Lost Love at the Rock
Student actors contend with rain, cold, noise and mosquitoes to stage Shakespeare outdoors. By Katherine Leal Unmuth

Jaquenetta, a country wench (Rachel Sullivan) teases the priest Nathaniel (Liam Castellan)

Photo by Esther Chou

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,

— Love’s Labour’s Lost

On a chilly night in late May, four young women in glittering evening gowns giggle at the base of a large tree in front of the Rock. “We are wise girls to mock our lovers so,” confides Roseanne Clark, a School of Communication senior, and the group erupts into laughter.

The time is approaching midnight, but traffic through the courtyard is still brisk. Northwestern students passing by on bicycles, on roller blades and on foot glance incredulously at the scene unfolding on the pavement between Harris and University Halls. Stage lights illuminate a green canopy of leaves above the actors.

One young man tugging his girlfriend by the hand stops to ask an onlooker what’s going on. Another man puffs on a cigar as he watches from a nearby bench.

Members from Lovers and Madmen, a theater group founded
by students in spring 2000 and dedicated to performing William Shakespeare’s works, are rehearsing a scene from the comedy
Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Truly taking to heart the notion that “all the world’s a stage,” the young actors performed “Shakespeare at the Rock” May 30 through June 1. They were carrying on an open-air tradition of Shakespeare and of on-campus performances of his works. A student group called Artsfest put on the outdoor shows during the 1990s before Lovers and Madmen took over.

The actors performed at ground level for audiences of about
40 people at 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. shows.

“The audience was so close, you could almost touch them,” says Rachel Sullivan, a School of Communication junior who played Jaquenetta, a flirtatious country wench.

“When you’re in an actual theater and the lights are in your face, you can’t even see the audience,” says Clark, who played the princess. “When you have proximity, you really see the audience and their reactions.”

Actors face challenges outdoors that they don’t encounter in a heated, dry space — not the least of which are rain, loud background noises and mosquitoes. The temperature was often below freezing during the four weeks of nightly rehearsals for Love’s Labour’s Lost. On opening night, it rained during the last 10 minutes of the 5 p.m. performance, but the show went on. For the 11 p.m. show the next night, it was so cold the actors were given the go-ahead to wear coats.

But performing outdoors also offers a setting Shakespeare often wrote into his scenes: the spring sun and greenery, birds singing, the sheer size of the stage.

Don Adriano de Armado, a Spanish courtly fool (Mark DeFrancis), scolds the prim Hollofernia (Caroline Fourmy).

Photo by Esther Chou

“You want to do things enormously,” says Anthony Nelson (C03), cofounder of Lovers and Madmen, about performing outdoors. “You want something that has lots of big, silly moments in it that can carry over open space. You couldn’t possibly do any dark and heavy tragedy out there. You’ve got people wandering by, airplanes overhead, plus cars coming up and down the road. You have this unique sort of worry in doing Shakespeare at the Rock because the audience may just pick up and leave.”

Nelson says actors, especially those playing more exaggerated, comical roles, may be able to react to the audience or noise around them. He recalls that when he played Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing his sophomore year, a particularly loud airplane roared overhead. He stopped, looked up at the sky and asked, “What are the gods doing?”

Performing outdoors also allows for interesting use of the “set,” including climbing trees and hiding behind bushes.

“The Rock, for example, is a very cool prop to play with; you can run up it and jump off it,” says School of Communication junior Mark DeFrancis, who played Don Adriano de Armado, a goofy Spanish courtly lover who wears a cape and carries a cane for most of Love’s Labour’s Lost as he runs around chasing after Jaquenetta . “The character I played is thoroughly insane,” says DeFrancis. “He’s insane but lovable. You have to sacrifice dignity to run up rocks.”

In Love’s Labour’s Lost, the King of Navarre, a French province near Spain, and his lords vow to avoid women for three years so they can improve intellectually. But when a French princess and her ladies arrive in town for business, each man finds himself falling in love and breaking his vow. The play ends with the women unexpectedly leaving town after the princess’ father dies. They promise to return in one year’s time, and the audience is left wondering whether the couples will marry.

One reason why director Nick Leonard, a School of Communication senior, chose the play is that he believes it still reflects the realities of young love.

“I think it’s extraordinarily relevant to relationships and love in this day and age, especially in our age group, because there are so many people going out and falling in love and jumping into things with blinders on without stopping to reflect,” he says. “The lords and ladies don’t seem as if they’re much older than your average student.”

For Clark, the narrative did indeed speak the truth about modern-day romance among college students. Although the men write sonnets for their love interests, when they attend a masquerade ball, they do not even correctly identify the masked maidens.

“She’s more amused than wooed,” Clark says of the princess. “One of the things the play shows is how [love] may not always be as real as you think it is. When you’re in love, you think it’s great, and then you look back and say, What was I thinking? The princess says, look, you’re all talk and not really sincere.”

Garrick Aplin, a School of Communication senior who played Berowne, the cleverest of the courtiers, believes the women and men never married.

“I think they’re in love, but I don’t think it’s the kind of love that can last a year without seeing each other,” he says.

“I see them saying after a month, OK, forget this.”

As DeFrancis points out, “That’s the thing about Shakespeare. He writes about a lot of things that haven’t changed.”

Katherine Leal Unmuth (J03), a former Northwestern magazine editorial assistant, is now a features intern with the Dallas Morning News.

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