top of page

Much Ado About Nothing

at Incarnate Word Academy


Leonata (Rebecca Barry), Don Petra (Shauneilla Reid), and Claudia (Gia Ochsenbein) harass Beatrice (Claire Sonne) about her sudden interest in make-up and perfume to impress Benedick...


Gender-reversed cast allowed the students to explore gender norms from a new perspective by reversing the expectations for male and female characters


Student designers take the lead in costumes, set, and prop design and construction for the first time and complete an emergency redesign based on an accelerated schedule due to the destruction of Hurricane Harvey


The City Watch (Lina Pliodzinskas, Kelsie Duff, Liliana Billings, and Kaitlyn Wilkes as Verges) gather around their leader Dogberry (Lily Cromeens) to receive her confused instructions.


Hero (Noah Mims) and Maximus/Ursula (Hunter Cummins) spy on Benedick's reaction to their trick.


Student musicians perform onstage for the first time, accompanying actor-singers


Gender-Reversed text

Favorite Script Changes

Don Pedro - "I shall now undertake one of Hercules' Labors!"

Beatrice - "He is now as valiant as Hercules who only tells a lie and swears it!"

Claudio - "You seemed to me as Dian in her orb / As chaste as is the bud ere it be blown / But you are more intemperate in your blood / Than Venus or those animals that rage / In savage sensuality"

Benedick -  "Will your Grace command me any service to the world's end? I will do you any service...rather than hold three word's conference with this harpy!"

Don Petra - "I shall now undertake one of Psyche's Labors!"

Benedick - "She is now as valiant as Xena who only tells a lie and swears it!"


Claudia - "You seemed to me St. Francis wrapped in thorns / As chaste as is the bud ere it be blown / But you are more intemperate in your blood / Than Byron or those animals that rage / In savage sensuality"

Beatrice - "Will your Grace command me any service to the world's end? Will do you any service...rather than hold three word's conference with this troll!"

Full or cut script with all gender-flipped language available on request.


Don Petra (Shauneilla Reid) dances with Hero (Noah Mims) at the party scene with a scheming Borachio (Kate Sullivan) looking on in the background.


The cast dances for the final number.


Beatrice (Emma Hudson) "hides" to eavesdrop on her friends as they discuss Benedick's alleged love for her.

Claudia (Gia Ochsenbein) mourns for the alleged death of Hero, supported by Don Petra (Shauneilla Reid and cast musicians).


City Watch (Lina Pliodzinskas and Kelsie Duff) overhear Borachio (Joyce Dominguez) confess her misdeads to Conrad (Hannah Eagleton).

Dogberry (Lily Cromeens) leans away from the obvious anger of Don Petra (Shauneilla Reid), backed up by loyal Verges (Kaitlyn Wilkes).


Leonata (Rebecca Barry) destroys the wedding decorations in a fit of rage at the accusations leveled against her son Hero as Beatrice (Claire Sonne) tries to calm her.


Claudia (Gia Ochsenbein) accuses her groom Hero (Noah Mims) of adultery at the altar, shocking the Friar (Suzanne Marbach).

Benedick (Nathan Belcher) "hides" from Hero (Noah Mims) to overhear the gossip about Beatrice's alleged love for him.


Hero (Noah Mims) and his attendants (Hunter Cummins and Luke Brown) react to the battle of wits.


The musicians entertain themselves while warming up for the party, featuring Isabel Calderon, Ellie Westby, Lina Pliodzinskas, and Joyce Dominguez.


Beatrice (Claire Sonne) and Benedick (Nate Belcher) face off in a battle of wits while an opportunistic Don Joan (Lauren Lee) looks on between them.

Program Note

Click here for full program

I spent this summer painstakingly changing every pronoun, name, and mythological reference in this script so that our all-girls school could perform this play with the appropriate gender breakdown.  I spent many a pleasant but frustrating afternoon trying to come up with a male version of a harpy (the winner: troll) or a female Greek Hero to replace the line “I shall now undertake one of Hercules’ labors…” (the winner: Psyche, the wife of Cupid, who earned her place in the pantheon of goddesses on Mount Olympus by completing a series of seemingly impossible tasks).


