You don’t have to worry about what to wear if you go to the next play on tap at Chipola College: Just dress for a picnic. Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” will be performed outside, on the big west lawn of the Prough Center for the Arts.
You’ll have to bring your own chair or a blanket to lounge on, and you’re encouraged to bring food and drink to enjoy while you watch 14 cast members put on the romantic comedy. It’s a romp with song, dance, matchmaking, mistaken identity, battles of the sexes, love stories, and a script trimmed slightly from Shakespeare’s original to 75 minutes worth of show. Tickets go for $5 each and can be purchased on entry. Prough Center restrooms will be accessible during the performances.
Chipola Theatre Director Raines Carr, new to that job this year, said this show is filled with first: It’s the first time Chipola has put on a full play outside the building, it’s the first time that the consumption of food and drink is welcome during a show, and it’s the first time Carr has staged this particular play
He’s working through Shakespeare’s 36: This one is number eight on his bucket list. It’s also the first play tackled by the new local Shakespeare company he formed—made up right now exclusively of Chipola students but potentially opening to members of the general public in the future.
Show dates are June 18-20, starting at 7 p.m. on June 18-19, and with a 2 p.m. matinee on June 20 to finish the run.
It’s a play for all ages, Carr said, noting that it is something children can fully enjoy on their level while adults can savor nuances in the comedy that might fly over the heads of the youngest.
Carr’s arrival on campus last August also resulted in another first for Chipola: All the courses he teaches are brand new to the school, crafted by him to be suitable for the new bachelor’s level performance degree that is now possible to offer because of his master’s degree on the instructional side.
His career in theatre and the wider entertainment field spans some 30 years. Most recently he lived in Los Angeles, where he spent many years in casting more than 500 commercials, in acting and in directing. He has formed Shakespeare companies in various communities and arranged outdoor performances of The Bard’s masterpieces for several years.
Carr grew up in Jacksonville and five years ago started searching for a job back in North Florida. The one he snagged at Chipola, he said, fit the bill exactly. He loves to work with still-learning actors hungry for stage experience and soaking up knowledge, he said, and he is happy to be in a small town environment. He and his wife expect to be here for many years to come: They’ve bought a house already.
One of the new courses he put in place for his students at Chipola is improvisation, a pursuit that can leave actors feeling painfully vulnerable. Carr said his students stepped up. “They’ve been very brave,” he said, “they’ve opened up to the point that they can create a very successful product on stage.”
Carr came to Chipola around the same time that the COVID-19 pandemic froze out large gatherings. With performance theatre temporarily sidelined almost from the beginning of his arrival, Carr and his students used their time honing craft, acting and learning under social distancing guidelines.
Because they were solidly grounded before they set foot on a stage for a public performance, it’s arguable that they’ll be more polished in their first such outings that they normally would have been.
Carr believes that will prove out when they take their places under the stars next week. He’s also hoping they’ll have a big audience to play to: The lawn is huge and there’s more than ample room for social distancing.
The cast includes: Dorian Chancy as Benedick, Elijah Wells as Don Pedro, Leah Lewis as Beatrice, Bryce Etheridge as Claudio, Alexis Hall as Hero, Chandler King as Dogberry/Messenger, Ashley Lytle as Leonato, Madison Smith as Margert, George Roulhac as Borachio, Gwyneth Davis as Don John, Michael Anthony as Friar Francis/Balthasar, Ricky Coachman as Conrade, Tayla Robarts as Verges, Niya Bright as Sexton/Watchman 1, and Caroline King as Antonio/Watchman 2.