Our Dazzling Director - Judith Allen
Rehearsals for Much Ado About Nothing have been in full swing for weeks now, and we are greatly anticipating its opening performance next weekend. We had the opportunity to chat with Judith Allen, the director, about herself, the production, and more! Read her interview below...
Can you give a short introduction about yourself and your previous experience in theatre?
My name is Judith Allen. My nickname is Judi (yes, spelled the English way). My friends call me Jude. I moved to Fort Collins shortly after I finished graduate school WAY back in 1979. Within a year of arriving here, I began working with a now defunct theatre group called Foothills Civic Theater. They gave me my first directing job with a Peter Shaffer play called Black Comedy. I became an OpenStage Theatre & Co. member about 10 years later after FCT passed away into history. I've directed and acted in and produced and done makeup design for too many shows to list. I've been very honored to have some of my work acknowledged by receiving the OpenStage OPUS Award, Denver Post Ovation Award and the BroadwayWorld (Denver Region) award.
How has the rehearsal process been going so far?
Rehearsals are always a mixture of excitement, fun, laughs, hard work, frustration and exhaustion. Everyone brings different elements to the process and getting everything blended into a cohesive total is not for the faint of heart. On either side of the lights.
Why this play? Why this play now?
It is one of my very favorite Shakespeare pieces. Next to the history plays Henry IV, part 1 and 2. Why? I'm not sure I can actually verbalize it. I guess I'm drawn to the slightly unconventional, the slightly outspoken, the passionate embrace of the what if and the why/ why not. in characters. Plays in which the family unit is splintered and/or cobbled together out of trust and love, not necessarily by blood but by necessity, is a power metaphor to me. In this play, Beatrice, an orphan, taken in by her uncle and loved and nurtured and admired for her strength of character, her take-no-prisoner attitude nevertheless succumbs to the most ancient of curses...love. And not just any love, but love with a man who is her equal in strength of character and mind and heart.
Why now? Why not! Other than the fact that we went through a very long list of possible shows to perform outside before arriving here, Much Ado is probably the most, or at least one of the most, accessible Shakespearean plays. It's primarily in prose. Slightly archaic language in places, a little verse thrown in here and there for good measure and to please the ear, but seriously...it's probably the easiest one to understand without being a Shakespearean scholar. What could be more fun than having a picnic outside and watch a Shakespearean romantic comedy? Boy falls in love with girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, girl gets mad (and even), boy gets girl...again. Or should that be Girl gets Boy? Oh well. Seriously though, this play speaks about gender inequality, gender politics, gossip, slander, deception...wow! sound familiar? Like yesterday's newspaper. Women as equals and full-on partners in the workplace, in society as well as the home is an issue we are still wrestling with today. Breaking down the "good ol' boys" mentality, recognizing women as smart and capable and independent, recognizing that half-truths and deception and manipulation for personal gain undermine basic human decency. This is as current as it gets.
What spoke to you about setting this production during WWII?
I think any time setting around a war time will work for staging Much Ado simply because of the vague reference at the beginning of the show that Don Pedro and his soldiers are returning from a successful skirmish in which they lost only a few men. I was trying to be a bit more practical in this instance because performing outside in unpredictable heat and weather conditions in Elizabethan garb can be quite exhausting, hot and sticky, as well as expensive. We don't have a lot of storage space for the outdoor performance and period costumes take up a lot of storage space. Why World War II? It was to pay tribute to a whole generation that went through years of deprivation, hardship and sacrifice to keep our freedoms intact. It is a generation that is almost all gone, and we need to remember the history of that time and their stories. It was also a time when women were a strong presence in the work place as well as the home. Once the war was over and the men started coming back the expectation and desire of many was to return to a "normal" life, i.e. men in the work place and women at home having children and keeping house. However, there were a lot of women who preferred to stay in the workplace and resented being ousted of their jobs and crafts simply because the men were coming home and wanted their jobs back. Many women weren't as ready to cave to preferential treatment to men as generations before and give up their freedom of choosing careers over marriage or careers AND marriage.
What themes of WWII are relevant for audiences today?
Oh my, what a list...love, honor, truth, decency, connection, duty, family, friendship...
What is traditional Shakespeare? What do people think of when they hear traditional Shakespeare? How is your production similar and different from traditional Shakespeare?
To me the term "traditional Shakespeare" suggests Elizabethan costumes and iambic pentameter (blank verse, or, speaking in poetic phrases). Many people enjoy and even prefer this as a purer form of enjoying Shakespeare, his language and poetry. Others find it totally daunting and above comprehension and it scares a lot of folks off. Possibly the length of the plays as well. Some of them can last over 3 hours. In this day, that's really hard to sit through. Shakespeare doesn't have to be daunting. Even though I'm not familiar with all of the works attributed to Shakespeare, I always familiarize myself with the basic storyline and the history of the time of the play if there is one. There are a lot of great resources available to do that online or at the library. Check out CliffNotes or Spark Notes or any of the other resources available. You can even access digital copies of the plays and sonnets online. Get a feel for what the story is, then sit back and immerse yourself in the beauty of the words. By the way...did you know that many of the words and phrases we use today were actually first used by Shakespeare? Terms like "Wild goose chase" is from Romeo and Juliet. "Good riddance" from Troilus and Cressida. "Lie low" from Much Ado. And so on. While we have done some judicious cutting of the script to keep it enjoyable and a good running time for being out in the park, the emphasis is still on the approachability of the language, i.e. making the intention understood. This is the most important element in any Shakespeare, traditional or non-traditional.
Is there anything else you would like to say about the production?
Here are some fun facts:
- Probably written about 1598, the first recorded performances of Much Ado About Nothing happened around 1612, making this play 407 years old. Amazing!
- Only Merry Wives of Windsor, written a couple of years before Much Ado, contains more prose.
- In Elizabethan times, the word "nothing" was actually pronounced "noting" meaning to observe, perceive, or overhear. Deception and misconception play a huge part in the story arc.
- The character of Dogberry was inserted into the play for a very specific Elizabethan comic actor, William Kempe. However, Kempe left the acting company before any recorded performances of Much Ado and it is not known if he ever actually played the role. The name Dogberry comes from a bitter fruit that grows in England that was used for making soaps.
- Many scholars and critics consider Much Ado About Nothing with Benedick and Beatrice's battle of the sexes the launch of the romantic comedy genre. The romantic tangling of the lead protagonists were copied and reinvented over and over through the years and finally brought to the screen with the matching of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in Frank Capra's "It Happened One Night". That film launched what was referred to as "the screwball comedy", or as critic Andrew Sarris wrote, "Sex comedy but without the sex." Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn are other examples of movie stars famous for their romantic comedies.
Much Ado About Nothing
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Judith Allen
June 1 - June 29
*ALL PERFORMANCES ARE AT 7PM WITH SEATING STARTING AT 6PM*
“I can see he's not in your good books,' said the messenger. 'No, and if he were I would burn my library.” Wm. Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
The war is over! Or is it? The soldiers may be returning from WWII, but between Benedick and Beatrice, the battle is just beginning. Stubborn bachelor Benedick thinks he hates Beatrice, but he doesn’t. Self-assured Beatrice thinks she hates Benedick, but she really doesn’t. Despite obstacles of all sorts and the meddling of some quirky characters, truth and honesty win the day with love conquering all. William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is a lively showdown between the sexes with razor sharp wordplay, romantic hijinks, and robust hilarity. It’s time for adventure in the park and under the stars. Featuring nightly food trucks.
The Park at Columbine Health Systems- Centre Ave. & Worthington Circle