Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival concludes 18th year with ‘Much Ado About Nothing’
Alexandra Muck | Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Now in its 18th year, the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival is drawing to a close with its summer production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” directed by Drew Fracher. Performed by the Notre Dame Shakespeare professional company that includes student apprentices as well as professional actors, the play runs from Aug. 15 to 27 in the Patricia George Decio Theatre in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.
Grant Mudge, the Ryan Producing Artistic Director for Shakespeare at Notre Dame, said he wanted to do a Shakespeare comedy after last year’s production of “The Tempest” — especially since the professional company had not produced a comedy in a long time. Mudge said he also liked the language of the play — which he called one of the Shakespeare’s most successful — and its ability to display the characters’ level of emotion.
“There’s no magic, there are no fairies in this play,” Mudge said. “The magic that happens is between two humans and between friends and family.”
To make this production stand out from other productions of “Much Ado About Nothing,” it is set in the U.S. during World War II. Though Shakespeare did not live through World War II, Mudge said he understands the dynamic in society when men come home from war, which is present in “Much Ado About Nothing.” Mudge was also excited about the formality and music of the time period, he said, which is performed live by a 12-member, all-women big band in the play.
“We began asking, ‘Well, who is this band?’” Mudge said. “It didn’t seem right to have returning soldiers be musicians, and then we thought, ‘Well, who’s left behind when the guys off to war in 1943?’ And it’s the women.”
The play also features women in the role of the factory workers, the friar and the constable.
Mudge said the music for the big band was composed by Scotty Arnold, who used inspiration for the music from a musical written by his great-uncle, John Caldwell.
“Some of the tunes you’ll hear in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ are from 1945,” Mudge said. “Scotty has altered a little bit here and there, changed some of the lyrics using some of Shakespeare, some of his great-uncle and some of his own lyrics. It makes the music all the more special that he’s had a chance to, through the music, get to know this great-uncle of his who died the year he was born.”
Besides the professional company, the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival features three additional programs, including ShakeScenes — the kickoff program for the festival in July — and Shakespeare in the Streets. Shakespeare in the Streets, a new item for this year’s festival, was a partnership with the Fremont Park Foundation and allowed South Bend community members to participate in a nine-week program and perform on stage in Fremont Park.
The touring company, which performed “Twelfth Night” from July 16 through Aug. 21, uses a cast of the apprentices from the professional company show and allows them to tour regionally in locations such as Valparaiso, Mishawaka and Plymouth. The apprentices include students from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, in addition to students from colleges such as Carnegie Mellon.
Together, the professional and touring company allow the young actors a paid experience similar to an internship during the summer. Mudge said the apprentices also have opportunities to participate in mentorship-like experiences with the professional actors in the professional company to learn about the industry and acting as a career.
“We bridge the gap between professional theater and the training world,” Mudge said. “We’re really existing in both, which I think is unique among universities.”