After spending less than a month in rehearsals, members of Dartmouth’s only student-run Shakespeare company, the Dartmouth Rude Mechanicals, will perform the romantic and hilarious “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Bentley Theater in the Hopkins Center this weekend.
“Much Ado” follows two pairs of lovers as the treacherous Don John tries to tear them apart. However, despite the villain’s foibles, the play ends like many of Shakespeare’s comedies with a double marriage and all misunderstandings resolved.
“Winter is usually a dreary time, [so] instead of doing some dark play we wanted to do something where people are having a lot of fun watching it,” company manager Neil Basu ’11 said in an interview with The Dartmouth.
Because of the short amount of time the Rude Mechanicals have to rehearse, Basu said the company always practices for six hours on Saturday before the opening performance.
This may seem like a grueling prospect, but Basu insists it is enjoyable.
“It’s actually extremely laid-back,” Basu said.
Basu credits the group’s low-key atmosphere with creating an exciting opportunity for student actors.
“It’s a really fun process because it’s not like it’s a professional theater,” Basu explained. “But somehow we make it into a coherent show at the end that people really enjoy watching.”
The company was formed in the fall of 2008 by several students on the theater FSP in London, according to executive director and founding company member Emily Baxter ’11.
Baxter is a member of The Dartmouth staff.
“We did our first show in the winter with the whole point of the group being that you could participate in Shakespeare within a company setting,” Baxter said.
Baxter added that the company’s collaborative nature allows students to experiment with different areas of theater production.
“In the Rude Mechanicals you can help direct, you can explore and you can have a part that you normally wouldn’t audition for in order to try something new with your acting,” Baxter said.
The group is different from many theater companies because it is not bureaucratic, according to Baxter.
“We lack a specific hierarchy in that every member of the group has a say in what happens,” Baxter said. “I think it sets us apart in that way because we are very communal.”
Many of the company members had never acted in one of Shakespeare’s plays before joining the group.
“I had no experience with Shakespeare before the group,” Basu said. “It’s really just people that are enthused with acting and with working with other actors.”
While the Rude Mechanicals may take a laid-back approach to the rehearsal process, they are dedicated to staying true to Shakespeare’s text.
“One of the main tenets of the group is that we want to stick to the script rather than modernize any of the words,” Basu said. “We’re large believers in using the word of the Shakespeare text to make the play great.”
According to Basu, the Rude Mechanicals use costuming and acting choices to reinterpret Shakespeare’s plays instead of changing his words.
“We try to make it as accessible as possible to the audience so sometimes we have sexual humor or very slapstick moments,” Baxter said.
To ensure that the shows are dynamic and exciting despite the short rehearsal period, Baxter said that parts are assigned a term ahead of time, giving actors time to learn their lines and prepare before the first rehearsal.
“You have to come ready from break knowing your lines, but I think I’ve [only] done that once,” Baxter joked.
However, Baxter said that preparing ahead of time does help the company’s rehearsals run more smoothly.
“Once we meet up for our big rehearsals and put everything together, there’s not a lot of room for error in a four week rehearsal period,” Baxter said. “So the more that we know of the technical stuff, the more we can focus on the little moments that can make it a really interesting show.”
Baxter added that the group’s high energy and finely detailed performances appeal to a broad sector of the student body, making the intense rehearsal process more gratifying.
“It can be a pretty daunting task,” Baxter admitted. “But it is always very rewarding to see people who normally wouldn’t come to this sort of production [really] enjoy themselves.”
“Much Ado” opens on Friday at 8 p.m. in the Bentley, with performances at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.