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TWELFTH NIGHT by Megan Haase, Jackie Rhoads, and Jackson Winrow

Posted by on Sunday, March 17, 2019 in Blog posts, , , .

Vanderbilt University Theatre presents "Twelfth Night" by William Shakespeare (Photo by Madison Lindeman)

Vanderbilt University Theatre presents “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare (Photo by Madison Lindeman)

The Vanderbilt University Theatre production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night ran February 15-17 and 21-23, 2019 in Neely Auditorium. Twelfth Night follows the stories of Viola and Sebastian, twins who find themselves separated in a shipwreck. Each twin thinks the other has drowned when they wash ashore in the mystical Illyria. Vanderbilt University Theatre’s performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night had contemporary relevance for its audience through its depiction of gender ambiguity and mistaken identity. It represented these complex concepts in a way accessible to college students through colorful costuming, lighting, and physical expression.

  • Megan Haase (MH) is a sophomore from Conway, Arkansas studying Secondary Education and Mathematics with a minor in Theatrical Production. She served as the Stage Manager for VUTheatre’s production of Twelfth Night.
  • Jackie Rhoads (JR) is a first-year from Westport, Connecticut who is studying Human and Organizational Development, Theatre, and Business. When she is not studying, she enjoys acting on stage and singing in an a cappella group. She played Feste in VUTheatre’s production of Twelfth Night.
  • Jackson Winrow (JW) is a junior from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma studying Sociology. He is a wide receiver on the Vanderbilt Commodores football team. This was his first time seeing a theatrical production since high school.

Megan, Jackie, and Jackson met in the upstairs classroom of Neely Auditorium on a Thursday evening, immediately following the staged reading of Bowling for Beginners by Diana Grisanti, to discuss the performance.

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JR: So, overall, what did you guys think of Twelfth Night?

JW: It was pretty interesting … and surprising. I didn’t know where the play was gonna go … at first, I was kinda lost. But it brought me back around – like, towards the middle – I finally started to understand what was going on.

MH: I think my favorite thing is the costumes. There was just so much color on that stage. Even if nothing happened in the plot, still, the costumes would have gotten me every time.

[JW laughs]

JR: Yeah, and it’s important to note that the intended audience for this performance was Vanderbilt students. Because it couldn’t be assumed that the audience knew Shakespeare well, costumes and movement needed to convey the story.

MH: Overall, I think we did a pretty good job of that. I spent a lot of time with the text, and so did Jackie. I watched the show in each rehearsal and, as I paid more attention to the movements and facial expressions, I got a better grasp on what was going on. I found something new every time. I’m not sure, though, that [the performance] was always fantastic at being able to get the story across. Like you said, in theory, Vanderbilt students are the intended audience. I don’t know if the show ever got to the point where it was easy to follow at the beginning.

JW: Yeah, yeah. I agree.

Vanderbilt University Theatre presents "Twelfth Night" by William Shakespeare (Photo by Madison Lindeman)

Vanderbilt University Theatre presents “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare (Photo by Madison Lindeman)

JR: Something else that really played into people understanding it was audience reactions. For example, in a lot of the scenes, there was a large audience reaction – laughing, gasping, “aw” … that type of thing. This is a great example of the audience being a performer. Even audience members who may not have had a solid idea of what was going on could understand the plot because they saw other people around them reacting. For example, when Malvolio comes to a confused Olivia, dressed up in his silly costume – you can understand that Malvolio is making a fool of himself and Olivia does not like it. Even if you have had no idea what’s been happening up to this point, you can understand a scene through the audience’s laughter and surprise.

[Laughter]

Infographic for VUT Costume Shop lobby display (Created by Megan Haase)

Infographic for VUT Costume Shop lobby display (Created by Megan Haase)

MH: I think this would be a good time to go ahead and discuss the acting and design.

JR: Good point.

