Love, deception, loss and gender bending will be making their way to Harbach Theatre next week.
This season’s mainstage show, Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” tells the story of Viola, who disguises herself as a boy to enter the services of Duke Orsino. The duke enlists Viola to tell the Lady Olivia of his love — but, instead, Olivia falls in love with the disguised Viola, who has in turn fallen in love with the duke.
Directed by Professor and Chair of Theatre Elizabeth Carlin-Metz, the play, a romantic comedy, was chosen to balance out the darker shows staged fall and winter terms. The show provided students with other benefits as well, such as a large number of women’s roles and a chance to learn how to speak in verse.
“Learning how to act and speak verse is a skill,” Carlin-Metz said. “[I have] to remind them to not subject the verse to contemporary American speech patterns.”
That verse highlights themes of grappling with loss, unrequited love and gender identity throughout the play, but the last one is most central to the Knox production. Rather than stage the play in its historical context, the performance is set in 1920s Italy during the Carnival celebration, a weekend of partying and feasting that takes place just before the start of Lent. The setting, Carlin-Metz said, allowed them “to heighten the sense of festivity and play with gender identity more than the play does.”
The atmosphere of Carnival also gives characters the opportunity to behave in ways that wouldn’t ordinarily be permitted.
“Ordinary social censors are gone, and, most importantly, class boundaries,” Carlin-Metz said.
To help create the feel of Carnival, Carlin-Metz added four revelers to the play. One of Shakespeare’s most musical works, the audition for “Twelfth Night” included movement and singing auditions in addition to a theatrical audition. Although Shakespeare wrote the lyrics for the songs, senior Sam Brownson composed the music itself, while junior Kyla Tully choreographed the dances. Students were also involved with technical elements of the show, with junior Franzesca Mayer designing the costumes.
“These are the elements that really make it unique,” Carlin-Metz said. “When you bring together these types of talents, you’re more than just a faculty member giving directions.”
Many of characters wear Carnival masks throughout the production, with technical elements throughout the work aiming to further highlight the work’s main themes.
“You think about the ways you can take the themes of the play and put them into higher relief,” Carlin-Metz said.
Overall, it was an experience that Carlin-Metz enjoyed thoroughly.
“It’s been delightful,” she said. “Everybody has been incredibly generous with their time and creativity.”
“Twelfth Night” will be showing nightly in Harbach Theatre at 7:30 p.m. from Feb. 22–25.
Editor’s note: Sam Brownson is a copy editor for TKS.