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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

‘Much Ado’ about the 35th season of summer Shakespeare

The production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” by the Nashville Shakespeare Festival sparks lively conversation among students and cast members about their experience with the theater community in Nashville.
Sofia El-Shammaa
Graphic depicting actors in 1970s wear with a floral background. (Hustler Multimedia/Sofia El-Shammaa)

The Nashville Shakespeare Festival presents the 35th season of summer Shakespeare, where they provide the public with a space for all audiences to engage with the arts community. Their featured presentation this season is a 70s-inspired rendition of “Much Ado About Nothing.” 

Set in Nashville in 1973, three soldiers, Don Pedro, Claudio and Benedick return from a successful battle to greet their good friend Leonata at her estate. Upon their arrival, the esteemed Claudio becomes smitten with Leonata’s daughter Hero. A plot is devised for Don Pedro to pursue Hero on Claudio’s behalf, and after a successful evening at the masquerade, the two are to be wed — but not without an attempt at sabotage by Don Pedro’s scornful brother Don John and his conspirators. The play explores the mischief between characters in true 70s fashion, with pop culture references, disco-inspired costumes and musical sounds of the decade.

First-year students, including Sully Watts, attended the production for their MUSL 1111 Shakespeare and Music writing seminar. 

“I didn’t really know what to expect walking in, but the troupe put on such a professional performance,” Watts said. “It was my first time seeing live Shakespeare, so getting that experience of having actors who have taken the time to study the text extensively, study their characters and know how to make every single joke or nuance of the text just hit perfectly with the audience was very immersive.” 

In addition to the performance being Watts’ first live Shakespeare experience, it was also one of his first impressions of the Nashville community outside of Vanderbilt.

“It seemed like a community space where people could gather and just have fun,” Watts said.

Alex Brodeur, another first-year, discussed previous encounters seeing Shakespearean works at Shakespeare’s Globe in London and how they compared to the Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s rendition of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

“I was very interested because I wanted to see how it would play out in a more modern setting,” Brodeur said. “I think that they did it very well. They connected the music, dialogue, the setting, the outfits, almost every aspect of the play to 1970s Nashville. Overall, it was a great experience and I would definitely see it again.”

Actor and Vanderbilt alumnus Will Henke (‘23), who plays Borachio in “Much Ado About Nothing,” shared his experience with the Nashville Shakespeare Festival as a cast member.

“This is my first Shakespeare show, so that has been very tough,” Henke said. “They were doing this [show] 500 years ago and it was very different, so I had to figure out how to interact with the audience and how my character toes the line of conversational while still getting the Shakespeare across, while also being big and performing. I wanted to be very realistic, but with Shakespeare, we don’t talk like that, you know, so it has been really fun using my cast members and all of their experiences to figure out what this really is.”

Henke said that he loves the cast he has been working with, which includes a mix of students from other local universities such as Lipscomb and Belmont, along with professional actors from the area. He also explained how his perspective on Shakespeare has changed since being a part of the more modern production of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

“This show has helped me understand Shakespeare, and I realize now that it’s so fun to dissect and translate what they are actually saying and make it your job to do that for 300 people,” Henke said.

In addition to providing performances to the public, the Nashville Shakespeare Festival organization provides volunteer opportunities, workshops and classes for those interested in engaging in the local arts community. Henke shared more about the “apprentice company” for aspiring actors who want to get into the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, explaining that the program teaches Shakespearean text translation and performance techniques.

Henke shared that creating a space where people could come together as a community was the main goal. He noted that during shows people come out with friends and family, have a picnic and enjoy the performance. In addition to connecting the Nashville community through Shakespeare, Henke aspires to engage the Vanderbilt community through another show with the Nashville Children’s Theater called “Strong Inside” about Perry Wallace’s experience playing basketball as the first African American in the SEC. The play will run from Sept. 7-24.

The Nashville Shakespeare Festival will be showing “Much Ado About Nothing” at The Yard at ONEC1TY on Thursdays-Sundays until Sept. 24 and then again at Academy Park from Sept. 28-Oct. 1. The gates open at 5:15 p.m. CDT followed by a lecture and pre-show concert series, with the performance beginning at 7 p.m. CDT. The event is free to the public, with a $10 suggested donation.

The “Much Ado About Nothing” production brought me back to when I first read through Beatrice and Benedick’s “merry war of wits” in a small black-box theater in North Carolina. At the time it made no sense to me. Yet, the live show in my new home of Nashville was captivating in its unique contemporary way, reminding me that it is possible to iterate on something classic to convey a new significance. It set the stage for what I believe all art does one way or another, which is to make meaning by bringing people together.

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About the Contributors
Bella Guzman
Bella Guzman, Staff Writer and Photographer
Bella Guzman (‘26) is from Charlotte, N.C., and studies human and organizational development and sociology in Peabody College. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find her training in the gym, listening to a new podcast or planning her next travel adventure. You can reach her at [email protected].
Sofia El-Shammaa
Sofia El-Shammaa, Staff Writer and Photographer, Data and Graphics Staffer
Sofia El-Shammaa (‘27) is majoring in political science and communication studies in the College of Arts and Science. When they’re not writing or making graphics, you can find them with their cat, Mochi, watching bad movies or reading good books. You can reach them at [email protected].
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8 months ago

We loved having Vanderbilt at the show! Glad you enjoyed it and hope you come again.