Ask Philippa: Twelfth Night Edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

Twelfth Night is Shakespeare’s last and darkest comedy, written in 1601. Director Christopher Liam Moore calls Twelfth Night his favorite Shakespeare play, treasuring its capacity to soar to the heights of mirth and delve to the darker parts of humanity. Set on the tiny island of Illyria, the play takes its characters on a huge emotional journey, in which they question who they are, mourn losses, entertain big dreams, and discover parts of themselves that they didn’t know where there.

I’d be delighted to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for this season’s production of Twelfth Night. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Ask Philippa! Please leave your questions in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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Dr. Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

Buy tickets for Twelfth Night, or subscribe to the 2015 Season, by clicking here; or, call the Box Office at 510.548.9666.

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From Twelfth Night to Life Is a Dream: Fate Works in Mysterious Ways

Get Tangled Up In Love show art for Twelfth NightThe first two productions of our 2015 season—Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night about falling in love with mistaken identities and Life Is a Dream, Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s 1635 drama, translated and adapted by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Nico Cruz, which examines the relationship between fate and reality—couldn’t seem farther apart at first read. But it turns out Olivia, Viola, Orsino, and Sebastian have more in common with King Basilio, Segismundo, and Rosauro then one might think. Here our Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly explains the link between these two wildly different productions.

The question: Where character comes from and where it can lead? is at the core of both Twelfth Night and Life Is a Dream. Twelfth Night’s characters have their dreams, but they end up with fates they never dreamed of. In Life Is a Dream, Calderon’s 17th century Spanish masterpiece, translated and adapted by Nilo Cruz, the question grabs us from the very start and chills us with its development. Does a person have any real power to change the fate that’s written for him or her? And if not, why not? Malvolio struggles with this idea in Twelfth Night and we’ll see in Life Is a Dream the vengeance that is wreaked by a son who is imprisoned for the first 20 years of his life. Was his father right to lock him up? Was he wrong to release him, given that he’s done exactly the monstrous deeds that were predicted at his birth? Or is his vengeance created by his father’s actions? (Who wouldn’t want to go on a rampage after being locked away since birth?) Do we have the power to change our fates and to change the way we adapt to experience? Come judge for yourselves.

Twelfth Night starts Previews on May 17 and runs through June 21. Life Is a Dream starts Previews on July 8 and runs through August 2. Click here to learn more and buy tickets. Hear more about the link between these two shows from Philippa herself at the Life Is a Dream Inside Scoop, June 22 at the Orinda Library. Reserve your spot here.

 

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Play On: Madness and Reality in Twelfth Night

By Cory Downing

I’ve always seen Twelfth Night as perhaps Shakespeare’s most extreme experiment with human psychology. For a writer who is successful in large part due to an understanding of human psychology, Twelfth Night takes enormous risks in terms of the sheer number of characters whose actions, back to back to back, threaten to strain credulity. I simply can’t think of another writer who could take proud, pious Malvolio and drive him so swiftly and completely to yellow-stockinged, cross-gartered puppyhood, and then, even further, to piteous vulnerability. Certainly there are stories such as that of Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, or even Athelstan from the History Channel’s show Vikings, with straight-laced characters struggling with and abandoning some of or all of their virtues for lust or love or some other purpose. But Twelfth Night has always struck me as pressing the boundaries of plausibility, without once (barring a bad performance) truly breaking the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

Think of Duke Orsino, who goes through fewer character changes than the rest of the cast, and who, in the hands of a lesser playwright, might be a very weak character. Instead, he is at once brilliant, absurd, relatable, and memorable. We have all heard his famous line “If music be the food of love, play on,” though few remember that the following lines are “Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,/The appetite may sicken, and so die.” He’s willing to go to enormous lengths not so much for any love interest in particular, but for the sake of love itself.

Twelfth Night is arguably Shakespeare’s most homoerotic play, taking especially the impetus of Duke Orsino’s obsession with love to force not only himself, but two other characters (Olivia and Viola) into situations of questionable heterosexuality. Olivia lusts for Viola-as-Cesario, while Viola-as-Cesario-as-Olivia helps Orsino practice his fantasies with his “male” servant. Both instances serve as sources of comic relief, and perhaps they subtly gesture also toward Shakespeare’s own bisexuality. The veil of laughter, pulled back, unmasks questions at the forefront of today’s political landscape regarding sexual identity and sexual orientation. What would happen if there were no Sebastian, the “male Viola”, to come in, pair off with Olivia, and tie up all the loose ends? Would Olivia really abandon her attraction to “Cesario”? Is her attraction to Sebastian really the same as her interest in Cesario—is she, a smart, layered, powerful woman, truly that shallow? Is it not interesting how Orsino, immediately upon revelation of Viola’s true gender, instantly agrees to a relationship with her, no questions asked? Is this merely Orsino being Orsino? Shakespeare tying up loose ends? (Go look at Shakespeare’s genderbending Sonnet 20!)

