with them, just because they made the play feel more modern,” Tiu said. “I also had a lot of teachers and students come up to me and say that our modern take on Shakespeare really made it easier to understand the plotline. Having those instances of fresher music and dance [aspects] made the play more relatable to people watching.”

Jack Smith ’26, who played Benedick, said in order to understand the language he spent time looking up the meanings of his lines.

“I honestly just spent hours memorizing,” Smith said. “I sat down with a Shakespeare Dictionary on my phone and looked up all the words in my monologues and lines to make sure I [understood]everything. I sometimes looked up what other people said to me to make sure I got it.”

In the play, Benedick is secretly in love with Beatrice and spends the majority of the show trying to hide his feelings. . Smith said he connected with Benedick during his comedic moments in the show.

“I love Benedick,” Smith said. “He’s super funny and witty, but he’s also serious at times. The best way I found of connecting with Benedict was to bring joy [to] everything I did with the character. [I also had to connect] with his love for Beatrice , but it was just having fun with [my acting choices that] made me connect with him.”

Smith said he enjoyed spending time with the crew in the weeks leading up to the show.

“My favorite part was being with everyone in the last few weeks before the performances,” Smith said. “Everyone was incredibly nice, and it was fun to run through the show. It’s such a joy, getting closer to everyone in the cast.”

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Hannah Shahidi, Assistant News Editor
Averie Perrin, Editor-in-Chief

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