Beck Center youth theater students unleash zombie apocalypse in ‘William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead’

“It has stage fighting, and it has zombies and blood. … And all of those things are perfect for teens,” said Sarah Clare, the associate director of theater education at the Beck Center for the Arts.


Courtesy of the Beck Center for the Arts

Students rehearsing a scene from “William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead,” opening on March 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Beck Center for the Arts.

The Beck Center’s youth theater program premieres “William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead” on March 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the Studio Theater at the Beck Center for the Arts.  

Directed by Dustin Welch, the artistic director for the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival and resident fight choreographer at Baldwin Wallace University, John Heimbuch’s “William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead” recounts the story of London’s 1599 zombie plague. 

The play begins with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men acting company’s opening night production of “Henry V” going awry due to the zombie outbreak causing those within the Globe Theatre to fight for their lives. 

“Things take quite a wild turn that deviates from reality and it … takes on that there is a zombie apocalypse,” Welch said. “It’s actually filled with a lot of historical accuracies and takes on … inaccuracies for creative and comedic effect, but it really does [have] a fairly high intelligence to it.” 

Welch said the production explores various questions about the authorship of Shakespeare, while including a “thrust of campy zombie humor that … completely takes charge within it.” 

This production of “William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead” is a part of the Beck Center’s youth theater program, serving as their teen show. Associate director of theater education and BW alum Sarah Clare said that this educational program challenges students in different ways, especially for teen students. 

“It’s really cool because we get to really explore what the teens are capable of,” Clare said. “That’s one of my favorite groups to work with … because they’re so ready to explore the arts and really see what they can do with them.” 

To participate in any youth theater production, Clare said that students must be enrolled in a Beck Center class or private lesson to ensure they are continuing their education in the arts. 

“All of our theater classes are inclusive … so we have students of all different kinds of needs within all of our classes as well,” Clare said. “I think it is incredible that we are able to work with students from different communities [and] different backgrounds and bring them together for the love of the arts.” 

“William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead” has a cast of students ranging from ages 12 to 17 years old, and Welch said that most of them were not too familiar with Shakespeare plays and the time in which they were written.  

“Prior to this, [they] didn’t have a firm knowledge of the history of the culture, the environment and everything that goes along with it,” Welch said. “I’ve had to explore [these topics] in more depth because of having to teach all of these elements.” 

Welch previously directed the regional premiere of “William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead” for the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival over a decade ago, and Clare was a part of this cast. Clare said that when she came into her current position at the Beck Center, she knew she wanted to do this show again with Welch as the director. 

“It’s one of those shows that kind of always stuck with me because … it has Shakespeare, so it’s got that classical element. It has stage fighting, and it has zombies and blood,” Clare said. “And all of those things are perfect for teens, because they’re so engaged [and] they’re so ready for that.” 

Clare said that this particular production allows teens to grow as actors while also having fun, and it is the perfect combination of both. 

“They’re going to really explore new areas that they’ve never really had to focus on, especially with stage combat. And so, they’re able to really grow through the production,” said Clare. “One of my main things was I want them to have fun and get to be silly and creative as well.” 

Welch said that revisiting this show has been a process of trying to “capture the essence” of the original production but with a brand-new cast of teens — keeping it as a “fun, campy [and] witty show.” 

“It’s been so much fun to revisit … that project that I have very fond memories of and had a passion for — it was [a] wonderful, imaginative, almost magical time of my life,” said Welch. “It’s been really cool to kind of dig back into it in a totally different time and totally different context.” 


Because the show has a large amount of violence due to its horror yet humor-based subject material, the students had to learn stage combat and how to use fake blood capsules. Welch said that all of these elements have come together during tech week. 

“You’re seeing more and seeing it actually … turn into the show that you had hoped and envisioned the entire time,” said Welch. “And then on opening night … the world is going to get to experience it.” 

Welch said he would like to thank Clare for the opportunity to direct the show, and he encourages audiences of all ages to come watch “William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead” no matter their previous knowledge of Shakespeare, as long as they don’t mind the fake blood. 

Students and adults can participate in several arts education classes without being involved in a production, and this includes dance, music, acting and improv classes. There are also classes specifically made for students with disabilities. 

“William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead” runs the weekends of March 3 and March 12 in the Beck Center’s Studio Theater, with an additional student matinee performance on March 9. More information about tickets can be found on Beck Center’s website.