But I also laughed out loud several times, fearing that no one would ever believe that that was all I changed in the show.  I can assure you that the original Don Pedro, Claudio, and Benedick were just as gossipy, fashion-obsessed, and romantically inclined as our Don Petra, Claudia, and Beatrice.  You are seeing the play that Shakespeare originally wrote, just not with the actors he intended. 


So it may feel odd, in the first scene, when the crowd laughs mockingly when they hear that an (offstage) woman burst into tears like some over-emotional boy...but that’s the world of our play. What was more surprising were the scenes and characters that seem to work better with the new gender breakdown. Leonata, in particular, feels more real and believable as an overbearing mother than Leonato ever did (at least to me) as an overprotective father.  Even if she is also the governor of Messina.


Of course, it’s hard to get around the main change that switching the gender of the characters causes.  The women are returning from a war in which the men stayed behind to keep the hearth fires burning.  The men must marry for status and are judged primarily for their virtue and purity. It’s a world we will probably not feel quite comfortable within, as an audience, having been raised in a culture where the opposite has been the dominant pattern for millennia. The goal of our play is not to say that the opposite is better, simply to explore that opposite. To see if it can be reconciled with our own ideas about men and women. To see if we can laugh at our own world as much as we laugh at the contrasting one onstage. To see if, by the time Benedick wishes that he could be a woman and fight, we aren’t laughing at the very idea that Beatrice would do the fighting for him.


Which brings me to a moment in the week before the show.  I was teaching my class principles of stage blocking, and I mentioned what I was taught to call “kiss or punch distance.” It’s a moment of extreme, face-to-face closeness between two actors in which the only way to continue to escalate the scene is to punch your scene partner (in a fight scene) or to kiss them (in a love scene). Benedick and Beatrice are electric whenever they get into kiss or punch distance, because you’re never quite sure which they most want do.


The other option, of course, is to de-escalate the scene, take a breath, calm down. And over and over again in this play, that’s exactly what happens. When I mentioned de-escalating a scene in class, a student piped up, “But won’t the audience be disappointed if you de-escalate?” All I could do was laugh, because of course they would be! And this play, over and over again, brings characters to the tipping point of kissing or dueling...and then backs away...


This is a play about fights not quite happening and weddings that can’t quite make it to the “I do”s. Over and over again, characters come to the brink of something important...and then back away from it. Even our bumbling police officers spend their time not-quite managing to exit with their dignity.


I love this play because it has whiplash, probably born of that constant backing-down. It moves between comedy and tragedy in a split-second.  Shakespeare asks us to laugh in the face of sorrow then demands that we contemplate death and honor in the midst of a love scene. The play treats nonsensical lies with deathly seriousness then gleefully makes a mockery of a trial where life and death hangs in the balance.


Most of all, I love this play because it presents no easy answers to the problems it raises or the contradictions it creates. We know where the plot is heading after the first scene, but each painful step in that direction is earned, backtracked, then earned again. Which is how real progress happens. Sure, everyone knows that Benedick and Beatrice are perfect for one another from the moment you see them together, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to love each other.


This play is about how love is work and fighting is stupid. Choosing love is always the harder choice in this play because it always has a cost.  Be it your pride or the life of a dear friend. And the choice to fight is always unbelievably stupid. Making a big deal over, as the title says, literally nothing. We’ve probably lost the sense of how radical this play was in the Renaissance for mocking the violent defense of manly honor.


Then again, maybe our world does need this reminder about violence now as much as ever. Much Ado shows us our own stupidity by setting characters to fight, again and again, over trivia and lies. But the play also refuses to lie about how difficult peace and marriage can be. It’s not as simple as “love don’t shove” or “use your words” because words are just as untrustworthy.


The entire show seems to be a stark reminder that, when you reach kiss or punch distance, you can choose instead to take a deep breath...and do neither. No matter what anyone else thinks.


But aside from taking a deep breath before we make decisions, Shakespeare doesn’t have a lot of answers for us. He seems more interested in the questions. But what Beatrice says to Benedick at his lowest moment might be exactly what Houston, the US, and the entire world currently needs to hear. It’s one of the finest pieces of wisdom I know, holding an unassuming place in the midst of all the play’s chaos.


Serve God, love me, and mend.


Perhaps that’s all we need.  In so many situations, it’s all that we can hope to do.

bottom of page