Shakespeare ‘shaken not stirred’ in NWACC devised theater comedy

Shakespeare ‘shaken not stirred’ in NWACC devised theater comedy

Stephanie Freeman, theater program coordinator for Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, describes it as “Shakespeare shaken, not stirred, with a tempest in a teapot” and “a topsy-turvy love letter to the one and only William Shakespeare.”

The show, on stage Nov. 30-Dec. 3, is titled “Shaken Up!,” and it’s a work of devised theater — meaning the show didn’t exist until students took their interpretation of their characters to Professor Damian Dena’s Drama Practicum class. Brought together by magic, the characters get to not only meet each other but, as Freeman puts it, “confront The Bard himself about their unfortunate endings.”

“Devised theater is where a group creates original work together,” says Dena, who holds a Master of Fine Arts in drama from the University of Arkansas. “Where normally you have one playwright writing a play, with devised theater a group writes together using original and pre-existing text, [then] collectively decides aesthetic, theme and execution of a theater production.

“I asked the students to choose any [Shakespeare] character they wanted to explore, and from there we decided who would meet who, what the interaction would be, etc.,” Dena explains. “Then they took all the lines that character had in their respective play, added contemporary language and even song lyrics, and created new scenes with each other. I myself even contributed a few scenes, including one that is made of a few dozen insults from Shakespeare’s plays.”

“I think devising with Shakespeare has been a pretty creative way of looking at how we go into production,” says NWACC theater student Suzy Bounsavy, who plays Titania, Queen of the Fairies, from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” “I’m getting to think about how my character is being portrayed and how I truly feel because I’ve been in her corner and writing for her throughout this process.”

Also included in the mashup are Juliet (Ashley Trancoso); Aaron from “Titus Andronicus” (Tayvon Mitchell); Cleopatra (Koie Kebert); Hamlet (Zack Fink); and Mercutio (Gage Rogers).

“I have six very talented students who brought very different characters, and flavors of the characters, to the table,” says Dena. “This made for a lot of interesting variance to the interactions on stage — even some that hadn’t met before within their own play.”

Dena says it took about two and a half weeks to “lock down the script” and another month for production.

“I hope they have a unique experience with creating something that they wouldn’t get at any other community college,” he says of his actors. “I really wanted them to be able to take ownership of a character that they’ve always wanted to explore, that they may not have a chance to play or that they have always wanted to play, and make it their own. I have for sure seen that from all of them, and I couldn’t be prouder.

“Educators are always trying to make Shakespeare more accessible to students,” he adds. “By breaking down some of those barriers, such as language and Elizabethan sensibilities, we can shake these characters out of their molds. We get to explore a piece of theater that is enjoyable for everyone, from Shakespeare scholars to comedy club fans.”

Dena says he hopes audiences “come to laugh, cry, and maybe have their interest piqued a bit about Shakespeare. Most of all, come support these young artists. We promise this is something you have not seen before.”

“This is my first college show, and I’m really excited to see how it’s all going to come together,” Tayvon Mitchell says.



‘Shaken Up!’

WHEN — 7 p.m. Nov. 30-Dec. 3

WHERE — White Auditorium at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville

COST — $5

INFO — Tickets are available at the door, cash/check/Venmo accepted

Categories: Theater