Along the way to the absurd conclusion of Twelfth Night – duels, mistaken identities, psychological torture, pranks, marriages—every step is marked clearly by completely reasonable choices made by understandable characters. A woman dressing as a man for safety of travel, particularly in a dangerous and comparatively sexist time, makes plenty of sense. For a woman pretending to be a man to continue pretending, long after it starts becoming dangerous and ironic, if only to keep her position’s advantages, makes just as much sense. Pranking a hated, stuffed shirt of a person in power is a desire many have—and it is perfectly understandable, on the other end—who hasn’t been crazy for love with no reasonable hope of success? This is the magic of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Who needs powerful, mysterious fairies when humans will make wonderful fools of themselves all on their own?

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Twelfth Night: Love, Death, Contagion

Great Plague of London

Historical image of the Great Plague of London (1665).

In Shakespeare’s time, with its high mortality rates, most twins were split apart by death—as were the Bard’s own 11 year-old twins Judith and Hamnet in 1595, with Judith living on to be her father’s un-favorite child. Unlike Twelfth Night’s Viola and Sebastian, Shakespeare’s twins were not identical, but their fate, and its residual presence in the playwright’s imagination, very likely had a connection to the play’s central miracle – that the sea, long seen as a metaphor for death or the great unknown, delivers its dead safely back again. (By the way, here Shakespeare made one of his few famous factual mistakes – boy and girl twins cannot be identical as they are in his play.)

Despite the joyous restoration of the twins to each other and their eventual celebration of a different kind of pairing (the rites of marriage), Twelfth Night was to prove Shakespeare’s farewell to comedy. Indeed, the play itself has many dark notes: not least all the references to the plague that had killed young Hamnet and, in Shakespeare’s own childhood, had also killed one of his sisters. Duke Orsino refers to Olivia, for example, as having “purged the air of pestilence”; Sir Toby objects to “contagious breath”; and Olivia says of love, “Even so quickly may one catch the plague?” How did people protect themselves from catching the plague in those days when people rarely bathed, and, on the occasions where they did, shared the same bathwater with up to ten members of the family? On a daily basis people washed their hands as often as they could with water, vinegar or urine. They avoided crowded indoor places—meetings, including church sermons, would be held in the open air during onslaughts of the plague, and the theaters were shut down altogether (this is how Shakespeare got his sonnets written). The wealthy would often evacuate their homes when the illness came uncomfortably close, prevailing on great estates elsewhere to take them in. But many people died (one third of Europe’s population had been wiped out in the 1300s, and many thousands died in London during the repeated waves in the 1500s).

Questions about Twelfth Night, or other Shakespeare plays? Click over to Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly’s Question of the Fortnight. 

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Division, Harmony, and “Medical Mistakes”: Twins in Shakespeare

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly muses on twins in Shakespeare’s work and time.

Twins. Frontispiece from "Tales from Shakespeare," McLoughlin Brothers, 1890. Public domain.

Frontispiece from "Tales from Shakespeare," McLoughlin Brothers, 1890. Public domain.

This season Cal Shakes will stage Shakespeare’s two plays—The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night—the plots of which are facilitated by identical twins. In Twelfth Night, directed for us and Intersection for the Arts by Michelle Hensley (Artistic Director and founder of Minneapolis company Ten Thousand Things), there is one set of twins, a boy and a girl, who constitute Shakespeare’s famous medical “mistake.” You can’t have identical twins of different genders—we know that now—but in Shakespeare’s day this wasn’t known. There was, however, a great public interest in twins, due in no small part to the fact that twins were supposed to be engendered by an excessive female response to sperm, and also to the fact that twins were so difficult to give birth to, let alone to raise to maturity. Today twins are very common, partly because of in vitro fertilization and partly because the infant mortality rate has greatly shrunk in the western world. But in Shakespeare’s time this was not the case. Many parents did not name their children until the age of five, so great was the chance that the child would die during its early years. Shakespeare himself was not the oldest of his siblings, but was the first to live past infancy.

