Spanish-inflected "Much Ado" coming to Clark Park, Campus Martius

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
Bay Area actress Carolina Morones plays Beatriz in the Spanish-inflected "Much Ado Para Nada" from Shakespeare in Detroit, opening Thursday evening at Clark Park.

Hablo Shakespeare? You will.

Shakespeare in Detroit will mount a Spanish-inflected version of “Much Ado About Nothing” in Clark Park on Thursday and Campus Martius Park Friday through Sunday.

Shakespeare is endlessly adaptable, of course, and this bilingual production — puckishly retitled “Much Ado Para Nada” — takes advantage of that by anchoring the play in the heart of the Latin American community of southwest Detroit. 

“Dialog will be about 80 percent in English and 20 percent in Spanish,” said director Jennifer Tuttle, a City University of New York professor who Shakespeare in Detroit executive director Sam White brought in to do the show.

“There’s a good portion of Shakespeare’s original text,” Tuttle said, “but also some colloquial English and Spanish — and heightened, poetic Spanish that matches the Elizabethan original.”

If that all sounds daunting, Tuttle, who got her acting Master of Fine Arts from Wayne State University, said not to worry. 

“I really think anybody, no matter what language they speak, will be able to follow the storyline,” she said. 

The cast is a lively mix of local and national actors, with Mexican, Uruguayan, Ecuadoran and Dominican backgrounds. The adaptation and translations are by Bernardo Mazón.

The idea for a Latin-focused “Much Ado” was born last summer, when White spent her summer as an arts-management fellow at the Oregon Shakespeare Company, where Mazón was her roommate. 

“Talking with Bernardo made me think of that part of Detroit I hadn’t reached out to yet,” said White, who’s been very busy lately, having served earlier this year as assistant director for Antoni Cimolino’s production of “The Tempest” at the Stratford Festival. 

Detroit references are drizzled throughout the production. “Seven Mile is mentioned in the play because that’s where I’m from,” she said. “And southwest Detroit, of course. It gets very specific — we’re nerdy.”

A moment of tension in Shakespeare in Detroit's "Much Ado Para Nada," which opens Thursday in Clark Park.

Shakespeare in Detroit has staked its reputation on free, site-specific performances in urban settings from Grand Circus Park to the original home of the Lincoln Motor Co. But “Much Ado” will be their last free production.

November’s production of “Twelfth Night,” White says, will charge admission — which will be the policy going forward.

“We spent the last five years building a reputation and getting an audience up and coming to see our work. Now that that’s happened,” she added, “it’s time to move on to ticketed performances and financial sustainability” which, she notes was always the goal.

Giving it away for free has been fun, White acknowledged. But she doesn’t think the public understands what goes into these productions. 

“Our summer shows generally cost about $30,000,” White said. “I think sometimes people assume that because there’s no admission, the show was produced for free. And that’s just not the case.”

“Much Ado” is supported by the DTE Energy Foundation, Strategic Staffing Solutions and Southwest Airlines, which gave free tickets to all out-of-towners. The Detroit News is the production’s media sponsor. 

After its Clark Park opener, the show was  supposed to move to GM Plaza, on the river side of the Renaissance Center, but White was unable to raise the $30,000 rental fee, which she acknowledges was just a fraction of the usual charge.

Happily, the Downtown Detroit Partnership offered Campus Martius Park for free Friday through Sunday. “That,” said White, “was very nice of them.”

Jennifer Tuttle directed Shakespeare in Detroit's "Much Ado Para Nada," which opens Thursday in Mexicantown's Clark Park.

Tuttle, who just started rehearsing her cast in July, says working with Shakespeare in Detroit has been a dream. 

“This has been one of the most enjoyable rehearsal processes that I’ve been a part of,” said the theater vet who’s directed any number of productions. 

Tuttle also applauds White’s willingness to adapt Shakespeare to contemporary needs.

“This production is so typical of what I think Sam has always had as her vision,” she said, “which is to lift the work out of the traditional white, European-based theater.”

Tuttle reminds everyone that in its day, this was not originally “stuffy” theater. 

“By putting Shakespeare on a pedestal,” Tuttle said, “you create a barrier. I mean — he was competing with bear-baiting. This was populist entertainment.”

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Rehearsal for Shakespeare in Detroit's "Much Ado Para Nada," which opens in Clark Park Thursday. From left, Meredith Deighton, Jowi Estava and Carolina Morones.

Shakespeare in Detroit presents 'Much Ado Para Nada' 

6:30 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 23), Clark Park

 1130 Clark, Detroit (6 p.m. warm-up by El Alma Española)

6:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Campus Martius Park, 800 Woodward, Detroit