Of all the things college students love, these two lead the pack: entertainment, and not spending money. Honest Theatre Company offers both with its latest production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” Honest Theatre, a local pay-what-you-can theater company, co-produced the play with Fury Theater Company; they worked together to put on outdoor performances of this Shakespeare classic.
The director of Honest Theatre, Sean Cowan, said the company chose this piece “because it is one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, several of our company members have a passion for the story, we knew we could execute it well, and it illustrates issues that apply to our society.”
This production of “Much Ado About Nothing” took place at Indian Boundary Park in the West Ridge neighborhood, behind the park’s Cultural Center: A Tudor-esque building housing the park’s only bathrooms and information on events. Honest Theatre does not have its own venue; rather, they find spaces that fit the piece they are performing.
The park itself has a lot to offer — playgrounds, a water-play area, winding trails, and small, serene gardens perfect for afternoon reading. In addition to plays, the park also offers dance performances, music, and more.
The set of the show was minimal, utilizing the nature and the architecture of the surrounding area. Two benches were the only pieces of set. Two small canopy tents provided a makeshift “backstage,” where the actors would reside between scenes and change outfits. The props were minimal as well — only a book or a liquor bottle, depending on the scene.
The actors were dressed in modern clothing: airy dresses on the women, pants or shorts and casual button-ups on the men. The one exception was that the vengeful-yet-generous Don Pedro — who in Honest Theatre’s rendition was played by a woman and referred to as “Princess”— wore jeans, boots, and a leather jacket for the first half of the play. The masks worn in the party scene seemed the most elaborate costuming choice.
Because of the venue and a low production budget, the actors did not have microphones. While their voices were loud and clear throughout the play, it was sometimes difficult to hear when they spoke away from the audience or when the ice cream truck was parked on the street. The interruptions did not, however, disrupt the flow or understanding of the play, as “Much Ado” is fairly easy to follow.
Honest Theatre’s decision to be a donation-based theater came from an inclination towards social practice.
“The decision to be a pay-what-you-can theater company came from a desire to make high-level art accessible to people of all walks of life. Much of the well-executed theater in Chicago is relatively expensive, and for that reason a large percentage of people who might benefit from viewing these works of art will never have the opportunity. Theater has the potential to be a vehicle for social change, but it will only be effective if the community can receive the message,” Cowan said.
Cowan went on to say that Honest Theatre’s main mission is to produce works that are socially relevant today, regardless of the time in which they were written.
“There are many plays, whether new, old, dramatic, or comedic, that are relevant to our current society and we are happy to tell a wide variety of stories to bring important themes and ideas to the community,” Cowan said.
Free and pay-what-you-can theater is a great way to experience culture on a budget. Audiences can plan a day trip and explore the neighborhood in addition to seeing the play.