After creating and appearing in some of the most inventive productions at Bard on the Beach, including most recently a production of Lysistrata, director Lois Anderson returns to her alma mater to direct a new production of Much Ado About Nothing.
In true Anderson style, she has updated the comedy to take place in today’s Italy, given it somewhat of a gender makeover, and managed to shave off more than an hour off The Bard’s original text.
“I wanted to see if we could set it in a contemporary time, so we’ve set it in 2018,” she says. “I also wanted to see what it would be like to cast some of the male characters as female, and how that would affect the story to have a matriarchy, for example instead of a patriarchy.”
Anderson’s creativity didn’t stop at time and character though. With the World Cup happening at the time she was thinking about the production, she also landed on the idea of using soccer as a backdrop.
“In the original, there’s a group of young men who return from the wars,” she explains. “But because it is now Italy in 2018, I was thinking about what a similar group of men would be and I thought, they could be soccer players returning from the game that they just won. So that was really exciting to crack and to get us off the soldier costuming and the soldier context.”
Anderson comes by her creativity having been a part of some of Vancouver’s most inventive theatre companies, including Leaky Heaven Circus, Neworld Theatre, and Electric Company Theatre.
“My background is in creation-based work,” she says. “With Leaky Heaven we often played with classical story lines and thought about sort of dissecting them; about how to deconstruct and re-stage them.”
In her “theatrical blood”, Anderson not only looks for opportunities to update the classics, she also finds herself questioning Shakespeare’s relevance for today’s audiences.
“I think that we’re at a time with Shakespeare where we have to decide why we are continuing to produce [his works], and if we are continuing to tell these stories, how they speak to us in the world that we live in today,” says Anderson.
Chosen as the final show by this year’s theatre graduating class at the University of British Columbia, it was a choice Anderson found a little surprising.
“I thought, wow, a group of young people has chosen Much Ado. Why did they choose it and what do they see in it?” she says.
Anderson quickly concluded it was about the various aspects of love and community that attracted the students to it.
“It is a piece is about love. Love for each other, love for the community, love extended into our neighborhoods and into our city, and among friends and strangers even,” she says. “I think that’s a very hopeful story to tell right now, at this point in the history of our planet, to have young people remind us about love.”
And while acknowledging at its surface it is still a love story between two couples – Beatrice and Benedick, and Hero and Claudio – Anderson and her company also see it as a celebration of community.
“There is also a great celebration embedded inside of this piece, a celebration of community,” she says. “What it’s like to feast with your neighbors and dance with your neighbors. It’s very inspiring to see young people celebrating, laughing and dancing together.”
But for all the discussion of love and community, Anderson is particularly proud of the work this young cast has done to make Much Ado About Nothing accessible to today’s audiences in more practical terms.
“There is a technique to speaking Shakespeare and these students have worked on this technique and they have it now,” she says. “You can understand what they’re saying, which is often the number one challenge, in not knowing what people are saying when you’re sitting in the audience, so you can become very alienated from the piece.”
Beyond the access to the language, Anderson is also excited by the energy her young cast brings to the stage.
“A young company is always exciting to watch. They have energy, they have hope, they have courage, they burst onto the stage,” she says. “To watch the energy of this young company doing Shakespeare is infectious. And that’s what I think the play is about: it’s about love infecting us.”
Much Ado About Nothing plays the Frederic Wood Theatre at the University of British Columbia (6354 Crescent Rd, Vancouver) November 8-24. Visit theatre.ubc.ca for tickets and information.
Editor’s note (8 Nov): this interview was edited to correct any potential confusion over Anderson’s most recent work for the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival. Lysistrata is not a Shakespeare play, although it did play at the annual Shakespeare festival in 2018.