MH: The costumes were crazy colorful. Most of them were big, extending from the performers – not super skin tight. Though all kinds of colors involved, each character still had their own color palette. Alex – the costume designer – really loves patterns. A few of the costumes were made with a piecemeal approach through upcycling. This is especially the case for Jackie’s costume — we have a whole display on it in the lobby. The amount of color draws your eye to wherever the characters are.

JR: Totally. And, in terms of design, the set was super flexible. This made the process of the show fun as a performer because I didn’t feel like there were strict guidelines on what had to be done. The director even encouraged us to find something new every night.

JW: I liked how the group of drunks had their own color scheme. When you saw their color scheme come on stage, you remembered who these characters were. You also had the brother and the sister who always wore the same thing because they were related. Having the colors really helped my understanding, especially coming from a background where I knew some Shakespeare, but definitely not in a comedic way. Usually, when you think of Shakespeare, you think of something dark and not humorous, so the colors played a role in my understanding and grasp of where the play was going.

JR: Yeah! As an actor, I did not even realize how the color schemes of certain groups of characters were so similar. That is a really cool observation.

MH: I find it interesting that you’re talking about Shakespeare being known for tragedy. When you think about it, most high school curriculums tend to focus on his tragedies, like Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet. It’s mostly histories and tragedies, but there aren’t many comedies that get discussed.

JR: Jackson, it seems that you do not have much experience with Shakespeare or theatre, correct?

JW: Yeah.

JR: And you came to this show having a certain outlook on what Shakespeare was. You had expectations of what it was going to be like. And it was just totally different than you expected. The audience was not full of people who knew the show and understood every word. We had an audience of people who may not have known anything about the show or about Shakespeare. This audience, including people like you [Jackson], had a range of expectations for the show. Bouncing off of this, why do you guys think this production was unique now and here, at Vanderbilt? What does it have to say about who we are?

MH: The best example of this production’s relevance is in something that the actress playing Olivia added. When Sebastian tells her, “You would’ve been betrothed to this lady” (instead of a man), she reacts by shrugging as if this would not have mattered to her. That is something unique to the production’s adaptation for a modern audience. In the society for which this play was originally written, that would not have been acceptable.

JR: Right. Scholars who discuss Twelfth Night find that it underlines these subtexts of unfulfilled homosexual longing that Shakespeare brought up before it was accepted in society. For example, Viola’s transformation into Cesario and Olivia’s love for Cesario imply distinctions between heterosexuality and homosexuality. The idea of gender ambiguity plays into the story. The play suggests that gender is something that you can influence based on how you act rather than something you are strictly born with. A performance of these ideas in the present day on a campus full of young people who are discovering themselves is especially relevant.

MH: Alongside what you are saying about gender being influenced by the way that you and act not the way that you look – I think it made a lot of people respond, like, “Really? They can’t tell that she’s a girl? She just tied her hair up and she didn’t even change her voice!” It continues to open up people’s minds.

Vanderbilt University Theatre presents "Twelfth Night" by William Shakespeare (Photo by Madison Lindeman)

Vanderbilt University Theatre presents “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare (Photo by Madison Lindeman)

JR: The fact that we can still relate to these ideas is due to Twelfth Night being this proven text. It has continued relevance and universality, meaning that everyone can still relate to themes within it. It’s cool. What do you think, Jackson?

JW: Well, going back to when Megan brought up the girl putting her hair up and stuff … I kind of confused at first because they were calling her a boy when it was a girl talking. But then I saw her brother and connected the two through the color scheme. So then, I was like, “Alright, so she’s trying to act like her brother because she thinks her brother’s dead.” It was intriguing to understand the deeper messages of the play.

MH: I really want to talk about the story’s similarities to other media, Are there any TV shows, movies, or books that Twelfth Night reminded you guys of?

She’s The Man is the most obvious one. I don’t know if you [Jackson] have seen She’s The Man, but I assume you [Jackie] watched it with the cast. She’s The Man is this cheesy Amanda Bynes movie in which she dresses up as her brother in order to play soccer after the girls’ team is cut. It is actually surprisingly relevant to the play we were just listening to downstairs [referencing Bowling for Beginners] and the Title IX issues.

