Much Ado About Nothing
Directed by: Ethan McSweeny
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Much Ado About Nothing (2011)
A Latinx Shakespearean production in 2011 that glossed Shakespeare with a superficial and damaging presentation of Latinx culture also became a hinge that would swing open new movements in Latinx theatre. In November of that year, the Shakespeare Theatre Company in set their production of Much Ado About Nothing on a sugar plantation in 1930s Cuba.
With a fountain in the center of the stage and Spanish red tile flooring, the set evoked colonial architecture and women in brightly colored dresses entered upstairs from the bright blue spiral stairwell on the stage and began to clap to the live flamenco guitar music. The show began with musicians singing in Spanish; music was used to transition between scenes, with two singers who played guitar onstage and a drummer. Slight updates were made to the dialogue to push the concept setting. Beatrice’s reference to “a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinquepace” was changed to “Mambo, tango, and cha cha” and Margaret’s reference to “the Duchess of Milan” was changed to “Heddy Lamar,” though Verges’ line, “as any in Messina” was unchanged.  Dogberry’s cape was the Cuban flag. The show ended with Benedick saying, “Uno, dos, tres” and the music strikes up; there was dancing and singing, and the actors took their bows to a pre-recorded version of “Guantanamera.”
In addition to these changes for a concept setting, the villainous and sexualized roles of Don John, Borrachio, and Margaret were all racialized and ethnicized. Don John was played by a Latino, Borrachio played by a Black actor who spoke with a Caribbean/Jamaican accent, and Margaret by a half-Brazilian actress who also spoke with an accent. When Conrade and Borrachio were tied up for their crimes, the visual of a Black man bound by a lasso rope invoked a history that appeared to be unintentional in the production.
STC’s production experienced a large backlash when it renamed two minor characters, John Oatcake and George Seacoal, to “Juan Arroz” and “Jose Frijoles.” Director Tlaloc Rivas led a letter-writing campaign about the problematic staging, the stereotypes that the production fostered and upheld, and the few actors of color who were cast in a show set in Cuba (and the fact that those actors of color were in minor and villainous roles).
The STC responded by hosting a roundtable discussion on the issue, and consequently changed the names of the characters and reprinted the programs as well. They also asked to work with the Hispanic Association of Latin Actors (HOLA) on casting for their future shows. Their response is a model for listening and making change, and the production was ultimately extended and then remounted in 2013 for STC’s Free For All program.
The STC’s production fostered a national conversation amongst Latinx theatre practitioners, and in May 2012, Karen Zacarías coordinated a meeting of a small group of Latinx practitioners, and the Latinx Theatre Commons held their first meeting in November 2013.
CARLA DELLA GATTA
For more on this production and its relationship to the Latinx Theatre Commons, see: Trevor Boffone, Teresa Marrero, and Chantal Rodriguez, “Encuentro 2014: Encountering Latinx Theater and Performance,” Encuentro: Latinx Performance for the New American Theater. Eds. Trevor Boffone, Teresa Marrero, and Chantal Rodriguez. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 2019. xv-xxxvi. xviii-xix.
See also Trevor Boffone and Carla Della Gatta, “Introduction: Shakespeare and Latinidad.” In Shakespeare and Latinidad, edited by Trevor Boffone and Carla Della Gatta, 1-20. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021. P.17, fn 10.
 “Much Ado About Nothing,” dir. Ethan McSweeny. Shakespeare Theatre Company. Washington, DC. Filmed 29 Dec 2011. Viewed 15 April 2019. WAPAVA Archive. Performance Video Recording #645.
 William Shakespeare, “Much Ado About Nothing,” Modern Critical Edition. Ed. Taylor, Gary, et al. The New Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, 27 Oct. 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2021. II.i.53.
 Shakespeare III.iv.12.
 Shakespeare III.v.25.
 Don Pedro, a “good” character, was also played by a Black actor.
 They are now known as the “LTC 8.” They included Karen Zacarías, Enrique Urueta, Anne García-Romero, Kristoffer Diaz, Tlaloc Rivas, José Luis Valenzuela, Lisa Portes, and Tony Sonera.