It’s ‘Much Ado,’ in a new location, for OSU’s Bard in the Quad

by | Aug 3, 2023 | Arts and Entertainment | 0 comments

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Noah Fox plays Benedick and Maddy Braun is Beatrice in the Oregon State University production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” The production opens Thursday, Aug. 3 for an eight-show run — in a somewhat different location than usual (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Helman.)

Elizabeth Helman was mulling over the shortlist of possible Shakespeare plays that could be produced for the 2023 edition of Oregon State University’s Bard in the Quad when she thought a run might be in order.

“I was on a run one day – that usually helps things click in my head,” said Helman, the Theatre Arts coordinator at OSU.

During the run, she started thinking about “Much Ado About Nothing.” And then she made a connection to another favorite author: “Much Ado,” she realized, is like “a slightly higher-stakes Jane Austen novel.”

“There’s so many similarities,” Helman said. The play reminds her of “the dynamics and the relationships in something like ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ which I love.”

“I love the Regency period aesthetically, and I’ve done a few shows that play in that kind of 19th-century space.”

By the time her running shoes were off, it was settled: “Much Ado About Nothing” would be the 18th production of OSU’s Bard in the Quad. The production, directed by Helman, opens Thursday, Aug. 3 for an eight-night run at OSU (see below for details).

But this year’s production has a new location, right on the east edge of the Memorial Union Quad. More about that later.

First, the play. “Much Ado About Nothing” purports to be set in Messina, Italy – one of the cities on the island of Sicily – but, as Helman notes, it’s the Italy of Shakespeare’s imagination, “a sunny, fun place where people are hanging around playing guitars, drinking wine and being witty with each other.” (Helman has set her production in the early 19th century – right around 1811.)

The play revolves around two romantic pairings that emerge when a group of soldiers arrives in the town: Claudio and Hero are head-over-heels at first sight, Helman said – but their relationship becomes the target of villainous Don John’s machinations.

The other couple, Claudio’s friend Benedick and Hero’s cousin Beatrice, are the heart of the play. Helman said a close reading of the play makes it clear that the two have a history together that predates the action of the play: “They did have a relationship prior to this, but something went awry. And that’s not really explained.”

Regardless of the reason, Benedick has decided to swear off romance and spend his days as a soldier – and forever a bachelor.

But sparks linger between Benedick and Beatrice: “You can see that they enjoy being each other’s match and matching wits and laughing together,” Helman said. “And, clearly, Benedick puts himself on the line to support her, and it’s really very sweet – and, I think, a positive depiction of a healthier relationship in a Shakespeare play, which is good to see.”

Helman’s cast consists of OSU Theatre students or alums of the program, “so it feels a little bit like a Bard in the Quad reunion in a lot of ways, which is cool.” OSU students composed the music for four songs in the show; Shakespeare, naturally, provided the lyrics.

Matt Holland, Helman’s spouse, returns for his 11th performance in a Bard in the Quad production; his first Bard in the Quad appearance came in an earlier production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” He played a dancing sailor. This time out, he’s in a larger role, as Leonato, Hero’s father.

Now, about the location of this year’s Bard in the Quad: Because of construction work in the Quad, the show is moving to the east edge of the Memorial Union Quad, with seating on the lawn of Strand Agriculture Hall. The ticket booth will be set up in the Student Experience Center Plaza, 2501 SW Jefferson Way) and the seating area will be accessible only through the SEC Plaza.

Tackling a new location is old hat by now for OSU’s Theatre department, which has staged plays this year in a winery and OSU’s Hatfield Marine Research Center in Newport as its new black box space is being constructed in the Patricia Valian Reser Center for the Creative Arts.

And, Helman said, the new site – longer and shallower than when a production is able to use the steps on the north end of the Memorial Union — seems to be a good match for a more intimate play such as “Much Ado About Nothing.”

But one thing remains the same: A Bard on the Quad production is hard on the feet of its cast members, regardless of whether they’re performing on the concrete steps of the Memorial Union or the uneven brick walkways where much of “Much Ado” plays out.

“We’ve gone through so many pairs of shoes,” Helman said.

If you go

What: “Much Ado About Nothing,” the 18th Bard in the Quad production at Oregon State University.

When: Aug. 3-6 and 10-13 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: The east edge of the Memorial Union Quad with seating on the lawn of the Strand Agriculture Hall. The ticket booth will be set up in the Student Experience Center Plaza (2501 SW Jefferson Way) on the side of the Memorial Union Building. Entry to the seating area will be accessible only through the SEC Plaza. Patrons with mobility concerns can be dropped off on Jefferson at the SEC Plaza. The closest parking areas to the event will be on Southwest Benton Place, the Goss Stadium lot, or the lot at Southwest 15th Street and Washington Avenue.

The cast: Maddy Braun, Libby Brennan, Matt Holland, AJ Glessner, Nick Sirianni, Noah Fox, Nathan Hastings, Sophie Brown, Maia Barnebey, Miranda Lenore, Keegan Dittmer, Abrianna Aydee, Leah Kahn.

How much: Tickets are $17 general admission and $12 for youths and seniors. OSU students are free at the door with OSU ID. Tickets are available online by clicking here or by calling the box office at 541-737-3034. The email for ticket information is [email protected].

Take note: Seating is not provided; bring blankets or low chairs. Regardless of the daytime heat, the campus cools down considerably after sunset, so bring warm clothes or additional blankets. Feel free to bring a picnic dinner. Cookies, coffee and cocoa will be available during intermission with a $1 suggested donation at the box office tent. Restrooms in the Student Experience Center will be open before the show and during intermission.

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