JR: I was going to bring up the play As You Like It. I don’t know that much about it, but it also uses this gender reversal for comedic purposes. I think it’s interesting that Shakespeare does that in more than just this show.

MH: Mulan!

JR: Oh, yeah! Mulan, too!

MH: Mulan is basically the same plot. She does the exact same thing – she dresses up as a man. She’s not that convincing of a man, but they’re all like, “Yeah, sure!” And Li Shang falls in love with her without knowing she’s a girl. I think Twelfth Night, and especially this production of it, actually takes it up a notch. It allows the sexuality questions and confusion to be present, whereas these were not allowed to be present in Mulan.

JR: While talking about this idea of gender ambiguity, how do you guys think the community is being served by this story? How are the people in the audience are leaving with a different opinion or perspective than they came in with? In my opinion, separate from the deeper messages, this production served the community just by being so uplifting. People were able to enjoy entering this new world within the Neely theatre. This is because, in the theatre, you don’t have to think about any of the other things going on in your life. All you need to worry about is the plot taking place in front of you. People in the community are partially served just by seeing a live performance. I also feel like there is this aspect of the show that serves people who are not sure who they are or are hiding who they are. Seeing Viola revealing her true self after hiding throughout the play might feel like a release for people who can relate. Perhaps seeing this play out on stage makes someone think: “I’m understood!”

MH: That’s true. And, going back a little bit – Jackson, did you feel like it was something exciting that you could take away happiness from? Or, did you just feel like, “Oh, I have to be here?

JW: Well, I started off thinking, “I’m just here for a play.” And then I saw the lights and all of the people coming out in different colors. Then I’m like, “Okay, this is something totally different.” The energy brought me in. There were all of these jokes and facial expressions that moved the play along. I was drawn because I was able to understand what y’all were going through and what y’all were trying to express. If you actually got into it, you could see the different levels of the plot, it’s like there was an entirely separate one going on.

Vanderbilt University Theatre presents "Twelfth Night" by William Shakespeare (Photo by Madison Lindeman)

Vanderbilt University Theatre presents “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare (Photo by Madison Lindeman)

MH: We didn’t talk about the lights earlier, so I want to go back to that. I’m a bit of a light geek, but I think that lighting did draw people into the show. We had more lighting equipment accessible than we usually do, and the lighting designer for this show used so many deep, saturated colors. That, along with the costuming, made it more of a spectacle. There was so much color on that stage that you could not look away, even if you did not know what was going on. The lighting also followed along with the plot. There’s one scene that always stood out to me: Malvolio comes down the stairs and finds the letter on the set, traveling half of the distance of the theater. As soon as he sees the letter, the light moves with him as if it is his field of vision shifting from wrapped up in himself to thinking about this letter, which becomes so important to the plot. I found that to be one of the most interesting and meaningful design choices in the show.

JR: Yeah, I agree. That’s really cool.
Jackson, I am curious about your point of view as an audience member in contrast to our perspectives being involved in the show. Where did you sit in the theater?

JW: I was at the top. In the back.

JR: At what point in the performance did you start to feel engaged? Was it when you were able to relate to one of the characters, or perhaps when you started laughing?

JW: It was when the drunks [Toby Belch and Sir Andrew] came in. I felt like they were acting like me and my friends back home. We used to just crack jokes all the time. So, I was like, “I can relate to this.” They got on stage with a happy-go-lucky vibe. I was like, “I can mess with this. I can watch this.” I kept getting more intrigued as the play went on.

JR: Right, yeah! It’s really cool that you resonated with these silly characters, even if it was just by seeing the dynamics of your own friendships within theirs. Did you bring any of your friends to the play?

JW: No, I went by myself. I was just like, “I gotta go to a play.”

JR: Do you feel like seeing the production made you bond with the theater community in any way?

