No fun allowed. No singing, no dancing, no dating, definitely no you-know-what. Nothing but study, and fasting, and soberly contemplating the meaning of that spartan life.
That may sound like the past pandemic year, but it’s also the premise of a 400-year-old play that’s appearing on outdoor stages in Clark County this summer: students who take vows of chastity, then promptly fall in love.
For its first return to live theater, Metropolitan Performing Arts has launched a thoroughly modern update of “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” one of William Shakespeare’s earliest, silliest comedies. If you think you don’t like or can’t understand Shakespeare, this would be the show to try. (Don’t forget blankets, lawn chairs, picnics and sunscreen.)
“Our goal is to make Shakespeare relatable and fun, while still telling the stories he wrote,” said director Kris Heller. “To share our love of the Bard … and to create a safe learning environment for performers who have been too shy to attack Will’s works.”
Heller wasn’t shy about attacking Will’s words with her red pen. Since a lot of the original “Love’s Labour’s Lost” pokes fun at news and gossip of Shakespeare’s time — including long-ago political conflicts between European kingdoms you’ve probably never heard of — Heller unabashedly revised all that, she said. She transformed the historical regions of Navarre and Aquitaine into modern universities whose headmaster and headmistress meet to do business while struggling to suppress the passions of their assistants and students — not to mention their own.
Heller retained lots of Shakespeare’s original language, she said, but edited it way down and mashed in contemporary slang, social media, pop music and a dancing flash mob. There’s lots of room for the actors — from high-schoolers to adults — to improvise. One clown’s role is played by Google Assistant, who reports that there’s congestion on Interstate 5 (even in Shakespeare’s day!) while another clown, in the role of campus security, wields a tape measure to make sure 6 feet of social distance is maintained. (It’s not.)
Heller said she chose “Love’s Labor’s Lost” because the masks and disguises in the story seemed topical at a time when we’ve all been trained to wear face masks — but, she added, she’s relieved that virus restrictions have eased so actors won’t need to wear surgical-style nose-and-mouth masks after all.
“The fun thing about Shakespeare is you can do just about anything with it,” she said.
There’s something especially friendly and community-spirited about improvising for laughs, so it’s appropriate that downtown Vancouver’s Magenta Theater will reopen its doors and welcome back live audiences with a session of spontaneous fun and games by its Magenta Improv Theater troupe.
Audience suggestions will spark these trained improvisers to create comedic scenes and stories on the spot. Improvisers who don’t stay family-friendly are punished by donning the Cone of Shame. Tickets go on sale July 23 via www.magentatheater.com for the Aug. 21 show.
After that, it’s back to more modernized Shakespeare clowning as Magenta finally unveils its long-delayed “Much Ado About Nothing,” which was almost ready to hit the stage in spring 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic blocked it.
“Most of the cast has come back,” said David Roberts, the play’s director and Magenta’s executive director. A few gaps were filled after extra auditions were held earlier this month.
Over the past year, Roberts said, his main challenge has been keeping Magenta’s audience engaged in whatever way possible – from charity drives to online performances. It was fun and interesting to present new plays online in May, in a collaborative event with other small playhouses around the state called “First Times” – but the presentations didn’t attract a whole lot of eyeballs, Roberts said.
“I think the problem with virtual stuff – it’s just like television and Netflix. There are just so many options, so much to choose from,” he said. “It can’t compare to the overall appeal of live theater, which is a unique experience. You have to go.”
Magenta’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” featuring costumes and settings that give the Elizabethan comedy a vintage World War II feel, opens Sept. 10 and closes Sept. 26. Tickets go on sale Aug. 13.
Halloween season will see two productions at Magenta: “Vintage Hitchcock,” a live performance in the style of an old-school radio broadcast, complete with onstage Foley artist creating rich sound effects; and “Kid Frankenstein,” a not-too-scary version of the monster story that’s been linked to a school science fair. It is presented by MagenTOTs, the company project to entertain younger theatergoers.
Magenta’s annual Christmas show hasn’t been announced yet, Roberts said. Then, in 2022, Magenta will relish offering up a full theater season – with a fresher, more contemporary feel, Roberts said.
“We have a script group looking at scripts, and giving more thought to the type of material we’ll be choosing,” he said. “We’re starting fresh.”