Imagine how even higher the stakes were for parents of twins. With twins’ added risk of a great range of nutritional and obstetric problems, as well as low birth weights and increased prematurity, they were widely thought to punish their mothers by adding to the pain borne by every pregnant woman (such pain being referred to in The Comedy of Errors as “The pleasing punishment that women bear”). Shakespeare and his wife had twins, only one of whom survived past childhood.

Perhaps because the survival of identical twins to adulthood was rare in that time, many writers before Shakespeare were intrigued by their value, not least as a plot device. There was an enormous number of twins in folk tales and ballads, court poetry and prose. For Shakespeare in both Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors, identical twins provide the basis for foils, doubles, misprised identity, and gender confusion. The playwright may have been inspired to use them in both plays by the thought of who his sponsors were. The first recorded performances of both plays were at the Inns of Court—The Comedy of Errors  in 1594 and Twelfth Night in 1602—and lawyers were at this time fascinated by identical twins because of the legal implications of mistaken identity. (Interestingly, in this context, we might note that The Comedy of Errorshas three references to “law.”)

Poster for an 1879 production on Broadway, featuring Stuart Robson and William Crane

Poster for an 1879 production on Broadway, featuring Stuart Robson and William Crane.

Twins provide a great plot engine for Shakespeare—they allow him to create complications, mockeries and new inventions. Thematically, moreover, twinning gives him an opportunity to explore the mind-body connection which is still so puzzling today, and which can be reflected in Shakespeare’s own puzzlements about the relation of the mind to the body (“Your face, my Thane, is a book/Where men may read strange matters”; “There’s no art/To find the mind’s construction in the face…”Macbeth). Conversely, twins also allowed him to explore his fascination with the “twinned” juvenile soul of friendship that is, as children mature, gateway to minds and bodies that become fatally divided in adulthood (“Two cherries on one stem,” A Midsummer Night’s Dream; “twinned lambs/That did frisk in the sun,” A Winter’s Tale). But in this season’s two plays about physical twinning, division returns to harmony. In each case, the brutal “splitting” of the ships that have carried identical twins away from each other resolves in the jubilation of togetherness, the celebration and relief that is reclaimed in a single root.

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Volunteer Ushers Needed for Twelfth Night Performances at Intersection

Rami Margron as Orsino, Cindy Im as Viola/Cesario, and Maria Candelaria as Olivia in Cal Shakes and Intersection for the Arts’ coproduction of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, directed by Michelle Hensley; photo by Kevin Berne.

Rami Margron as Orsino, Cindy Im as Viola/Cesario, and Maria Candelaria as Olivia; photo by Kevin Berne.

Public performances for our all-female production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, directed by Michelle Hensleya coproduction with Intersection for the Artsbegin on Thursday, February 20, and we’re in need of volunteer ushers for all performances at Intersection, 925 Mission, Suite 109, San Francisco.

There is a lot of good information about Twelfth Night on our website. During your volunteer shift, we consider you part of the Cal Shakes extended staff. We ask that you act professionally, treating your volunteer shift as a job and a responsibility to be taken seriously. In return, you’ll get to see the full performance of Twelfth Night!

Interested? Contact Jamie Buschbaum at jbuschbaum@calshakes.org or call 510.548.3422 (email strongly preferred). Read on for more information.

We ask that our volunteers:

  • Be on time.
  • Be positive, helpful and friendly.
  • Be responsible

Here is some information on eligibility requirements for these shifts:

  • You must be 17 or older to usher alone
  • If you are between the ages of 13 and 17 you must come with a parent or guardian and they must usher with you.
  • You must be able to walk and climb a few stairs to get into the venue.
  • You must be comfortable standing for long periods of time.

Dress Code: All volunteers are asked to wear comfortable, sturdy clothing and shoes. Please wear appropriate black. Clothes should be casual and comfortable, but tidy. No open-heeled shoes allowed.

Call Time and Training: Please arrive at the theater at your report time, ready to work. When you arrive, please let the box office associate know you are an usher. Cal Shakes depends on your being on time to your ushering shift. If you are more than 10 minutes late, you will not be permitted to usher and it will count as a no-show. After two no-shows, you will not be allowed to return as an usher. You will be trained in your duties for the night by the box office associate or their designated substitute. Please consult with any staffer if you have any questions or encounter a situation you cannot handle.

