Sure, Shakespeare could write. But could he swing dance?
Lake Braddock's high school theater director R. L. Mirabal usually retools the fall performance in some fashion: "A Midsummer Night's Dream" set in a boardroom, "Romeo and Juliet" with dueling Mafia families. This year, "Much Ado About Nothing" is set in post-World War II Italy.
"We try to do one classic [play] every year," said Mirabal, who has taught drama at Lake Braddock for 16 years. But that doesn't mean they do the play in the classic style, with Elizabethan-era costumes and British accents. Instead, Mirabal said, he tries to make classic works easy to relate to. "You're already forcing these kids stuff. They're not used to it as it is," he said.
"A lot of people don't understand Shakespeare to begin with," said senior Holly Riggi, who plays lead character Hero. "But if you try to relate it to them then they like it better. We're trying to keep people in their seats, not have them leave during intermission."
Senior Chivonne Floyd agreed. "Normally, I hear the word 'Shakespeare' and I start crying," she said. She was not about to try out, she said, but thought the 1940s theme would be fun. She plays Beatrice, the lead female role.
"We can make the jokes in Shakespeare even more funny," said Chivonne. "When someone says something about being bad at dancing, we can show them being bad at swing dancing."
THIS YEAR'S play choices were narrowed down to "Taming of the Shrew," set in a high school, and the 1940s "Much Ado." It would have been hard to pull off "Taming of the Shrew’s" marriage plot in a high school setting, Mirabal said, since he does not change any of the lines.
But the WWII-era setting adds subtexts to the play that wouldn't otherwise be there, said Mirabal. The broadening of women's roles in the 1940s allows female students to play traditionally male roles.
Take Leonato. Governor and father of Hero, the role is usually played by a man. But in Lake Braddock's version, the character is Major Leonato of the Women's Army Corps, Hero's mother. This allows for a romance between Leonato and good friend Don Pedro, said Mirabal.
"You don't have to change the concept of their lines to each other, because of their deep friendship [in the text]," he said. Of course, Leonato and Don Pedro's kiss at the end is not in the original version.
Leonato's older brother, Antonio, is now Antonia, and the two sisters challenge main character Claudio to a duel after he embroils Hero in a scandal.
"It's funnier when it's two old ladies trying to beat up Claudio rather than two old men," said Mirabal.
In one of the most exciting scenes, he said, characters Beatrice and Benedick snipe at each other across a crowded room. In Lake Braddock's version, they'll be at a swing dance.
"I have swing-danced, but never in a play," said Chivonne. "It's really interesting, it changes the tempo of the whole show."
"It's something you have to perfect," said senior Holly Riggi, who plays Hero. And perfect it they did, with student choreographer Jenny Fornoff teaching 30 of her peers to do the rock step and the Charleston.
SOME STUDENTS were more excited about dancing than others. Jason Wolf, who plays Don John, was overjoyed when he learned his character was going to dance in the scene. His partner, Hannah Brandenburg (Conrad), was not so thrilled.
"If it were up to me, I'd sit in the corner," she said. In the end, Mirabal compromised, having the pair skulk around the back of the stage.
"I thought I wouldn't like [the 1940s setting] at first, I thought it would be hard to pull off and confusing," said Brandenburg. "But getting into it, it works."
"The cool thing about Shakespeare is, you can put it in any staging and it can work," said Riggi.
To get prepared, students watched "Swing Kids" and listened to big band music. To design the costumes, which many students agree are the best part of the show, Mirabal had students watch "Band of Brothers" and "Saving Private Ryan."
"We got into the mood with 'Swing Kids,'" said Chivonne. "It changes the direction of the play."
The dance floor is a little tight this year. Lake Braddock's renovations have gutted the theater, making it unusable for this season, so the students will perform "Much Ado" on the middle school stage. Mirabal likes to have a large fall show to give freshman an opportunity to perform, but could not do that this year.
Thankfully, said Riggi, the members of Lake Braddock's theatre department work well together. "I love it," she said. "It's a place to come and be accepted. It doesn't matter who you are."