Even folks who don’t know their iambic pentameter from a pair of harlequin tights will love the upcoming performance of Much Ado About Nothing at the Wright Opera House on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 14-15. It’s put on by No Holds Bard, an energetic troupe of highly trained actors that is in the business of putting the “play” back in plays.
Founded a decade ago by Kate and John Kissingford (who now live in Ouray), No Holds Bard dedicates itself to performing Shakespeare’s work “as he intended it,” by emulating the original performance conditions of Shakespeare’s actors, using the “first folio” (i.e. unrehearsed) technique.
Back in those days, actors put on dozens of shows each season, and likely had little to no time to rehearse before they performed. Instead, historians believe that they met together the morning of the show and received their “roles” (rolled cue scripts), choreographed fights, music and dance, and performed that very same day.
Similarly, No Holds Bard actors receive cue-scripts culled from the original First Folio texts, published in 1623. The scripts contain only their own lines, plus the cues that immediately precede them.
“It’s the closest we can come to Shakespeare’s actual intent – right down to archaic punctuations and stage directions which we think Shakespeare used to give hints to his actors,” Kissingford said.
Like the audience, the actors go through the play waiting to find out what’s going to happen next.
“The interactions created in the moment are totally unpredictable,” Kissingford said. “That wide-open quality that happens at a sporting event, that’s the same kind of thing that happens on stage. As an actor, it’s so exciting. You are full of adrenaline, always listening for your next cue. The effect is so different than anything that happens in a modern, rehearsed production. Every moment is full of discovery.”
The cast often mixes things up, with actors playing different parts from performance to performance. Eclectic costumes and Spartan sets add to the sense of spontaneous whimsy.
Then there’s the biggest wild card of all – the audience – which responds to the action much the way they would at a baseball game or soccer match, complete with cheering, booing, and yelling.
Kissingford reckons this is the way Shakespeare intended his plays to be received. After all, his original audiences were not English PhDs. His plays were performed in front of illiterate, drunken, rowdy peasants, and had to compete with the bear-baiting and brothels down the street.
“We know it wasn’t high culture– it was entertainment for the masses,” Kissingford said. “It must have been a lot more fun then than it is now.”
The Kissingfords learned the first folio technique from the director of the New England Shakespeare Festival, where they acted in a couple productions. When they moved to Denver a decade ago, they discovered many of their acting friends were eager to try it out. “We all got so excited we decided to start a company,” Kissingford said.
No Holds Bard toured Colorado for several years, but the troupe has been on hiatus for quite a while. The upcoming show at the Wright will be a reunion of sorts. All of the cast members have performed in at least one of the troupe’s original productions.
Among the cast members are Ouray locals Mike Hockersmith (playing the role of Leonato, Governor of Messina), Nancy Ziglar (providing live music), and Alyssa Preston, performing the important (and in this case very visible) role of prompter.
The show starts at 7 p.m. and doors open at 6:30 p.m. Admission for adults is $10 and $5 for students. More information is available at thewrightoperahouse.org.