All the Hippodrome will be a stage at 6:15 p.m. tomorrow when the Waco Shakespeare Film Society premieres its first feature, Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”
The group, started by Matthew Anderson, will show a series of Shakespeare adaptations that take the Bard out of England and into a Santa Monica home or present-day Africa.
Baylor’s Honors College is helping to being “Much Ado” to the Hippodrome for free. Director of film and digital media Christopher Hansen will introduce the movie, which was directed in 2012 by Joss Whedon and moves Shakespeare’s screwball love story from 16th century Messina to modern-day Santa Monica.
Whedon filmed the movie in his own house with his friends over a period of 12 days, in between shooting for “The Avengers.” The black and white movie transposes the play’s original plot and dialogue to a house overrun by a cast of visiting soldiers. Whedon’s characters, though they wear suits and ties and drive Lincoln Town Cars, are as rash and witty as Shakespeare’s. Haters-turned-lovers Beatrice and Benedick exchange the same barbed retorts, even though this time they dance around a California-sized swimming pool.
“It’s lighthearted. It’s a bit of a romp. And it’s an indie movie, so most people probably haven’t seen it,” Anderson said.
Anderson first had the idea for the series when he tried to have the 2015 adaptation of “Macbeth,” starring Michael Fassbender, shown at the Hippodrome in the fall. Due to issues with licensing, however, the theater was unable to screen the film. Undeterred, Anderson decided to bring an entire series of Shakespearean adaptations to the city and got the Hippodrome on board.
“We’re celebrating what Shakespeare has done for film,” said Amy Gillham, the Hippodrome’s director of programming. “We’re a theater that has done theatrical plays and presentations for 100 years, and this fits into what we do.”
Anderson said he first fell in love with Shakespeare when he studied abroad in England as an undergraduate and visited the playwright’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. When he saw a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, his initial dislike for the 16th century poet was transformed into an enduring love and fascination. Now, in addition to the series he’s started, he regularly hosts Shakespeare readings in his own home to pay tribute to the Bard.
“Shakespeare has a distinguished role in American public life that often gets overlooked,” Anderson said. “I think it’s still valuable to reflect upon the themes and values he reflects.”
Before the screening of “Much Ado,” Professor Hansen will be on hand to discuss some of those themes with moviegoers. He said adaptations of Shakespeare’s work have the challenge of bringing the language and ideas of the 16th century to settings that are removed by centuries and continents.
“Shakespeare was writing about universal ideas in terms of power or love or human folly.” Hansen said. “We can keep [the plays] in the time period he was creating them for, or we can uproot them to the modern day, as with ‘Much Ado About Nothing.'”
Before the film Hansen will introduce a number of different Shakespeare adaptations and discuss what makes them successful or unsuccessful.
“One of the questions that I think is important as we watch modern adaptations is, ‘Does this make sense in the modern world? What should the director have done to change that aspect of it to deal with our modern mores?'” Hansen said.
Hansen said he also had his first connection with Shakespeare when he saw an English stage production of one of his plays. In the 1990s, he watched Sir Ian McKellen walk the boards as Richard III, the conniving king of the original play turned into a fascist dictator in 1930s England. In 1995, the play became a film, which Hansen said remains his favorite Shakespeare adaptation.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to see directors create a popular version of something you may have only read in the stodgy setting of English class,” Hansen said. “Shakespeare adaptations make me understand the story, and they set it in a new way that helps me have fun with it again, which was what Shakespeare was meant to do.”
Although “Much Ado About Nothing” is the only screening announced so far by the Waco Shakespeare Film Society, Anderson hopes to show “Julius Caesar,” which moves the Roman political conflict of the play to modern-day Africa, in April.
Anderson said he would also like to screen films that are more indirectly influenced by Shakespeare, like the 1999 teen movie “10 Things I Hate About You,” which follows “The Taming of the Shrew.”
“I’m pretty open. I don’t want to limit it to the immediate Shakespeare canon,” Anderson said.