WCSU professor chats about ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ production
Love, deception, mistaken identity, and throw in a masquerade ball. It may sound like a Lifetime movie, but it’s the captivating components of “Much Ado About Nothing,” William Shakespeare’s most famous comedy. Featuring students from Western Connecticut State University’s (WCSU) theatre arts department, the play will come alive outside on the Ives Concert Park stage, located on the Westside campus of WCSU in Danbury. The show is part of the Fine Art and Family Series. Four performances will be staged Aug. 16-18.
Director Anthony Cochrane, an adjunct theatre arts professor at WCSU and former actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company in London has an intimate yet lively production planned. “The atmosphere is that of a light comedy interspersed with a magical musical box feel,” said Cochrane. “I’m very excited to remount the production. There were things about the original I’d like to improve on. This is an opportunity that rarely happens in theatre.”
In a recent chat, Cochrane offered some thoughts on the show.
Pamela Brown: Have you directed Shakespeare productions before?
Anthony Cochrane: Yes, “Hamlet” for Western and “Julius Caesar” for the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey. I’m excited about this production because it’s a rare delight to direct plays. As an actor, I’m usually a part of someone else’s vision, but directing and sound designing gives one a closeness to a show that’s a gift for any artist.
PB: Why did you decide to take on this project?
AC: Pamela McDaniel, chair of Western’s theatre arts department, asked me if I’d like to direct another show after I directed “Hamlet” last year. I wanted to do a comedy and I have a long history with “Much Ado” as I played Benedick in a production with London’s Aquila Theatre Company in 2001.
PB: What’s the best part about presenting a theatrical production on stage?
AC: Seeing the final product. When things work it really is magical.
PB: How would you describe the comedy?
AC: It’s a show about two sets of lovers. One set young and eager, the other jaded and cynical. It is a comedy of spying and misunderstandings, both accidental and deliberate.
PB: What is your artistic vision for the performance?
AC: “Much Ado” is always blessed with the wonderful character of Beatrice. In our production I wanted to highlight her strength and also shine a light on Hero’s dilemma. I wanted Hero to have a moment of reflection and perhaps a choice. In our current cultural climate I felt compelled, I felt bound to give Hero the room to question her reunion with Claudio after his awful scornful behavior. I hope that I have gone some way to doing that.
PB: What type of scenery will be used?
AC: We use movable flats that the cast move around the stage. They’re simple devices that create environments along with the music I composed for the production. We ask the audiences’ imagination to create the rest.
PB: What’s your background?
PB: I’ve spent a great deal of my 41 years in the business as an actor doing his wonderful works. I’m an actor from Scotland who started in the U.K., trained in Scotland, then worked in repertory theatre for a few years before getting into a very successful network TV show called “Taggart.” I worked two and a half years with the Royal Shakespeare Company then moved to the U.S. with the Aquila Theatre Company with whom I wrote music and in many productions. I moved to the U.S. permanently working in regional theatre and on and off Broadway including Tom Stoppard’s “Coast Of Utopia” trilogy and “War Horse”— both at the Lincoln Center Theater.
PB: Do you feel people get intimidated when they hear the name Shakespeare?
AC: Yes, but they should not be. These plays have lasted this long for a reason. They are full of rich characters and rich language that is such a joy to hear. You don’t need to understand everything, just enjoy what you do.
PB: Is it rewarding making Shakespeare more accessible to audiences?
AC: Yes. With Aquila that was all we thought about. How can we encourage young people to want to go to these plays? I’ve had a long history of making these plays easier to understand. I am also involved with the PlayOn Festival that just finished at Classic Stage Company in New York where the entire canon of plays have been rewritten by modern playwrights. It was a fascinating project that took place over five weeks, with 140 actors reading a different play every day. I played Jaques in “As You Like It” and Timon in “Timon Of Athens,” and performed in three other plays.
PB: How do you intend to make the Ives production fresh and innovative?
AC: I hope our production’s exploration of gender roles and Hero’s empowerment feels timely and relevant today.
For more information, visit ivesconcertpark.com.