JW: Yeah, I can honestly say that I never wanted to look away from the stage – with all of the colors and lights. I was glued to the environment. It was like I was in this cloud where I didn’t have to worry about anything going on.

MH: Do you think you’d come back and bring your friends?

JW: Yeah, but don’t think they’d come. [Laughs] But, if they did, it would probably be the same kind of thing that I experienced.

MH: Yeah, that’s really cool.

JR: It’s great that you felt a little more connected to theatre as a whole, and possibly the people around you.

JW: Yeah, the older people watching around me kind of carried the performance. They were laughing. They understood the play and knew what to expect. I was able to watch them and connect with them to better understand the plot.

JR: What was your favorite moment in the play? What did you find to be the most surprising or uplifting or upsetting?

Light booth footage of the final song in VUTheatre’s Twelfth Night

MH: I think that the song at the end left me and everyone else watching so happy. Especially if you’re coming in like Jackson did, thinking that it’s going to be some Shakespeare tragedy. But, instead, you get a giant song where everyone is dancing and the lights are bright and fun. That was one of my favorite things every single night. Everyone was engaged, even if they kind of fell asleep because it was so long.

JR: Well, the play is typically about three hours, and but our adaptation was only an hour and forty-five minutes. How do you think that affected how engaged you were in the live performance, Jackson?

JW: I feel like, if it was twice as long, the audience would not be as engaged because you really have to lock into the play if it lasts three hours. If I had known it was going to be three hours long, I would be scared to even attend the play. I do not think people want to be cooped up in the theatre all day. Shortening the play down made it easier for me to understand.

JR: So you think the adaptation of the play was successful?

JW: Yes. I didn’t even know the original play was three hours long before you told me.

MH: I remember when they did a play two years ago that was three hours, I heard stories of how everyone left at intermission because they thought the play was over. They missed out on a lot of the show because of that. Cutting [Twelfth Night] down was really valuable in that sense. Jackson, did you still feel like it was a little bit too long?

JW: I think it went by pretty smoothly. At first, I was thinking it was going to be a little while. When you got to intermission, you knew you were halfway done, so the rest of the play went by smoothly. That is mainly because I finally put everything together and knew what was going on. At that point, I was just waiting to see what happened. It was just a matter of time for the play to come together.

JR: I think my favorite part of the play was the music. I think the addition of music, not just singing but the piano in the background for all the scenes, really helped people understand the plot. Separately, one of my favorite moments in the play, weirdly, was when Feste [played by Jackie herself] came in before my first song with a ukulele and says “How now my hearts” in her nice joyous tone. Then her two drunk friends greet her with “Welcome, ass.” It was one of my favorite moments in the play because it showed this other level of Feste and this underlying message of Twelfth Night regarding social status. At the time when the play was written, Feste appearing as a fool with tattered clothing symbolically conveyed the status and lifestyle of performers, working for spare change while treated like servants. The tattered clothing is also present in the beginning when Viola loses her brother. Everybody in capes surrounding her is strangers she is running into. Then when the music is gone its quiet and lonely.

Infographic for VUT Costume Shop lobby display (created by Megan Haase)

Infographic for VUT Costume Shop lobby display (created by Megan Haase)

MH: This brings me back to some of the design interactions between the costumes and the lights. The costumes in the opening scene were also upcycled. They were made from mens dress shirts, but they all looked very different. That is because the designers wanted it to create the illusion of washed up clothing or being part of the waves. Also, the characters are hidden and unknown to Viola when she arrives. When the lights came on, it gave them a sense of unity while looking completely different, but also the exact same. It falls into the pattern Jackson mentioned where the colors help the audience figure out who goes together and why they are together all of the time – what those relationships represent. When the characters start to take off the cloaks, like Orsino and Olivia, they step out into different colored lights – Orsino into pink and Olivia into purple.

JR: To wrap up our conversation, why do you guys think this show is impactful now and here, rather than another time or another place?

