Jace Reinhard participates in Abilene Shakespeare Festival

by   |  08.15.11  |  Honors Student Achievements

This June I was given an opportunity to join an incredibly talented cast in the role of Count Claudio in the Abilene Shakespeare Festival’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. Our director for the show, Adam Hester, developed a new twist on this classic comedy by incorporating hit songs from the 1960’s and shifting the setting from a large estate in the port city of Messina in 17thcentury Sicily to a businessman’s yacht in the middle of the Mediterranean in 1965. This shift posed a significant challenge for my fellow actors and me (as well as our designers and other production staff) to maintain the integrity of the story as we performed it in such a drastically different style. We had to take on as a team the task of flowing smoothly between the classical text of the play and the lyrics of songs like “Respect” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” This undertaking helped me to grow not only as an actor, but also as a student of Shakespeare’s era.

The juxtaposition of such divergent sources of material affected nearly all the acting choices I made for my character. For instance, I had to decide how the Claudio I portrayed in this production would move. A Florentine soldier on leave at the turn of the 17th century would carry himself in a vastly different manner than one in 1965. In addition, the time change called for renewed examination of Claudio’s relationships with the other characters in the piece. As a result, my interpretation of the character had a much more casual demeanor than one would see in a traditional staging. This was especially apparent in my interactions with Hero, Claudio’s love interest, and Don Pedro, his commanding officer.

Despite these character adjustments, I took care not to entirely abandon the classical nature of the piece in my performance. My physical actions had to harmonize not just with 60’s lyrics, but also with the heightened elocution of the Shakespearean language that came out of my mouth. Dr. Stephenson and I had discussed on numerous occasions how I could use certain words and rhythmic patterns in the verse both to honor the richness of the text and to communicate the story more efficiently. Therefore, I worked to retain this aspect in my rendition while remaining true to the new setting. This blend worked quite well in the end. The light-hearted and lyrical nature of the original play lent itself well to Adam’s musical adaptation, and the show was received beautifully.