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Interview: Jonathan Emerson, Director of Much Ado About Nothing at the Queens Shakespeare Company

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Jonathan Emerson is making his New York City directorial debut with the Queens Shakespeare Company's Much Ado About Nothing opening November 6. Here is an interview with Jonathan about the production and the theatre company.

Much Ado About Nothing remains one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies and one that is often adapted for a different time and place to better suit a modern audience. A local production this past summer put a sparring Beatrice and Benedict in the Star Wars cantina. The BBC is presenting Much Ado to take place in a department store. What do you have planned for the famously argumentative couple?

Our production finds Beatrice and Benedict squaring off in the sometimes glamorous, more often trashy world of reality television.

Intriguing. Whose vision is this setting? Who's been watching too much television?

The concept was a collaborative effort between myself and a few friends. Since gossip, slander, and scandal drive Shakespeare's plot, we tossed around a few ideas, maybe staging the show in a high school or backstage at a community theatre. We discussed a number of other settings and eventually landed on reality television.

Reality television is ubiquitous. How does it augment the story of Beatrice and Benedict — one of the great loquacious couples of theatre history?

It puts them and the other characters into circumstances that most people will find a degree of relevance. Not only because of the modernization of the staging, but because, in my experience, almost everyone has at least one reality television guilty pleasure.

You're right – I actually have many of those guilty pleasure reality shows in my DVR. I'm very fond of the crazy housewives series in particular. I can't help thinking about how Caroline Manzo is handling her "best friend" Bernard Kerik's corruption trial! How will you execute this reality television setting?

We are planning on utilizing camera people throughout the show whose camera work will be shown on televisions incorporated into the set which will also us to highlight certain moments and certain discoveries for each character as well as hopefully add to the feel of being on a reality set.

This sounds like a very multi-media approach to Much Ado. Will the audience then see on the televisions what is unfolding on the stage?

Well, to avoid the televisions being a distraction to the audience, the televised action will be more close-ups. It has been really fun to sit the actors down and have the camera come to them. It's very confessional booth.

Confessional booth — that's very reality television. Very Real World or Jon and Kate. I imagine it is effective with all the asides built into Shakespeare's plays.

Yes, for those monologues and soliloquies, the close-ups on the camera make the moments more relatable.

What is your experience with producing Shakespeare?

I've worked a great deal with classic theatre at the Youngstown Playhouse in Ohio. I directed The Taming of the Shrew there. Here in New York I've performed in and was the production manager for the Queens Shakespeare Company's Hamlet and Twelfth Night. I'm so grateful they are giving me a chance to do this.

Tell me a little bit more about the theatre company.

QSC was established in 2006 as a resident, non-profit theatre company in Queens, New York. by Nanette Asher who is its present President and Artistic Director. Since it began, QSC has presented Macbeth, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Arsenic and Old Lace.

Best wishes on the new production. Much Ado About Nothing, or as the Queens Shakespeare Company puts it – The Real World Messina.

Much Ado About Nothing will run from November 5 -14 at the Browne Street Community Church, Flushing, Queens. SmartTix or 212-868-444.

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About Kate Shea Kennon