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Making something of 'Nothing': UMD students bring passion to free Shakespeare performances at Glensheen

Alyson Enderle (Beatrice) comes to the aid of Madison Lang (Hero) during a fainting scene during a rehearsal of "Much Ado About Nothing" on the stage at Leif Erikson Park Wednesday evening. Stage 2, an independent student-run theater troupe from UMD, is staging the play as Shakespeare in the Park at Glensheen this summer. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 4
Stage 2, an independent student-run theater troupe from the University of Minnesota Duluth, rehearses the wedding scene from "Much Ado About Nothing" on the stage in Leif Erikson Park on Wednesday evening. Director Simon VanVactor-Lee (standing at right) makes a point with the actors. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 4
Director Simon VanVactor-Lee works with cast members during a scene from "Much Ado About Nothing" on Wednesday evening on the stage in Leif Erikson Park. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 4
Antony Ferguson (center), as the Friar, prepares to marry Ben Glisczinski (Claudio) and Madison Lang (Hero) during a scene from the play "Much Ado About Nothing" at a rehearsal Wednesday evening. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com4 / 4

In this take on Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," the men are returning from summer break, not war. And forget about pumpkin pants and doublets. The college-aged actors have opted to pull looks from their own closets.

"We were joking last night because we realized one of the characters ... reminds us of Jay and Silent Bob," said actor Addison Sim, referencing characters from filmmaker Kevin Smith's universe.

But the biggest thing here: Get ready to move. Stage 2, a student theater organization at the University of Minnesota Duluth, has set its 90-minute modern-day rom-com on the grounds of Glensheen, the historic Congdon estate. It starts near the carriage house, features Tischer Creek, and ends at the formal gardens.

"Much Ado About Nothing," directed by Simon VanVactor-Lee, plays at 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through June 28 at Glensheen, 3300 London Road. Shows are free and open to the public, but space is limited to 50 people.

VanVactor-Lee and friends began kicking around a summer production of Shakespeare in the Park this past school year. While researching permits for local parks, the players recalled that the university owns historic grounds on the shore of Lake Superior. Boom. They had a venue.

"It's been a bit dreamlike how it's come together," said VanVactor-Lee, who has been a part of Duluth's theater scene since he was elementary-school age.

"Much Ado About Nothing," set in the days after a return from war, is the story of a sparring couple that eventually falls in love. This production is set in modern times with an emphasis on its relevance to college students.

"It's a good blend of honest realities of the college world and cartoonish tendencies," said Sim, who is double cast as Benedick and Sexton. "Because we're college students, we're able to look at ourselves and think, 'This is the ridiculous things that college students do.'"

Don't expect high production values, according to VanVactor-Lee. It's purposefully a bit ragged. There are comedic bits of double casting and easily visible costume changes. Because of scheduling, they've had to conduct some rehearsals off-site at places like Leif Erikson Park.

"It's got a bit of a scruffy, young theater vibe to it," the director added. "We're definitely just a bunch of college kids trying to do Shakespeare because we love it. I think it's going to be a gloriously entertaining little experience."

Sim opted to stay in Duluth for the summer, rather than returning home to Winona, Minn., specifically because he wanted to be a part of the production. He was involved in the early planning process and said he wanted to see the unique version come to fruition.

"The show is, in many ways, a love letter to Shakespeare and a love letter to early 2000s comedy," he said.

If you go

What: Stage 2's "Much Ado About Nothing"

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through June 28

Where: Glensheen, 3300 London Rd.

Tickets: Free, open to the public. 50 people per show.