MD Spring play revamps Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’


Harper Rosenberg, Staff Writer

After re-reading Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing over the summer, theater teacher and production director Haila VanHentenryck decided to produce the play with a modern, Middle Division (MD) appropriate twist: it would take place in the setting of a modern-day MD party. 36 MD students from the grade are recreating the Shakespeare classic, which coincides with the eighth grade’s recent reading of the play in English class. 

Inspired by her experience at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) teacher professional development program last summer, VanHentenryck decided to take advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of theater. “It would be very cool to intermingle with the English teachers and work together putting this production up for the kids,” she said. 

The title Much Ado About Nothing itself means ‘a lot of drama for no reason,’ which reminded VanHentenyck of her own experience in middle school. During the play, the mischievous characters conspire against one another and seek revenge, she said. “I thought that was a perfect play to put on for middle schoolers because they understand the world of the play intuitively,” she said.

The stage is set with a snack bar, beach balls, and hula hoops, all to reinforce the atmosphere of an MD party setting. “I think the set is very cool and it puts a spin on an otherwise overdone play,” Michael Oyaniyi (8), who plays peace officer Dogberry said. 

Certain other aspects of the play have been changed a bit to reflect this setting. Although the script itself has not changed much, the show is laced with modern pop culture references, such as the Subway Surfers and Avengers theme songs, Oyaniri said. 

The rehearsal process was especially constructive since students were free to ask questions when they did not understand something and ask for clarification. English teacher Isaac Brooks or one of the student dramaturgs then immediately helped the student out, VanHentenryck said. 

At the beginning of the production, VanHentenryck moved through the play very slowly to ensure that all of the actors were on board with their lines, the social dynamics, and the politics of the play, Oyaniyi said. “You adapt very quickly and the Shakespearean language is not as difficult to understand as people may think,” he said. 

Performers were given lots of creative freedom. Araxi Kuhn (6) has shifted her original character Balthazar into “Balthazaurus,” who always carries around a thesaurus. “I’m a very wordy person and it fed into the play very well,” she said.

Another unique aspect of the play is the setting since it takes place outside in a tent. This was intended to mirror the long tradition dating back to Shakespeare’s time, when traveling theater troupes came into a town, set up a stage, and performed, VanHentenryck said. Students had to adapt their acting skills to fit this unique stage configuration, she said. On this type of stage, the actors must present themselves to the right, to the front, and to the left, so that all three sides of the audience can see them.

This outdoor production was an entirely new experience since there hasn’t been one during VanHentenryck’s five years at the school. “It’s a fun undertaking and something different,” she said. Outside shows are more challenging as one has to project more and push more air out of their lungs to be loud enough; there are also distractions which make rehearsals more difficult. “You have to be laser focused because there’s a lot going on outside—you have to focus on your part and be aware at the same time,” she said. 

This posed a bit of a challenge because there were many times when wind roared into the actors’ microphones, obscuring the actors’ voices, Wyatt Krueger (8), who plays Beatrice, said. Sound does not travel as much outside so the actors must speak louder, he said.

Amidst all of the excitement, actors still have some concerns. Anusha Goel (7), who plays Claudio, is nervous for the wedding scene, in which a wedding goes horribly wrong and she must act angry. “There’s a lot of screaming and I’m not particularly good at acting angry,” she said.

When watching, the audience should also look out for all of the really interesting background characters, Krueger said. “There are students doing things like dancing and talking to the bartender in the back, which give the show more personality,” he said. 

Viewers should also look forward to the show’s snappy script. “I would rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me,” is one of VanHentenryck’s favorite lines in the show, she said.