Bowie and the Bard: both inherently theatrical, both wordsmiths, both challenged gender roles, and both walked to the beat of their own drums. Both also will be the highlight of a fundraiser held this weekend to launch “Much Ado About Nothing” as part of UNCW’s Lumina Arts Festival this summer. “Beer, Bill and Bowie” will take place Saturday, June 3, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., at Waterline Brewing Company to help raise funds for production costs and to introduce the new Alchemical Theatre of Wilmington, which will put on “Much Ado” at Wilmington’s debut Lumina Arts Fest beginning July 26.
Though Bowie won’t necessarily be appearing in the play itself, Alchemical founder and UNCW theatre professor Christopher Marino’s adoration for both artists is apparent. Last year’s Shakespeare production, “Measure for Measure”—a show Marino held in protest of HB2—featured Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging” during Hannah Elizabeth Smith’s transformation from a girl who identifies as a boy.
“I just love David Bowie and Shakespeare,” Marino tells, “and I’ve always wanted to do an event incorporating them. But there will be no Bowie in sight in the production of ‘Much Ado’ this summer.”
Marino is well-known for transposing Shakespeare into modern times. But for “Much Ado,” he is moving backward and setting the show in post-Civil War Wilmington. “Adrian Varnam will be composing music based on music of the period,” he tells. “However, when I direct [Christopher Marlowe’s] ‘Doctor Faustus’ in the spring at UNCW, you’ll probably see a lot of Bowie.”
Marino foresees “Much Ado” starting off in the midst of the hostilities of war; although, which war the audience is seeing is not clear. “We know some of the people in the play fought for the side that didn’t win, so it felt like the world of the play and post-Civil War Wilmington could align,” he explains. “The production will definitely reflect a lot of the flavor of Wilmington without seeking to be a recreation of it.”
Much like “Measure for Measure” featured a host of talent from around the globe, “Much Ado” will bring back some familiar faces, such as Fred Grandy (Gopher in “Love Boat”). Marino has worked with many professional actors over the years, especially through the cofounding of his bootleg Shakespeare company, Taffety, in DC.
“Some come to us by way of New York City,” Marino says of the talent, “and this summer we have a few actors that I previously worked with from Chicago [coming for ‘Much Ado.’]”
Donations taken at the fundraiser will help Marino secure actors, period costumes for post-Civil War, create the musical score, and provide design and technical elements of the show.
Alchemical Theatre of Wilmington will be a self-sustaining professional theatre company, focusing on classical theatre that will feature Shakespeare as its core writer. Yet, it also will present modern texts that wrangle with larger, modern universal ideas. Currently in Wilmington there are two Shakespeare companies operating, Dram Tree Shakespeare and Cape Fear Shakespeare, both with whom Marino has worked.
“We do not seek to replace other companies,” Marino clarifies. “Shakespeare is large and can hold a lot of different approaches and voices. I think people are craving innovative, exciting and new programming. That is what we seek to give them. We want to be able to bring people to the region as a destination theatre and possibly a place known to lovers of Shakespeare and innovative theatre.”
In addition, the company will focus on outreach educational programs. This summer they are doing “Make Trouble,” an ensemble Shakespeare training program for high-school and college students—sort of like a boot camp for theatre.
“We are also starting the ‘Riot Grrrls’ program, with a goal of producing ‘all-female’ Shakespeare as an annual event to Wilmington,” Marino forecasts.
He will take Alchemical into the elder community, too, by partnering with UNCW’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. “Eventually, we want to have a national profile for our work,” he notes.
Marino has lined up a slew of entertainment for the “Much Ado” fundraiser, including bands who will perform one or two Bowie covers: “Heroes,” “Moonage Daydream,” and other hits, along with lesser-known works. “We have Travis and Michael Rayle, Arianna Tysinger, and Meagan Golden, who you’ve probably seen on stage quite a bit in local Wilmington theatre productions,” Marino says. “We also have a great singer and player named Kait Distler.”
Marino himself will take to the stage with the backup ensemble of Cole Marquis and Adrian Varnam. Zach Hanner, Susan Savia, and The Swing Shifters will play throughout the day as well.
Along with odes to Starman, locals will read from Shakespeare’s work and even put on a few scenes. Audiences can expect to see snippets from “Taming of the Shrew,” “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “As You Like It,” and “Hamlet.” The Cape Fear Roller Girls are slated to make an appearance, and even DC Comics characters will get in on the fun.
“The Joker and Batman will do a scene from ‘Henry the Sixth,’” Marino says. “There will be lots of other pop-up Shakespeare surprises. The idea is the scenes just suddenly appear in the middle of the crowd.”
Families and friends of all ages are encouraged to come out to Waterline, located on the Cape Fear River, underneath the Cape Fear Bridge. Tickets for “Much Ado” will be for sale, and silent auctions will be up for grabs.
“Waterline’s location is kind of magical,” Marino notes. “I’ve always been drawn to secret places; Waterline feels like a really beautiful secret in a great location on the river. The energy feels perfect there. And, with Shakespeare and Bowie, both brilliant, it will totally be worth an afternoon out.”