StageQ presents a gender-bending 'Much Ado'

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StageQ presents a gender-bending adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” at Madison’s Bartell Theater, 113 E. Mifflin St. Performances run Sept. 27–Oct. 12.

StageQ, Madison’s LGBT theater troupe, will undertake Shakespeare for the first time this month with a “gender-queer” production of the Bard’s comedy “Much Ado About Nothing.” The production, which opens the group’s 2013–14 season, will put less emphasis on the comedy and more on the romance of the story, according to new artistic director Audrey Lauren Wax.

Wax says StageQ’s contemporary retelling of the story will be nothing like Shakespeare fans have ever seen. 

“For me, it was important to set the play in current times for today’s audience,” says Wax, a Rockford, Ill., native who teaches theater arts at Madison’s Edgewood College. “It needed to be fresh, sexy, sophisticated and clever – and we have just that!”

StageQ’s “Much Ado” is drawn from an adaptation by Peter Reynolds, co-founder and artistic director of Mauckingbird Theatre Co., Philadelphia’s LGBT troupe. Reynolds set the play in a contemporary West Hollywood nightclub and gave it a gender-bending treatment to capitalize on its human themes without regard to stereotypical male-female roles.

In StageQ’s version, soldiers returning from Afghanistan stay at the nightclub owned by Madame Leonato (Peggy Rosin). The narrative follows the growing relationship between Benedick (Braden Larson), a U.S. Army serviceman, and Beatrice (Craig Schlagel), a drag performer at the club. As their love blooms, so does the love between Leonato’s daughter Hero (Andrea Kleiner) and Claudio (Sarah Listuq), a female soldier. 

“Our actors and designers are pulling out all the stops in order to show our Madison community that we have what it takes to compete with the other companies who produce Shakespeare within their rotations,” Wax promises.

The classical elements of Shakespeare’s works are in keeping with StageQ’s mission and purpose. “The vision for StageQ is that of a community theater company that creates exhilarating, entertaining, challenging queer theater, building community and encouraging positive social change in the process,” Wax says. “We envision a company in which all of us are valued and respected, and in which the rich tapestry of our histories and communities is apparent.”

Last summer, Wax co-wrote and directed Broom Street Theater’s production “Conceal & Carry: Queers Exposed.” She’s also worked with feminist playwright Eve Ensler on such productions as “The Good Body” and “The Vagina Monologues.”

StageQ’s “Much Ado” will help take Madison’s LGBT theater scene to the next level, she says.

“Is this a traditional approach to Shakespeare?” Wax asks. “No, and that’s the thrilling part of it all.” 

StageQ’s Queer Season

“Much Ado About Nothing” launches a season of four productions, including:

“Scrooge in Rouge,” the raucous retelling of Dickens’ immortal Christmas tale in which we learn that “Ebenezer” rhymes with “geezer,” “teaser” and “squeeze ‘er,” Dec. 6–21.

“5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche” chronicles the annual breakfast of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein in 1956, when the communists come to town, March 28–April 12.

“Queer Shorts” brings talented actors, playwrights and directors together for an annual evening of short plays. Dates to be announced.

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