Much Ado About Nothing Presented On New COS Festival Stage

Oct 13, 2021 | 2021 Articles, Education, Lorie Lewis Ham, Theatre

by Lorie Lewis Ham

The College of the Sequoias Performing Arts will be presenting its first ever Shakespeare in the Park show, Much Ado About Nothing, starting this weekend on their new Festival Stage. We took a moment to chat with the show’s director, James McDonnell, about the show and the new stage. James is Professor of Theatre and Cinema as well as the Fine Arts Division Chair. He also serves as the resident costume designer for the productions and directs about half of the shows.

KRL: Please tell us about the new festival stage.

James: My colleagues and I discussed the idea of designing and building a modular stage that could facilitate live outdoor performances after creating makeshift performance spaces to film last spring’s two streaming productions. Over summer, unsure of what health mandates might be like in the fall, we decided to invest in this idea so that audiences could once again attend live theatre without the risks involved in being indoors with a crowd of strangers for an extended period of time. Since we wanted to celebrate the return to face-to-face learning, we thought it would also be a great opportunity to connect with our colleagues and students on the Tulare and Hanford campuses, who generally have to travel to Visalia to attend any performing arts events. Once we connected with the respective provosts of each campus and discovered how much they supported this endeavor, we spoke with district administrators and started to conceive a plan to make it all work. Thanks to the generosity of COS administration and the tireless work of my colleagues in the Theatre Department, we have conceived a fairly elaborate plan to facilitate this project. If all goes well – and we think it will! – we hope to produce an outdoor show that can be toured to each of the three campuses on a regular two-year schedule.

KRL: Will you only be doing Shakespeare on the new stage?

James: We intend to use the stage at least every two years to present an outdoor touring production, like this one. It is very likely that it will be used for a lot of Shakespeare, but we are certainly not averse to using it for other genres of plays and musicals. It will just depend on whether or not the specific layout for the stage facilitates the action of the production.

KRL: Why did you choose to do Much Ado About Nothing?

James: I have always loved this play and wanted to direct it one day. It is such a wonderful combination of comedy and romance, the characters are so memorable, and the language is just glorious. We thought it would be the perfect show to christen our first foray into ‘Shakespeare in the Park.’

KRL: What has been the most fun about directing this show?

James: Getting to meet all of the new students who are so excited to be working face-to-face again as part of our program. We had a lot of former student graduate during the 16 months that we were working remotely, so it’s almost like we have come back to a brand new student population. This is our first major opportunity to really connect with many students who we only know from online interactions.

KRL: Are there any special challenges to directing a show during a pandemic?

James: We certainly have to be very cognizant of everyone’s health, observing social distancing in the theatre and staying masked throughout all indoor rehearsals. The cast has done an exceptional job being respectful of the campus mask mandate and supporting one another throughout the process.

KRL: How will it work for you to take this show to all three campuses?

James: We will be performing two shows per weekend on each of the three College of the Sequoias campuses. The Sequoia Festival Stage will be transported to each location, set up a day early so that we can rehearse and make sure there are no special considerations to address, and then taken back down immediately following the last performance at each venue. We will then transport everything back to the COS Theatre on the Visalia campus to await the next week’s load-in.

KRL: What are the dates, times and location of each performance?

COS Visalia Campus
Friday, October 15, at 7:00 pm
Saturday, October 16, at 7:00 pm
COS Tulare College Center
Friday, October 22, at 7:00 pm
Saturday, October 23, at 7:00 pm
COS Hanford Education Center
Friday, October 29, at 7:00 pm
Saturday, October 30, at 7:00 pm

KRL: Where will the stage be located?

James: It will be set up in a different outdoor location on each of the three campuses. Patrons can look up parking directions for each venue at but student ushers will also be available to help guide patrons to the performance space once they park.

KRL: Do people need to bring their own chair?

We are encouraging everyone to bring a blanket or lawn chair to enjoy the show. The audience seating will be on grass at every location, so patrons can choose where they would like to sit and enjoy the show.

KRL: I understand that the show is free? Do you need to make reservations or arrive early?

James: No reservations are required though we definitely encourage interested parties to check out the venue information for each performance at The audience area will open for patrons at 6:30 p.m. each evening and then the performance will begin at 7:00 p.m.

KRL: Are there any COVID protocols that attendees need to be aware of?

James: Because we will be performing outside, we are not requiring masks for anyone, but we will ask that audience members respect social distancing and not crowd one another while watching the performance.

KRL: Anything else you would like to add?

James: We are very proud of our students who have put in so much time and effort (both on stage and behind the scenes) to create something special for local audiences. We feel very fortunate to be producing this show and are delighted that we can offer it for free to our community.

If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.

Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section.

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and a contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet. Lorie’s brand new mystery novel, One of Us, is set in the Tower District of Fresno and the world of community theatre!


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