JW: Going off of [Megan’s] question, a lot of people can relate to it. People today are often scared to be themselves and bring out their true identity. So, them seeing this play and seeing the characters deal with the same thing can help them with their real-life situation. And it had a happy ending, which brings joy to somebody who might be going through something that they can’t get through.

MH: The play also makes a very subtle comment, which you may or may not catch, but is very profound. Even when everyone gets to live their truths, it does not necessarily work out in the end for everyone, and certain people are still pushed away. You don’t know what happens to Malvolio or Antonio. Malvolio gets chased down by the guard, and he’s supposed to get a happy ending from Olivia and Orsino, but is he going to be happy after he was deceived by the fools? Antonio is still in chains when the play ends. What type of ending is he going to get?

I also want to speak on the ‘living your truths’ bit. I think it really speaks to the now in that, even if you feel that you can’t live your truths, you should still make an effort to be as truthful as possible. This relates to Viola’s honesty throughout the play: no matter what happens, she’s as true as she can be while maintaining her disguise. For example, when Orsino asks if she is in love with someone, she says, “Yes.” He then asks, “What does she look like?” and Viola responds, “She looks a little like you,” because she is in love with him. But she can’t tell him that because she’s dressed as a man. No matter what is thrown at her, she is as truthful as she can be while keeping herself safe. I think that’s really powerful for people in the audience who are struggling with living their truths.

JR: My answer for “Why this play now?” is that Twelfth Night is such an uplifting, happy play. It has so many different characters audiences can relate to, and, for that reason, everyone can take something away from seeing it. In an environment where the target audience is students who are stressed out about their social lives or upcoming midterms, it was a way for people to come together and celebrate feeling good a happy ending.

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9 Comments on “TWELFTH NIGHT by Megan Haase, Jackie Rhoads, and Jackson Winrow”

I signed up to watch Twelfth Night without knowing anything about the play besides it being written by Shakespeare; however, after seeing the play, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by the play’s relevance to students at Vanderbilt – in particular with regard to the theme of sexual ambiguity. The play’s ability to allow Viola to switch between being herself (a woman) and Cesario (a man) is relatable to many students at Vanderbilt who feel that the gender they were assigned at birth does not adequately describe who they are; thus, Twelfth Night’s inclusion of this gender fluid protagonist, in my opinion, is important because it displays that gender ambiguous characters (and thus people) can lead in plays (and in life) dominated by males and females. Megan, Jackie, and Jackson’s collaborative analysis expresses similar thoughts, but, they mainly defined Viola’s character as a figure of homosexuality, instead of an embodiment of gender fluidity – which I felt was the bigger picture.

Richard Ficek on March 18th, 2019 at 7:30 am

Since I was the master electrician for this show, I mostly saw the performances from the booth, alongside Megan. I definitely agree with Jackie’s comment that audience reactions makes the plot easier to understand. From watching up high, I could see the audience as much as I could see the performers. The audience’s expression allowed them to rely on each other to understand the plot. I agree that the comedic nature of Twelfth Night made it more accessible. Because Shakespeare’s writing is not easy for speakers of modern English to understand, much of the storytelling relies on movement and gesture. The more comedic characters, like Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, could easily use movement to make their words more clear.

Gabrielle Blackburn on March 18th, 2019 at 11:50 am

My experience with Twelfth Night as an infrequent playgoer was actually really enjoyable. I thought the play was much more joyful than Pippin, and so I left with a more fulfilled mood. I partially contribute that to the music, costumes, and the plentiful movement and activity of the larger number of actors/actresses onstage. The modern content of the play party contributed to it being able to be more compelling in terms of being relevant to 18-20-year-olds who are still solidifying are their identities. Aligning with Megan’s take on the purpose of this performance, I did leave feeling much more confident in who I am as a person. Even though it’s not particularly my gender or sexuality that I’m still in the process of figuring out, the play and its extrapolatable motifs make you think about aspects of your life that may have paralleled the emotional quality of the onstage action. This was a wonderful performance and the quality and effect of the performers as a whole seriously justify the length of it. The complexity of the different character relationships and interactions with each other really kept me cognitively engaged with the plot of the play, and the credit there goes to the emotional impact of the production’s actors/actresses.

