Shakespeare as flashy high fashion fun

The Comedy of Errors showcases student joy and encourages others to try arts

Image provided

When Katrina Dunn, assistant professor in the University of Manitoba theatre program, asks her students to raise their hands if they love, hate or don’t care about Shakespeare, “most people hate it.”

Dunn admits that Shakespearean language can be difficult to understand, but “when you dig into the actual stories there’s a lot to connect to.”

The University of Manitoba theatre program’s production of The Comedy of Errors, which ran from March 27 to 31, aimed to prove that point. 

The text is thought to be one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, based upon the Roman comic Plautus’s Menaechmi, and was written for what Dunn “like[s] to call a ‘frat party.’” 

The central plot surrounds two men, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse, wandering into the town of Ephesus where everyone seems to recognize them and calls them by name. 

A mistaken identity trope is popular in many forms of media. As Elise Britton, who plays Adriana in the show, told the Manitoban, this trope is “the building blocks of comedy, baby!” 

As director, Dunn chose to set the production in a “high fashion house of mirrors,” working like a runway with characters strutting across the stage in outlandish outfits and wacky movements. Audience members are encouraged to take photos and videos of the show. 

“I’m really interested in the themes of image in this particular play,” she said. 

“I think it has something to say to us about our fascination with our own images and also the sort of the making of our own images into currency.” 

From actors energetically running across the stage to slamming doors and hastily searching through racks of clothing, the show has a high level of physicality, but its casting also plays a significant role in its success. “It’s a really fun cast,” said Britton.

“[It’s a] play full of an insane range of different types of people, so that’s super fun to play off of each other.” 

The Comedy of Errors was a showcase to the new and continuing theatre students, all featured in the large cast. 

Stefanie De Leon, who played Luciana, said the production provided a way for her to make new friends at university.

“You get to know people at a really nice, pretty deep and intimate level.” 

Kyler Humble, Dromio of Syracuse, echoed this sentiment and continued, “having such a large ensemble coming out of COVID […] that’s really nice to get to work with so many people and just have fun on stage together.”

The production also granted the cast the opportunity to try new things for the actors, like stretching their physical comedy skills, performing in the alley staging configuration, translating Shakespearean and even flying a drone. Dunn describes in-class exercises as focusing often on the psychological scene work whereas The Comedy of Errors called for “bold muscular acting.” Humble said this element helped the cast bond, as actors had to be “comfortable looking a little silly.” 

Dunn expressed that due to COVID-19 the culture of programs such as the theatre, film and music have been forgotten alongside community-based events on campus like student and recreational groups. 

“It’s all part of a total university experience and so many of those things fell away during the pandemic, it was like students were just left with, ‘I’m in my room studying and that’s university,’” Dunn said.

“And that, I think, was so sad.”

Dunn said that it was important for students to experience other things that the U of M has to offer, and that theatre students do and can come from different faculties, departments and paths of academia. 

“You are bound to see someone you have had in a class or have passed in the hallway somewhere onstage, and that just humanizes that experience.” Dunn said about the University of Manitoba productions.

“It’s not something other people do, it’s something that somebody that you know also does and that you might even want to try yourself.”