Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy penned by William Shakespeare over 400 years ago, is chock-full of good and bad human behavior, including love and romance, jealously and trickery, rightousness and rumors, and attempts at being popular and, at times, deceitful.

In other words, it contains practically all of the elements that can be found in a modern high school, if one looks hard enough.

The play turned out to be a natural for The Understudies, the troupe of young actresses and actors of the Vermillion Community Theatre, who staged Shakespeare's work in Farber Hall on the USD campus Friday and Saturday evening, and Sunday afternoon.

With the help of directors Aimee and Joel Miron, the play's script was modified. The actors spoke in modern-day English (has instead of hath, for example).

The dialogue was watered down a bit to be more acceptable for both young actors and an audience of young people.

The play's setting was also moved, from Messina, Sicily, to the more familiar Vermillion High School.

As The Understudies discovered when reviewing the original work months ago, Shakespeare wasn't afraid to be a bit bawdy at times. But they were able to present a revised version of the play that not only expressed its original storyline, but also had a significant impact on the audience.

The bond formed between the cast on the small stage of Farber Hall and the audience, some just sitting literally a few feet away, made the experience of tackling a more complex play worthwhile, many of the actors said after the final curtain.

"We knew that this play would be a challenge right away, but Joel (Miron) presented it in such a way that it made it sound like it would be fun and easy and exciting," said Sam Miller, "and it was."

Miller played Benedick, a junior at VHS, who was constantly hanging on the coattails of Don Pedro, "The Prince," played by Philip Munkvold.

Miller said Aimee and Joel Miron "hacked apart" the script to make it more "high school appropriate, but it was still the same story."

In real life, Miller, 15, is a freshman at Vermillion High School. He said the play wasn't as daunting as he first thought it would be, in part because the cast was selected five months ago and spent countless hours memorizing dialogue and rehearsing.

Miller noted that his character is clearly a reluctant romantic, who thinks more from his head than from his heart.

Miller, who was involved in The Understudies production of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown last year, is happy that he decided to be intimidated by Shakespeare.

"It was a blast," he said.

Douglas Kronaizl also found himself in a role that seemed tailor-made for him. He played Dogberry. In the original script, the character is the town constable. In The Understudies version, Dogberry is a sophomore at VHS and chief hall monitor.

Kronaizl best describes Dogberry as an individual who is "a bit touched." He gravitated toward that role, he admits, while reviewing the script.

"That was the role I was aiming for," he said. "I didn't want anything too big."

Dogberry often confuses words and gives advice that seems to be the opposite of what would be sensible. Kronaizl loved those character traits.

"I really fit his personality, and he really fit mine," he said. "I really liked it because of how he always used wrong words."

Kronaizl has discovered the secret to memorizing long pieces of dialogue: don't miss rehearsal.

He admits he was "pretty freaked out" when, after the conclusion of Damn Yankees last summer, the cast and crew of The Understudies announced the next work of the young actors would be Shakespeare.

"I just kept going and going, and in the last week or so, I knew it all," he said. "As long as you keep going and look over your script, its easy to memorize. And it was fun."

Munkvold's character, Don Pedro, was trying to woo a character for VHS freshman Claudio, played by Crosby T. King.

Munkvold was skeptical at first. He didn't know if he'd like Shakespeare, and nearly didn't try out for the cast.

"But I'm glad I did," he said. "It was well worth it."

The more he worked with the cast, the easier it became to adapt to the unique plot and script.

"Once you read through it, you got used to it," he said, "and the longer you worked at it, the more it all made sense."

Munkvold is no stranger to the stage in Vermillion. He's participated in plays sponsored by Vermillion High School and the Vermillion Community Theatre.

Much Ado, he admits, was a special experience.

"I was able to make a lot of new friends," he said. "I hardly knew any of the people at first. It was a good time; I became closer to people who were already my friends, and I got to know everyone a lot better. It was a lot of fun."

Joel Miron not only played a dual role as co-director with his wife, Aimee.

He also acted in the play, in the role of Leonato, the principal of Vermillion High.

"We thought it would be fun to try the play in a high school setting rather than as Shakespeare wrote it, set in a city," he said, "because a lot of the same themes exist in high school that exist in the show – love and betrayal and gossip and that sort of thing."

Miron and Erin Conlon, who played the superintendent of the school, were the only two adults in the play.

Miron said he went through the play line by line and removed all the "thees and thous" and replaced them with "you and yours.

"And I re-worded quite a bit of stuff, and I even changed some of the characters around, but the great thing about Shakespeare is he's dead and gone," Miron said, laughing, "so he can't sue."

It was Aimee's idea, he said, to have the play flow as fluidly as possible. The result was a production filled with action and dialogue that helped the young actors connect with their audience.

"She wanted things to seem like a high school hallway, where things are always moving, there's always action, and when the actors are showing enthusiasm the audience responds with enthusiasm," Miron said.

Dru Daniels played Frances, a senior at VHS who is constantly in the role as peer helper who watches out for her classmates.

Daniels has stage experience from being involved in spring plays at VHS, and being involved in the Vermillion Community Theatre.

Daniels acted in VHS's production of Romeo and Juliet, which helped her get a sense of Shakespeare's style.

"One thing that was different about it was most of the plays I've been in have been musicals. This one wasn't obviously, so that made it more of a challenge," she said, "because I consider my stronger point singing, so it was fun to try to develop a character and get into acting."

Daniels admits to being worried about the whole experience at first. "I was skeptical about having middle schoolers doing Shakespeare, but it turned out they were really professional about it, and we all really had a good time."

Jessa Waters played VHS junior Margaret, a sassy cheerleader.

"I was kind of a mischief maker," she said. In the play, she pretended to be another character to evoke jealously in a move that still goes on in modern day soap operas on television.

"I was kind of a scandalous figure, and very into the boys. I hope it wasn't typecasting," Daniels said laughing.

Daniels, too, performed in Romeo and Juliet while a freshman at VHS. That experience helped her interpret the dialogue and obtain a better understanding of Shakespeare.

"It kind of requires that you have to have more emotion and action and more body language in order to get your point across, so it really enhances your acting to have to do it different ways in order to get the point across to the audience," she said.

Ariel Begley, who played VHS junior Beatrice in the play, said she fell in love with Shakespeare when she played Juliet in the high school's production of Romeo and Juliet.

"I love the words – it's like speaking in pearls; there's so much more to every sentence than you think is there," Begley said. "It's so intriguing to me."

Begley's character was tricked into falling in love with Benedick, played by Sam Miller. The two characters had been long-time enemies. "I think they were probably together once, and then they broke up, and in the end of the play they get together.

"I love how she is so witty and says things that are so sharp and smart and exciting," Begley said.

A major point of the production was its good use of physical comedy – something that's common in Shakespeare's plays.

Sunday's performance marked the end of months of this particular group of young actors working together on a very unique style of entertainment.

To Begley, all of the work was worth it.

"I made a lot of friends that otherwise I wouldn't have," she said, "and we've been doing this show for nearly six months, so you really get to know the other people really well.

"It's really been a lot of fun."

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