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Shakespeare gets ’70s twist in UCalgary production of Much Ado About Nothing

The classic Shakespeare play of love, misdirection, and artful wordplay is coming to the University of Calgary’s Reeve Theatre this holiday season.

Much Ado About Nothing, which is far more about noting, is playing from Nov. 25 through to December 3.

Amping up what the UCalgary School of Creative and Performing Arts production is calling the world’s first romantic comedy, the play is being transformed from wartime medieval Sicily to the decadent 1970s in Banff.

“It’s very romantic and very funny, and it’s all the people tricking others into falling in love,” said MFA candidate Bonnie Garland, who is the costume designer for the production.

Less death and more disco, the production team has stripped away the war plot and have heavily leaned into the romance aspects. A perfect tie in for the heady days of Banff in the 1970s, which had swinging clubs on Banff Avenue and decadent parties at the proto-mountain resorts.

“One of the things that the director would focus on more was women’s power in the play, and so when cutting away different parts of the play, because it’s it goes on for like three and a half hours if you include the whole thing, a lot of the war parts went by the wayside,” Garland said.

Much Ado About Nothing is directed by MFA candidate Cali Sproule, with sets and lighting by Jared Raschke, and sound by Anton DeGroot.

Nyssa Orr plays Hero, and Benjamin Beston-Will plays Claudio. Students from first-year through fourth make up the 15-person cast for the production.

Tickets are on sale now through the University of Calgary box-office and online at arts.ucalgary.ca.

Authentic period costumes on stage

Among the other changes are the characters from night watchmen into Park Rangers, and the masquerade ball into one of the many themed parties that were held in the town at the time.

The history of those parties, said Garland, offered an interesting opportunity to open up the archives for costuming.

“They would actually rent costume pieces from the UCalgary stock to have these big costume parties, so we’ve gone into that section to actually look into our stock… for pieces that could have been rented and could have been borrowed,” she said.

Not all of the costumes have been selected out of the collections. Garland has designed wedding dresses and suits that are right out of ’70s fashion.

“Most of my work for actually figuring out what everyone was going to wear was spent with Sears catalogs, trying to find out what was truly authentic and what was truly going to read on stage,” Garland said.

Breathing new life into an old classic

Garland praised Goule’s direction for the play, saying that she had breathed new life and youth into the classic.

“She’s really considered what all these people will be saying to each other being in the now. It’s always fun to see someone’s take on something… and make it so incredibly emotionally impactful to an audience,” she said.

Sproule said that the play was about “falling in love, jealousy, deception, and the expectations of women.”

“When seeing this production, you’ll recognize these timeless themes, and at the very least, you’ll dance a little in your seat and enjoy a disco party,” she said.

“When I was proposing my thesis production, I made a list of things I wanted to experience as an emerging director.

“Much Ado About Nothing checked off many boxes: Heightened language, comedy, adaption, and a large cast.”