Titillated soldiers, messy match-making and cavalier comedy is taking the stage at the Zootown Arts Community Center as a troupe of thespians enact their own irreverent version of a classic Shakespeare play.
“I hope people laugh. I really like making people laugh. It’s what I’ve done my entire life,” the show’s director, Nevin Graves, said.
The ZACC is presenting “Much Ado About Nothing” this weekend, performed by the local theater troupe Literal Garbage Productions. This modernized version of a Shakespearean comedy will be full of hilariously dumb surprises.
The play is centered around a group of soldiers who’ve just come home victorious from war. Match-making and scandal and all the usual romantic drama tropes make this show light-hearted and entertaining.
“Everyone's really tired and a little feisty,” Graves said. “And then everyone realizes exactly how horny they are for everyone else in town.”
Graves, Sean Kirkpatrick, co-founder and creative director of Literal Garbage, and Audrey Dozier worked together to cut down Shakespeare's original script to make it more to-the-point. Kirkpatrick did the original cuts and then handed it off to the rest of the team to do what they wanted with it.
They had to cut off many instances where characters repeated what happened in previous scenes, “which sometimes felt really hard, especially when we were losing a good joke," Graves said.
Shakespeare’s plays are often longer than they have to be, because he was paid by the word for his work, Graves said, adding Shakespeare is often revered by the theater community more than he ought to be.
“William Shakespeare was an incredibly funny person, and funny people are usually extremely irreverent,” Graves said. “There are a ton of dick jokes in the show. There are a ton of dick jokes I didn't even put into the show. They're there. Shakespeare was an irreverent peasant, and I want to honor that.”
Kirkpatrick graduated with a theater degree from the University of Montana with a distaste for Shakespeare’s work, the opposite, they said, of what the degree was probably supposed to do.
So, when they were adapting “Much Ado About Nothing” they asked themselves,“What is funny about this? Why do people keep returning to these plays time and time again? And how do we kind of update that to make it just a little bit more modern for people like me who kinda see Shakespeare and are turned off a little bit?”
One of Literal Garbage Production’s signature qualities is their meta-theatre, the heavy-handed satire and the ability to poke fun at themselves and their craft. So, they were able to take the work of perhaps the most famous playwright of all time and make fun of it as well, not out of disrespect, but as a way of making it their own.
Kirkpatrick hopes the way they perform the show will connect to people like them who don’t normally enjoy Shakespeare.
One way Graves uses comedy and satire in the show is through the improvisation and comedic exaggeration of their actors. When someone does a little bit in rehearsal, Graves insists it stays in the final version of the production.
“If people wanna be silly and stupid a little bit with what it is that they're doing, they absolutely need to be,” Graves said. “Because this is a literal garbage production, it is meant to be stupid, it's meant to be ridiculous.”
One example he gave was in a conversation between the two main characters, Beatrice and Benedick, played by Sydney Madill and Zach French.
“‘Surely, I do believe your fair cousin is wronged,’” Graves read aloud as Benedick. “‘Ah, how much might the man deserve of me that would right her,’” Graves then read dramatically as Beatrice, before pausing for a beat. “‘And don't call me Shirley.’”
Kirkpatrick and Graves also take pride in the diversity of their cast and crew. The cast isn’t all white, there are actors of varying body types and gender identities and they tried to reflect that in their adaptation of the show as well.
“Much Ado About Nothing” was written 400 years ago and the gender roles of the play are outdated, so they tried to switch things up in their adaptation. One example of how they thwart gender expectations is by making some characters stay-at-home-dads.
Kirkpatrick loves comedy in part because it’s an effective way to get a message across.
“Comedy always, for me at least, has me looking inward as much as it does have me looking outward," they said. “It's kind of easier to listen to the content and the message — as much as there can be one — when you're in a good jovial, happy, jolly, laughing mood.”
This show will be the third the troupe has performed at the ZACC this year, and the first where they’ll be unmasked. Graves is excited to have live theater back, commenting that virtual theater isn’t theater at all, but rather television. They said they're proud of Missoula for its high vaccination rates, allowing them to safely have a show without masks on.
In a previous masked production, Graves said they were told that the masks dampened the experience because half the emoting is hidden behind a mask. In order to feel comfortable with being unmasked though, Graves made sure all of their cast and crew are vaccinated.
Kirkpatrick has had their own unique challenges during this time, as they’ve been living in Portland for several years. There was a learning curve, they said, to having people rehearse and meet virtually as they did earlier in the year, but now that others can meet in person, they’re feeling some fear of missing out.
But working virtually has been worth it for Kirkpatrick, so that they can stay a part of the community they miss in Missoula. They realize they don’t need to physically remain part of something they love.
“There's a scrappiness to Missoula that I love,” Kirkpatrick said, explaining how so much of Missoula is supportive of DIY artists. “It's sort of this feeling of like, ‘I have an idea, I have a drive, I'm gonna get this done no matter what, and people will come to it, or people won't.’”
Graves also sees this quality in Missoula and is particularly grateful to the ZACC for its support of anyone with an artistic idea. They hope their show will inspire others to create their own theatre or art.
Mostly Graves hopes people laugh, because it’s been a dark year and a half and we could all use a light-hearted evening.
“I want people to come into the showroom at the ZACC, and I want them to laugh for about two hours,” Graves said. “I want them to have a sensible chuckle, go home to bed, look up at the ceiling and think to themselves, 'well, that was nice for a moment.'”