UofSC presents modern staging of Shakespeare classic

Heightened language meets high art in UofSC’s production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing

Love, deception and razor-sharp repartee take the Longstreet Theatre stage this month as the UofSC Theatre Program presents William Shakespeare’s comic masterwork, Much Ado About Nothing, with a modern twist.

Director Dustin Whitehead, who recently joined the university’s College of Arts and Sciences as assistant professor of film and media performance, makes this 16th-century classic feel fresh for a 21st-century audience. 

“What’s cool about this play is that while a fair amount of people know it really well, there are a lot who have never seen it,” Whitehead says. “So, we have an opportunity to present these characters in our own way and make this play our own.”  

In Shakespeare's beloved battle of the sexes, the noble Don Pedro has his mind set on bringing together two romantic couples — the smitten Claudio and Hero, and the constantly bickering Benedick and Beatrice. His matchmaking efforts are foiled, however, by the scheming of the jealous, conniving Don John. Featuring some of The Bard’s most cunning wordplay and a cadre of his most colorful characters, Much Ado About Nothing is indeed a “merry war” filled with adventure, romance and unwavering wit.

For this production, Whitehead sets the play in a contemporary world of “high art” rather than the royal domain of princes and lords. Scenic design by Nate Terracio transforms Longstreet Theatre’s full arena space, including the audience seating area, into an elite, avant-garde gallery filled with modern visual art, contemporary music (sometimes performed by the cast) and original dance choreographed by UofSC assistant professor of dance, André Megerdichian. 

Whitehead says the idea is for the audience to not just be surrounded by art, but also be treated as like-minded artists. 

“When we’re all put into a gallery and treated as artists, what does that do to us?” he says. “The art on the walls, along with the music, costumes and dance will have some sort of personal effect, the way that any art at a gallery would, so what does that make the audience feel or question about themselves?”

The production also purposely challenges perceptions about gender and ethnicity, says Whitehead, who intentionally cast a diverse group of actors for the project.  

“You might have men in dresses, women in short hair and slacks, or people in roles in which they traditionally wouldn’t be cast,” he says.

Whitehead sums up the production as being fast-paced and entertaining but with a focus on making sure the audience comes along for an emotional and inspirational ride.

“I’ve asked myself, ‘Why this play now?’” he says, “and I feel like the reason to do it is to talk about contemporary issues and inspire people to be who they want to be in the world.”

If you go

Much Ado About Nothing runs Oct. 25 – Nov. 9 with showtimes at 8 p.m. Thursday ­– Saturday; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Oct. 27 and Nov. 3 and 9. Tickets are $15 for students; $20 for UofSC faculty and staff, military personnel and seniors (60+); $22 for the general public. Tickets are available online at theatre.sc.edu or at the box office, 1300 Greene St., beginning Oct. 18. Box office hours are 12:30 - 5:30 p.m., Monday – Friday.

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about