Much ado about Shakespeare;
ACU hosts annual festival honoring immortal bard

Sunday, July 1, 2001

By Brien Murphy
Reporter-News Staff Writer

For the Abilene Shakespeare Festival, it's all about audience comfort.

People who attend the productions of "Richard III" and "Much Ado About Nothing" at Abilene Christian University's Beauchamp Amphitheatre are invited to spread out blankets or bring lawn chairs, come dressed in shorts and T-shirts, and bring a picnic supper. The later-than-usual start time - 8:45 p.m. - also roughly coincides with the setting of the sun, keeping audience members out of the heat.

"That's the way this type of theater was performed" when it debuted, said Josh Blann (Richard in "Richard III").

The free annual festival brings "rolling repertory" theater to Abilene as about two dozen actors perform roles in two of William Shakespeare's plays. The plays are performed on alternate nights.

Keeping roles in two productions straight is a challenge, said Bill Rankin, whose more prominent role is Don Pedro in "Much Ado."

"You have to have an understanding of two different characters. It can be a bit schizophrenic," he said.

It also offers the usual challenge of taking language that is out of style - Shakespeare's plays were written 400 years ago - and making it make sense to modern audiences.

Rankin, an ACU English professor, said like any play, Shakespearean plays are meant to be seen and heard, not read.

"When you read it as a text, it's difficult, it's language that we don't use anymore. But when people see it, it comes to life," he said.

"There are things that really connect. There's a very basic humanity. People elevate Shakespeare so much, but this was the soap opera of its day, this was the popular entertainment of its day."

"Richard III" is, basically, a political thriller. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, is brother of England's King Edward, who assumed the throne after a war. Richard isn't satisfied with just being a duke, however. He wants the crown, and is willing to kill to get it. Various political underlings underestimate Richard, which helps him consolidate power. The question that remains is, can anyone stop him?

"Much Ado" is a romantic comedy about two witty would-be lovers who spend more time engaging in a battle of wits than in admitting they do, in fact, love each other. Their friends devise a plan to get them together, but things don't quite go according to plan - it wouldn't be a romantic comedy without problems - and the fun is in seeing how they overcome those problems to join hands.

Adam Hester is directing "Richard III." Clay Freeman is directing "Much Ado." Cast members don't want to give too much away, but they use words like "futuristic" and "ultra-modern" in describing Freeman's vision for "Much Ado" (hint: it won't necessarily be set in the early 1600s).

"We pull from many periods to make it feel loose," said Sandy Blue (Beatrice in "Much Ado").

The Abilene Shakespeare Festival will be Thursday through Saturday, and July 12-14 outdoors at Beauchamp Amphitheatre at ACU, under the Tower of Light. Showtime is 8:45 each night.

"Much Ado About Nothing" will be performed Thursday, Saturday and July 13. "Richard III" will be performed Friday and July 12 and 14. Admission is free, and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Contact leisure writer Brien Murphy at 676-6760 or

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Last update: June 28, 2001
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