As the sun sets on the shores of Lake Austin, torchlights flicker on at the Curtain Theater. Actors in full Elizabethan dress step onto the stage, and stories written hundreds of years ago come to life within the vaulted wooden rafters of the O-shaped theater.
The Baron’s Men, formed in 1997, is a theater troupe dedicated to performing historically accurate Elizabethan drama. On Oct. 9–10, 15–17 and 22–24, the troupe will perform Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Curtain Theater, which is a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
The troupe began as a group of historical reenactors who wanted to put on Elizabethan plays in traditional dress. The Curtain Theater, built in 2005, is a 75 percent scale replica of the original Globe Theatre in London. The Baron’s Men, inspired by their historically accurate theater, have a policy of using the most accurate costumes and tools possible.
Lindsay Palinsky, secretary of The Baron’s Men board of directors, said troupe members often construct props and tools themselves.
“One of our troupe members built this obscure Elizabethan bladder instrument, using balloons and sticks and strings,” Palinsky said. “We also have a thunder machine that’s just a wooden barrel with a big canvas stretched over it.”
Dawn Allee, one of the founding members of The Baron’s Men, creates many of the costumes for The Baron’s Men productions. She said she often researches traditional theater practices, observing woodcut art and reading Elizabethan documentation.
“I went through the bookkeeping records for the Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s original company,” Allee said. “It turns out that they had a lot of the same challenges we do in buying and building and costuming. So we’re carrying on a tradition. It’s the same as it was 400 years ago.”
Each show presents different challenges in staging and costuming. Palinsky said the script for “Much Ado About Nothing” was often surprisingly inconsistent, and performing the play outdoors can get difficult in Texas fall weather.
“The stage directions keep mentioning people that never actually show up in the play, so we had to figure out for ourselves which parts were important,” Palinsky said. “Also, some of our women are playing men, and it gets hard to wear a big fake beard and doublet when it’s 90 degrees, and we’re outside.”
Although the Curtain Theater is outdoors, the venue is relatively small. Palinsky said the theater’s intimate setup allows the actors and the audience to interact with one another.
“It’s a three-quarter circle, and you’re never more than about 30 feet from the audience,” Palinsky said. “We love feedback, and we encourage people to hiss at the villains and cheer for the heroes.”
UT alumnus Andrew Bond, who previously performed at Shakespeare’s Globe, plays the role of Dogberry in “Much Ado About Nothing.” Bond said that while the lack of modern amenities can sometimes present a challenge, the Curtain Theater’s authenticity is his favorite part of the acting experience.
“This theater and this legitimate period clothing that we get to wear casts a spell,” Bond said. “The torches come on, and the audience is all around, and it’s really enchanting; you kind of stop feeling your own feet.”
Allee said she enjoys showing the audience that historically faithful Shakespearean plays can be a fun experience.
“A lot of people approach Shakespeare as some hoity-toity thing, but it was the sitcom of its day,” Allee said. “It was meant to be enjoyed, and so we want to make that come alive for people.”
Much Ado About Nothing
- When: Oct. 9–10, 15–17, 22–24
- Where: Curtain Theater
- Cost: $10–$15