Before, During and After the Performance: After checking in, you will go through a brief orientation with the box office associate and assigned to a position. Please do the job asked of you until the curtain speech begins. While ushering, please do not eat, drink or chew gum.Please leave any valuables at home.

General Policies:

  • All shifts must be scheduled in advance. Please do not show up unannounced.>
  • A volunteer usher who drinks, or leaves without cleaning up at the end of the performance will not be allowed to return.
  • Cal Shakes reserves the right to turn away any volunteer usher.

Interested? Contact Jamie Buschbaum at jbuschbaum@calshakes.org or call 510.548.3422 (email strongly preferred).

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Talking About Love

Marketing intern Natalie Sanchez reports back from rehearsals for Twelfth Night.

Love is a complicated thing: how our bodies and minds process it, how we become brave enough to begin to verbalize it, how we share it with the world, how we fight for it. But have you ever fallen in love with someone who only saw you as a friend? And—to make things worse—that friend trusted you so much that they would confess to you their love for another person? They might even be so desperate as to ask you to help them convince their beloved to be with them.

Rami Margron as Orsino, Cindy Im as Viola/Cesario, and Maria Candelaria as Olivia in Cal Shakes and Intersection for the Arts’ coproduction of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, directed by Michelle Hensley; photo by Kevin Berne.

Rami Margron as Orsino, Cindy Im as Viola/Cesario, and Maria Candelaria as Olivia; photo by Kevin Berne.

Rehearsals for Cal Shakes and Intersection for the Arts’ coproduction of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (performing at Intersection February 2—March 2) are happening right now, and many of these questions arise as the actors begin to embody the characters. What could be going on in the head of Viola (Cindy Im) when she is asked by her own beloved, Duke Orsino (Rami Margron), to chase after his love, Olivia (Maria Candelaria)? Why does she agree? And how can these feelings become manifested in one scene, as full of emotions as the first encounter of two women who have such different intentions? I got to watch members of the ensemble work through some of these challenges when I sat in on rehearsals for Act I, scene 5 late last week.

Viola is persistent when passing as Cesario, promising to sleep outside until Lady Olivia lets him in, which she ultimately does, slowly and unintentionally inviting him to her life. “Bring me my veil,” she says to her gentlewoman, having her stand next to her, showing that her guard is up. But she eventually removes the veil, and the unveiling carries meaning to both characters: For Olivia, this is a moment of letting Viola/Cesario in, although, when she shows herself, she turns her face with her hand, asking, with a stern look, “Is it not well done?” For Viola, this is the first time that she gets to look at the face of her rival; in rehearsing this moment, director Michelle Hensley asks Cindy (who plays Viola) to be honest and really say that she is beautiful.

The director states that, among the many feelings that could be going on in her head, Viola might be curious to know why Olivia does not love the Duke.

“For Orsino loves you with adorations, fertile tears, / With groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire” says Viola. “Where does that come from?” asks the director. Possibly from the Duke, Cindy responds. Or it could be talking more about the feelings she has for the Duke. Curious to know more, Maria Candelaria (playing Olivia) makes the character choice to sit on a nearby stool as she backs up: With her body language, she says “it isn’t easy to reject you.”

When the director stops the scene to ask how they are feeling, Cindy shares her thoughts about the moment: “As a man, Viola gets to speak more candidly that she would as a woman.” Meanwhile, Olivia is enchanted, noticing the vulnerability in the way Viola speaks to her of Orsino’s love for her. Maria says, “Even when she is mad at me it is beautiful.” Michelle questions her further: “Why do you tip him?” Maria answers: “It’s courtesy.” As she thinks about it a little more, she says, “She is also trying to keep it together and process what she is feeling. Maybe she is trying to reinstate the social norms.” “But she keeps talking,” Michelle counters. If Olivia wanted Viola/Cesario to leave, she would have let him leave. After Viola leaves, when Olivia talks about what she is feeling, the director says, “Talk to them (the audience). They are here to process this with you.”

Who are you rooting for in this love triangle? Come prepared to help these characters unravel their emotions next month! Information on the cast, the production, and how to buy tickets—all costing $20—can be found here.

 

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It’s Almost Showtime at the Shakespeare Summer Conservatory!

