Fresh from its critically acclaimed run of the original musical comedy Breakups & Breakdowns earlier this year, Upstart Productions kicks off its very first school tour with an exciting new take on William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, sponsored by Fila. “Our version is a lot of fun,” says show director and Upstart co-founder Joel Trinidad. “Student audiences will definitely enjoy it.”
Set in the present day, the story—originally about victorious soldiers returning home to their fair maidens in Messina, Sicily—centers around the much more teen–friendly world of competitive sports. Thus, the soldiers have become hotshot college basketball players; the smitten maidens have turned into enthusiastic cheerleaders; and the city of Messina has become the fictitious Messina University, the school the players represent. But interestingly enough, the poetic language has remained the same. “You can make a Shakespeare play understandable without changing the words,” declares Emerita Alcid, co-founder of Upstart and the show’s producer. “You just need the right directorial approach.”
Trinidad agrees. “A Shakespeare play is just like any other play,” he remarks. “It’s got plot, conflict, characters, and everything else a modern play has.” What makes Shakespeare challenging to most present–day audiences is comprehension. After all, many of the words, expressions, and idioms that were common in the Elizabethan Era are no longer in use today. The director, however, is undaunted. “As long as the actor understands exactly what he’s saying, the audience will, too. They may not get every single word, but they will definitely understand what’s going on.” That’s why Trinidad, a long-time Shakespeare fan, conducted readings with the cast even before rehearsals began, to make sure everyone knew exactly what every single word meant. He also kept the lines of communication open between him and the actors throughout the entire rehearsal process. “I always want my actors to know that they can come to me if they have any questions about text or character. But I don’t have all the answers, so sometimes we discover things together. It makes it more fun for everyone.”
But comprehension is only part of the task. States producer Alcid, “Once the audience understands what’s going on, they can start enjoying themselves. And that’s what we’re going for.rdquo; And judging from the swooning and cheering teenagers in the previews, that is what Upstart got. The director, however, is quick to give credit where it’s due. “The comedy, the romantic moments, the wit: that’s all there, in the text” he notes. Quips Alcid, “There’s a reason these plays have been popular for 400 years.”
Much of the credit goes to Trinidad’s capable actors, many of whom had never done, never even considered doing-Shakespeare before. “It didn’t matter to Joel if you didn’t have experience,” shares Alcid. “If you had talent, if you had good instincts, you were in the show.” Just like bossa nova sensation Sitti, who plays Hero, one of the play’s romantic leads. “Sitti was a pleasant surprise,”says Trinidad. “She came in and auditioned, just like everyone else. And she did a great job!”
But entertainment is not Upstart’s only goal with this school tour. As part of the theater company’s educational thrust, every performance of the show includes free instructional guides (for teachers), souvenir programs that double as study aids (for students), and free post-show open forums (for all members of the audience). “Entertainment plus education,” declares Alcid. “That’s Upstart’s strategy.” And it seems to be working. To quote GMA News, “If the goal is to make Filipino teenagers appreciate Shakespeare, then Upstart Productions has succeeded.” Shakespeare would be proud.
Upstart Productions presents Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joel Trinidad. Grand opening at 2 pm on Friday, September 30, at the PhilamLife Theater, U.N. Avenue, Manila. Tickets at P300. Call 09497917270 or e-mail Upstart at [email protected] for reservations. Tickets are also available at the gate. To book the show in your school or at the venue of your choice, please contact Onyl Torres at 09178456695 or e-mail Upstart at [email protected].