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Mingus theater readies for first Shakespeare play in six years

Mingus Union’s production of Much Ado About Nothing debuts Nov. 1. Tickets: $8 adult, $7 seniors, $6 students and children at www.showtix4u.com. VVN/Dan Engler

Mingus Union’s production of Much Ado About Nothing debuts Nov. 1. Tickets: $8 adult, $7 seniors, $6 students and children at www.showtix4u.com. VVN/Dan Engler

COTTONWOOD -- Much Ado About Nothing is the first Shakespearean work to take shape on Mingus Union High School's stage in six years, but director James Ball said students are far from unprepared.

Every year about 30 students head to the Utah Shakespeare Festival to see six shows, participate in workshops and meet the actors. Theater director James Ball said about half the cast got to go in August, and came back inspired with new ways to portray their roles.

"A lot of the leads got to go, which is important," he said. "These kids, some of them are seniors, they've been going for four years and they've seen the Shakespeare troupe come here for four years."

Grasping the language of Shakespeare is always scary at first, Ball said, but students usually have that under control after the first week.

The challenge comes from getting high school students not only to understand, but perform the love-hate relationship between Benedick and Beatrice.

"It's more than the words," Ball said. "It's the emotion behind everything, and trying to get a younger person to get that emotional palate and range is a lot harder than grasping the language.

"They can tell you what it means and they can act like it means, but can they feel what it means is kind of the next step we try to get to," he said.

Ball said he chose Much Ado About Nothing because its humor, alongside elements of drama and sadness, makes it accessible to all audiences.

"As much as I'd love to do a tragedy, sometimes obtaining that through high school kids is not as reachable," he said.

Senior Mariah Jones is playing Beatrice, and junior Matthew Leman is once again playing opposite her, this time as Benedick. The two held roles as husband and wife in Rumors last year.

Jones has been to the Shakespeare festival all four years, and got some feedback on her role as Beatrice this year.

"Shakespeare writes emotion between the lines, and not only in the lines," she said. "That's something I learned at the Shakespeare Festival."

The Shakespeare festival helped Leman understand his role as well as the language, he said.

"Those plays have influenced the ways I do this character so much," he said. "We'd read through the play enough times, it was really amazing understanding so much better what they were saying."

Mardi Gras Costume Shop has been providing the wardrobe for Mingus' theater since A Midsummer Night's Dream was performed in the fall of 2009. Students are wearing Renaissance-era clothing against the backdrop of an Italian villa.

This is the first production where Ball is joined by two full-time staff members, Technical Theater Director Jeff Neugebauer, assistant director Ashly Lawler.

"Being able to have the help, I think the finished project is going to show there's three full-time people working on this with the kids," he said. "That just really is taking it to more dimensions than we've been able to reach before."

Neugebauer designed and built the set, and Lawler worked with students individually while Ball rehearsed with the rest of the cast.

Cast members used to spend Saturdays helping build the set, but Jones said the new technical director means the students get a break from the play on weekends.

Jones said she was attracted to the role of Beatrice because of the character's strong will, independence and strength.

"She doesn't have a father and she's had her heart broken, so she depends on herself and not men," Jones said.

Soft-spoken herself, Jones said she was told in rehearsals to drop her voice when acting out Beatrice's lines.

"I'm usually typecast as the ditzy blonde," Jones said. "I'm really looking forward to playing a different role."

Leman was excited to play Benedick, a sarcastic character who needs to overcome obstacles of his own making.

:Benedick has almost entire scenes devoted to him just thinking out loud to himself," Leman said. "I often think out loud to people, and I like that I will be able to incorporate myself into the character."

Follow the reporter on Twitter @ymgonzal and Instagram @VerdeValleyNews

• What: Much Ado About Nothing

• When: Saturday, Nov. 1 and 8 at 7 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 2 and 9 at 3 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m.

• Tickets: $8 adult, $7 seniors, $6 students and children at www.showtix4u.com

$3 more at the door.

• For more information: Please call 928-649-4466 or email jball@muhs.com
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