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'Measure for Measure' embraces nontraditional theatrical setting

The Shakespearean play will run at the Varsity Theatre until April 4.

A 1920s Paris-style rendition of William Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” opens tonight — not in a traditional stage venue, but at Franklin Street’s Varsity Theatre. 

"Measure for Measure" will Beverly Schieman's first time directing a production. The UNC 2000 graduate has been acting and assistant directing for Triangle-based Bare Theatre since 2008. 

“It’s scary, exhilarating, it’s educational — but its definitely very different than being a performer,” she said. 

Schieman said she has worked in theater long enough to expect the unexpected. With its nontraditional setting,"Measure for Measure" was no exception. After losing the original performance space, Bare Theater took advantage of the Varsity's access to film. 

“One of the characters is having a dream, and for his dream we used an amazing filmmaker — Michael Babbitt from (Hillsborough-based) Bombshell Studios — and he helped us put together a very short film sequence of Angelo’s dream,” Schieman said. “It came out just beautifully.” 

Paul Shareshian, owner of the Varsity Theatre, said the theater regularly hosts live acts but has never hosted an entire play. He said the show looked promising and professional from the glimpses he caught during dress rehearsals. 

“They’re utilizing the space as best they can,” he said. “If you’ve got a screen and a projector, why not use it? That’s what normal live show venues like DPAC do.” 

Bare Theatre raised money for the production through a Kickstarter campaign, said actor Seth Blum. Blum said through the Kickstarter, people were able to purchase tickets in advance that went toward the cost of production. Those who made larger donations could earn prizes and were even given the chance to appear in the play.

Babbitt said mixing film and stage could be tricky, but he and Bare Theatre were able to work together and succeed in making a great piece for the play.

“There was this really cool collaborative process as we tried to capture the essence of this (dream sequence), but have it be done as film,” Babbitt said. “I think they did a really great job of putting thought into how to use the film medium to do something that they couldn’t do onstage.” 

Blum, who plays Angelo, said Bare Theatre’s "Measure for Measure" remains timely despite being written nearly half a century ago. 

“The themes of the play are about people attempting to force themselves into living in a way that is socially acceptable when it's not really the way that people are built to live,” Blum said. “That is a theme that is as timely today as the question of same-sex marriage, and it is as meaningful now as it apparently was when it was a struggle 400-plus years ago.”

Schieman said the play’s themes led her to choose the production’s 1920s Paris backdrop.

“A lot of the themes in the play are about people pushing back against restrictions and people discovering who they are outside of restrictions, and 1920s Paris was a postwar period where a lot of artists and other creative types flocked to Paris to express themselves,” Schieman said. “It was a place where sometimes people were a little crazy, and in the play the Duke believes that his town has gone a little too crazy.”

Schieman said despite the turn the production took, it worked out for the best.

“Even if something comes up to change what your vision was, it always ends up being what it’s supposed to be,” she said. 

“I love that it ended up in Chapel Hill."

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