Bag&Baggage's war of wits
"Much Ado About Nothing" sparks Bag&Baggage Productions' 2019-20 season, holding true to its mission to adapt William Shakespeare's greatest works, spicing them with its own flavor.
The Bard's story focuses on two witty characters who fall in love, with deception and plot twists along the way. This production takes on the lives of Benedick and Bertram, a gay couple based on the play's original Benedick and Beatrice. This "Much Ado About Nothing" is taken from the script written by Gordon Barr from Glasgow, Scotland's Bard in the Botanics, the largest Shakespeare festival in the country.
Associate artists Norman Wilson and Philip J. Berns portray Benedick and Bertram, with several other actors on the playbill from past Bag&Baggage productions.
At a rehearsal for the show, creative director Cassie Greer is watching the cast rehearse with kazoos, all playing to the tune of the 1973 song "Hooked on a Feeling" by Blue Swede.
They all bounce around the set, avoiding bocce balls scattered on the fake grass. Still prepping for opening night, the atmosphere of The Vault Theater in Hillsboro captures what the set of the 1988 movie "Heathers" might have been like with all its candy-colored, whimsical details.
Greer and the cast focused their attention on American writer, philospher and activist Susan Sontag's "Notes on Camp," in preparation for "Much Ado About Nothing," a 1964 essay talking about how camp is a sensibility that can be seen as a resistance to the mainstream.
"Camp" may ring a bell or two after this year's Metropolitan Museum of Art's Gala, with its theme of celebrating camp's influence on fashion, from clothes to furniture, in an over-the-top and captivating way.
"There is a whole bunch of stuff that gets wrapped into the idea of 'seeing and being seen' in this show and things that you can't be quite overt about displaying but still want to be seen. It ties into the gay scene in New York when Susan Sontag wrote this little pamphlet called 'Notes on Camp.'" Greer said. "The document is an inspiration on how we think about the show and using that idea of camp's 'sensibility' — it's not a style, but a way of thinking — and in the show, we are in a world living in camp or heightened reality."
While camp is front and center, so is the exploration of gender, which "Much Ado About Nothing" views as a societal construct — an idea created and accepted by people in society.
"It is an important thing to be thinking about. This show works to normalize approaches to gender that don't necessarily subscribe to the traditional binaries that our culture gives us," Greer said. "The challenge with the camp style is it is really fun to lean into going over the top, but we have also been working on having … these characters be authentic and super sympathetic because if what we're trying to do is to normalize alternative approaches to gender, if people just see these people as caricatures, then we have lost that dimension of why this is an important story to be telling and paying attention to right now."
While the show is comedic at its core, there are some serious bits among the witty banter and camp sensibility, but in the end, the show is about love, Greer said.
"It is a super fun show, and it moves quickly. There are some fun Easter eggs in reference to pop culture. You get to see some dancing, which you don't always get to see at Bag&Baggage," she said. "If nothing else, this is a really great time to challenge our assumptions about what is normal and how people should be identifying or approaches people should have.
"Are these binaries so important to us that we need to cling to them? It is a good time to start asking those questions," she said. "This show allows us to do that in a way that we aren't giving a lot of intellectual pressure. You can have fun and have an opportunity to mull over that."
"Much Ado About Nothing" opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 11, for its "Pay What You Will Night," where anyone can attend for any price. Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, through July 28.
If you go
What: Bag&Baggage's "Much Ado About Nothing"
When: July 11-July 28
Where: The Vault Theater, 350 E. Main St., Hillsboro
Tickets: $27 and up
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