One week from today, Next Stage Productions’ “Much Ado About Nothing” opens at On Pitch Performing Arts in Layton. I co-directed this production with my good friend Justin Lee, though neither of us were supposed to take those jobs on.

My first collaborations with Justin always involved violence

The previously-hired director quit the job less than a month before auditions were supposed to occur. Justin was serving as the Board of Directors Chair and was producing the show. Friend to friend we spoke about the difficult position his production was placed in.

And I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t see how I could possibly step in to direct, which he hadn’t asked me to do–we both knew my schedule was why I hadn’t applied to direct the show months earlier. Still, the show wouldn’t leave my creative mind alone. And now the last-minute absence of a director and the stressful position in which Justin found himself wouldn’t leave my mind either.

I called Justin up and asked if co-directing the show would be a possibility. Justin is one of the busiest people I know. He’s also one of the people with whom I am so often on the same page artistically that collaborating with him is a synergistic joy. After comparing schedules and speaking with spouses, we figured we could pull this thing off between the two of us.

Janilee Hutchings as Conrade and Krystal Day as Don John, both typically male roles

We were right about that. But only because of Paul Nielson. I’ve never worked with Paul before, but Justin knew him. Paul is our Stage Manager and truly the only consistent member of the production team our talented cast has had from rehearsal to rehearsal. This guy has really made an impression on me. Organized, un-phased, reliable, dedicated, helpful–all the Stage Manager things–and a whole bunch of the “lovely human being” things too.

The show opens in seven days. The pre-production phase was rushed, which is typically when I do my exhaustive research, thorough preparation and planning over the course of weeks. I had about ten days, which included editing the script. The rehearsal phase was highly unusual and sporadic given scheduling difficulties. But this show is going to be great! I love it when a cast comes together and these people suit their roles so nicely. It surprises me that for many of them, this is their first performance of Shakespeare as an adult. Exactly half of the cast had never worked with Justin before. Same percentage had never worked with me before. Some crossover exists. Neither of us had ever worked with Mara Lefler, who plays Beatrice. But if the scenes between her and Brandon Green as Benedick don’t have you riveted, I’ll be surprised.

Brandon Green as Benedick and Mara Lefler as Beatrice

If Shakespeare isn’t usually your thing, don’t be turned off. This adaptation is completely contemporary, except the language, though I think you’ll find it’s easier to understand and follow than you might expect. And if Shakespeare is your thing, then you’ll find all the lines that you’ve come to love from “Much Ado.”

Quite a lot of scramble and a little bit of drama with the genesis of the project–much ado, if you will. But not about nothing. This show is really going to be something!

Our corporate props and costumes include employee ID badges

Director’s Note: Justin and I both agreed there wouldn’t be one in the program, but in case you’re one of the few people who actually likes those things, here’s a little something. We’ve placed our production in contemporaneous corporate America with Aragon Tech at a teambuilding and leadership retreat at Messina Lodge. So much of this show hinges on communication and miscommunication across a variety of relationships, as well as maneuverings of both the nefarious and matchmaking kinds. I think everyone who sits in the seats is going to find someone to relate to on the stage. One of my favorite lines comes from Benedick at the end of the play where, and I intentionally paraphrase, he tells his friends not to hold his previous opinions against him now that he has learned and changed his mind. I can definitely relate to that.

a bench outside the Messina Lodge with the Messina Logo, crafted by Paul Nielson

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