Director and self-professed Shakespeare nerd, Jeffrey Renn with the costume plates for his revamp the 16th-century farce, The Comedy of Errors on stage at Phoenix Theatres starting March 13. (Photo courtesy Pheonix Theatres)

Shakespeare infused with music video culture for Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors is on stage March 13 to 24 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre

Jeffrey Renn refuses to delve into the scholastic aspect of famous playwright William Shakespeare, and he knows plenty, preferring to expose his audience in a modern music way at Phoenix Theatre starting next week.

Renn isn’t new to acting, directing, or reinterpreting the Bard. From Stratford to Broadway, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts alumnus has performed Shakespeare across the continent.

“I have been blessed to work with rare artistic genius when it comes to Shakespeare including the legendary Robin Phillips,” he says.

The late Phillips was the artistic director who put the Stratford Festival on the map.

“I’m a zealot for the theatre, I want to convert people under 30 to my church, my church being the theatre,” Renn says. “I want to excite young people at the prospect of what it is to make art.”

He found that same enthusiasm directing the cast and crew from the University of Victoria’s theatre department as they develop Shakespeare’s oldest, and funniest, of plays. The Comedy of Errors is an entangled farce of mistaken identity first told in Roman times. It tells the story of two sets of twins, separated at birth, who find themselves in the same city. As their two worlds collide, chaos ensues, resolving into a tale of family reunion, love, and self-reflection.

But Renn doesn’t just tell the story, he looked toward the youth to inspire this rendition. Today’s youth frame themselves through phones and tablets naturally creating daily performance for family, friends and the world.

“They are constantly making meaning of their own lives, as a performance,” Renn says. “Let’s look at this play thorough the lens that kids come to look at art. Our youth understand themselves as a performative thing, through their devices,” he says.

Looking at the technology leading up to today’s reality, brought him to the original music video Bohemian Rhapsody, released at a time when he was the Phoenix students’ age.

“Music videos has a culture unto itself, since Elvis to today, youth speak through the music of themselves,” he says.

That led to integrating Shakespeare’s lines into music from Nina Simone to Beyoncé, from Queen to Justin Timberlake creating a pop musical with contemporary choreography.

The wide musical coverage leads to a similar variety in choreography by Christina Penhale, of Salt Spring Island’s exitStageLeft and a graduate of the Oak Bay-based Canadian College of Performing Arts. “This choreographer has moves too, she goes from hip hop to tap and swing dance,” Renn says.

He’s set Comedy of Errors in New Orleans to give the audience a sense of place and attitude, hopefully immediately invoking voodoo, extravagance “licence to do whatever you want to do,” he says.

A mosh pit on stage and a sequence of LED dancers with lighting from rock concert to inherent theatricality.

Fourth-year student Aidan Dunsmuir fills the auditorium with energetic sound design.

“I don’t think I could get three professionals to do what this young man did alone,” Renn says. Dunsmuir essentially did the “book” if it were a musical, and created the soundscape while dealing with the technical aspect of how to get it to work, from hardware placemnt to mixing. “He’s created the whole musical and sonic world.”

It’s a sentiment he shares with much of the instructional staff and students of the theatre program.

“The Phoenix, they run a wonderful ship,” Renn says. “They are running what is in effect a professional theatre with a student crew. I would never have imagined they could go in all the places I’ve asked them to go – and joyfully.”

The Comedy of Errors is on stage March 13 and 14 at 8 p.m. for public previews. Evening shows are March 15 to 17 and 20 to 24 at 8 p.m. with matinees March 17 and 24 at 2 p.m. There is a preshow lecture, Friday, March 16 at 7 p.m. Tickets $16 to $26 available at the Phoenix box office from noon to 8:30 p.m. or at 250-721-8000.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

McClure house fire saw Victoria firefighters utilize drone for first time in live situation

Aerial device feeds intel to crews to help formulate firefighting action plans

Barge bound for benefits

San Juan Community Home Trust and Nickel Bros. give homes new life

UVic announces finalists for Female Athlete of the Year

Rower Caileigh Filmer, swimmer Danielle Hanus, and soccer goalie Puck Louwes are top stand-outs

Jazz songstress Ellen Doty brings her sweet sound to Hermann’s Jazz Club

March 27 concert in Victoria part of national CD release tour

Victoria says #NeverAgain in solidarity with March For Our Lives

Youth Political Commons invites public to rally against gun violence March 24 at legislature

Student learns the ropes at Oak Bay fire in hands-on experience

Local department crafts four-day work experience program for Reynolds student

B.C. Scientists witness first-ever documented killer whale infanticide

“It’s horrifying and fascinating at the same time.”

Charges formally laid against Nanaimo city manager

City of Nanaimo CAO Tracy Renee Samra charged with fear of injury/damage by another person

Okanagan Falls winery showing international photo project

Liquidity Wines will be sole Canadian show of National Geographic’s Photo Ark

Lawyer for one suspect in beating of man with autism says he’s not guilty

Ronjot Singh Dhami will turn himself in, lawyer said

Liberals awarded $100,000 contract to man at centre of Facebook data controversy

Christopher Wylie says his voter-profiling company collected private information from 50 million Facebook users

Facebook’s Zuckerberg admits mistakes in privacy scandal

Zuckerberg admits to privacy scandal involving a Trump-connected data-mining firm, but no apology

UPDATE: Former B.C. city councillor sentenced nine months for sexual assault

Dave Murray, convicted this past fall, hired a private investigator to intrude on the victim’s life.

Online threat to U.S. high school traced to Canadian teen

A 14-year-old girl has been charged in connection with an online threat against a high school

Most Read