By Sloane Henry, Artistic Learning Intern

The Bentley Five-week Conservatory is in full swing! We’re almost half way through and time continues to fly by. I have been stage managing for the Merry Kinsmen—the youngest group (third–sixth grade) and I am proud to say that they are well on their way to a very solid production of The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Heidi Abbott

The 3 witches of MACBETH take a break from rehearsing with intern Bristol Glass to strike a pose

and led by PIP Sam Coughlin, that sends a much more positive message than a traditional staging of the Shakespeare play. I am also anxious to see the oldest group, The  Queen’s Own, pull off their own rendition of Titus Andronicus directed by Susannah Martin, staged managed by PIP Cordelia Miller, and supported by their fearless leader, PIP Brett Jones. Cal Shakes just closed a powerful production of Titus on their Main Stage, so the Queen’s Own have been very fortunate to acquire many of its props this way. But it’s very clear how important it is to these kids to make this show their own, as they have set up multiple bake sales at Conservatory lunch to raise money for additional props and special effects.

The cast of TAMING OF THE SHREW decked out in pirate garb.

There is also a lot of buzz around the Fortune Artists’ modern take on The Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Catherine Castellanos and stage managed by Caitlin Volz. From what I’ve heard in rehearsals, it looks like the second-oldest group has taken a cue from The Verona Project and is featuring the players’ musical talents in the show. I talked to some Noble Knaves (the second-youngest group) during a break and they seemed very confident in their progress with Macbeth, directed by Laura Lowry, stage managed by Sam Callahan, and headed by PIP Bristol Glass, declaring “We’re all blocked and almost off-book!”

The Riotous Knights leap for joy. HUZZAH!

And last, but not least, the Riotous Knights’ Twelfth Night, directed by Ryan O’Donnell, aided by PIP Jordan Reiff, and currently staged managed by Sophie Kreeger (while their other stage manager, Julia Van Broeck is working the Cal Shakes Main Stage production of The Verona Project) is looking like it’s going to be a wild ride complete with hippies, colored hairspray, disco, Ke$ha, and a live band.

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First actor blog of the season! Or, insights from inside the warehouse

What follows is our first actor blog of 2009. This one is by Thomas Azar, who plays Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, currently in rehearsals. Tom also portrayed Valentine and Curio in 2008’s
Twelfth Night (yes, he was one of the guys in the purple pants), and was in the Ensemble of 2007’s Richard III.

Since rehearsals for Romeo & Juliet have been under way for about two weeks now, it seems kind of silly to try to start from the beginning. However, it does seem necessary to catch you, dear readers, up on what’s been happening inside the big warehouse that is the Cal Shakes rehearsal hall. Here are some interesting tidbits from the past two weeks:

– This R&J is fast and violent. Jonathan Moscone, the director, has more than once referred to the idea that the characters are trying to catch up to the plot. The events of the play happen in very quick succession, and this production seems to heighten that even more, to the point where, as characters, we are trying our best not to drown in the misery that can (and will) envelop Verona.

– For those of you wondering, yes, it is a “modern-day” adaptation, but don’t let that turn off the purists. Jonathan is very true to the heart of Shakespeare’s words. As a matter of fact, as we read through the scenes for the first time, he asked us not only “what are you saying?,” but just as (if not more) importantly, “why?”. These are real people with real problems, and Jonathan does not let anyone forget that.

– The party where our star-crossed lovers meet has a kicking dance sequence. (Kickin’ as in high-energy and fierce, not kicking as in can-can. -ed) I think Mary Beth Cavanaugh, the dance choreographer, has done an awesome job of creating a grungy/swingy feel. And it’s really fun to do the “Moscone jump.”

– Vespas are deceptively fast little buggers, especially when you have no prior experience driving one.

– This cast is a marvelous ensemble. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many of them before, most right here at Cal Shakes. And those that I haven’t worked with before are most likely not new to you, especially if you’ve attended any Bay Area theater in the past decade. Even though we’re still a couple of weeks out from opening, one can already get caught up in watching the actors work on their scenes. These guys and gals are truly a talented bunch.

So, you are more or less up-to-speed with Romeo & Juliet rehearsals. Keep your eyes peeled for further insights from inside the warehouse. (And for even more backstage lowdown, come to the free Inside Scoop tonight at the Orinda Library, for a panel discussion and Q&A with director Moscone, dramaturg Philippa Kelly, and actors Alex Morf and Sarah Nealis—Romeo and Juliet, respectively.)

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