This story has been updated
It may be 2015, but when the doors at The Wild Detectives in the Bishop Arts District opened Monday night at 8 p.m. to a swarm of more than 220 rowdy, beer-drinking “groundlings,” the bookshop-bar could have easily been the Globe Theatre in 1599.
These “groundlings” came to see a barely rehearsed version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, produced and performed by 15 actors as a part of Shakespeare in the Bar. In Shakespeare’s time, a groundling was the poorest member of the audience, who had probably just left work and who typically stood to watch the show from the back of the ground floor.
Much Ado About Nothing is Shakespeare in the Bar’s third production at The Wild Detectives. Shakespeare in the Bar is a brand-new project in Dallas, organized by SMU theatre alumni Katherine Bourne and Alia Tavakolian and Dallas director Dylan Key.
“This time around, more than in the past, the actors are really challenging themselves to lean into the vulnerability that comes with simply bringing yourself to the moment,” Bourne said. “With so little prep time, there is a real fight or flight mentality – to either cover up with a mask to protect yourself, or to trust yourself and your ensemble. One is easier; the other is braver.”
By 8:15 p.m., The Wild Detectives was at full capacity and members of the staff had to start turning people away. There was not a foot of empty space in the backyard of the bar where the show took place. By the time the show started at 9 p.m., the groundlings had had time to grab a beer, get some tacos, and get acquainted with their neighbors, so they were ready and eager for the Bard’s words to fill the playing space.
“I loved the relaxed atmosphere and how it was just them doing what they are good at while drinking beer,” said junior accounting major Sarah Cocke. “It was a fun night out and I would definitely go again!”
At the start of the show, the team of Shakespeare in the Bar encouraged the audience to yell, indulge in a drink or two, and have a great time along with the actors.
Actor Janielle Kastner, who graduated from SMU in 2012 with degrees in theatre and English, said that this go-around for Shakespeare in the Bar was the most fun for her so far.
“The audience responded so strongly to the show tonight,” Kastner said, who played the role of Margaret in Much Ado About Nothing. “Oftentimes it seems like as an audience member you have to perform the role of ‘watching Shakespeare’ – that barrier is immediately thrown out the window when an actor crawls over you and your drink to hide under your table lest she be discovered eavesdropping.”
The majority of the 15 actors either graduated from or have some kind of relationship with SMU, and many SMU students were in the audience.
The production was accompanied with music by The 8th Street Orkestar, which added a lively mood to the transitions from scene to scene during the performance.
“My favorite part when they played ‘Boys are Back in Town’ and all the men jumped out of the truck from behind the bar,” said SMU junior applied physiology major Noelle Hunter, who attended the performance. “I thought it was hilarious.”
Much Ado About Nothing is a Shakespeare comedy said to have been written between 1598 and 1599. In the play, Claudio is tricked into rejecting his beloved Hero at the altar on the belief that she has been unfaithful. At the same time, Beatrice and Benedick are being pranked into professing their love to one another.
The cast interacted and reacted with the house throughout the performance, which broke the barriers between actor and audience member. Cast members danced on tables, picked on individuals and, much to the audience’s interest and enjoyment, called for “line” every once and awhile. The overall vibe was relaxed and lighthearted, but that did not take away from some very serious acting going on inside the playing space.
“My favorite moment of these shows is the first time the audience laughs out loud together,” Kastner said. “You can feel the audience and the ensemble take a collective sigh of relief – this is time to engage and enjoy and leave the rule book at home!”