Kevin Chen on March 20th, 2019 at 12:53 am

Twelfth night has always been my favorite Shakespeare production. one of the reasons is because the flexibility it offers a producer. Whether you are a movie or play director, there are thousands of ways to take this plot and display it over different time periods or places. I think what was good about this play was that they made it understandable for Vanderbilt students. When directors make complex productions about Twelfth night, it’s hard to follow without knowing the plot. Since most students probably haven’t read the book, it’s good that they used a more traditional production with old fashioned outfits and costumes that were close to the original setting. I thoroughly enjoyed this play and the write up was very insightful.

John Lesko on March 21st, 2019 at 1:41 pm

Seeing this production with Jackie in it was quite the amazing experience. Her reflection on this performance was especially interesting as we did a report on Twelfth Night last semester. The irony only further continues as a large part of our discussion on the play had to do with Feste–the character she played. The addition of the music, her favorite part, was also mine as well. Often times when performing Shakespeare it seems like school productions are hesitant to stray from the traditional way of performing it. I was absolutely thrilled to see a fun twist on a classic, though one of my friends who is a Shakespeare purist was befuddled by it. I also appreciated the continued play on gender with the playing of Feste by a girl.

Natalie Martinez-White on March 25th, 2019 at 8:52 pm

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to watch this production from both backstage as well as an audience member. As part of the Hair and Makeup Crew I mostly helped the male cast members each prepare their individual looks which gave me a chance to see how their makeup and costumes coordinated in person. I agree with Megan’s comment regarding how the costumes were crazy colorful but each character still had their own color palette. Their makeup definitely coordinated with these crazy colors and their individual color palettes. For example, I did Malvolio’s eye makeup and his eye shadow and eyeliner were both very intense and flamboyant. His eye shadow, in particular, was very silver and had a little bit of yellow on the edges. I think these choices for the costumes and makeup really helped to bring the show to life and make it more enjoyable.

Shreya Karak on March 26th, 2019 at 7:01 pm

Like Jackson, I was also confused at first by the opening of the show, even though I was fairly familiar with the plot. It was not until the first time Sir Toby and crew came in that I felt I really connected with what was going on onstage. However, after that, I was totally drawn in by the lights, costumes, and expressions of the characters, especially during Act 2. After learning from this discussion that almost half the running time of the show had been cut, I wonder if more clarity of plot would have been useful in that opening section. However, I think it allowed for the comedy to be more concentrated and engaging. After reading Megan’s connection to Mulan, I was shocked and had to Google it right away. While Mulan is actually based on an ancient Chinese legend, the connection that we noticed speaks to the universality of this story of gender fluidity, throughout time and place.

Lily Jaremski on March 29th, 2019 at 7:48 am

I truly appreciate this rendition of twelfth night. Im not the biggest fan of shakespearian productions, but i feel that the team that worked on this play did a great job of making it accessible and understandable to the average college student. The reduction in time on the play makes it feasible for a studying student to go see it. The updated costumes make it much easier for a younger audience to stay engaged in the play than the traditional costumes. Often times Shakespearean performances can be bland, too long or boring, and this production was none of those. I believe that all these factors were taken into consideration in the creating of the production, and they did a fantastic job of adressing them

Temidayo Odeyingbo on April 11th, 2019 at 6:13 pm

Having read the text for the play, I was excited to see what it would look like on a live theatre. I found the play to be enjoyable and attribute the success to a talented cast, attention-grabbing costuming, and creative set design. This was my first experience with Vanderbilt theatre so I was curious to see how it would the play would be portrayed with what I assumed were somewhat limited resources. It is safe to say that it completely shattered my expectations of what the breadth of a college-produced play can accomplish. In terms of the story, I found the live performance to be just as comedic as I experienced while reading, and I believed the timing of the play’s occurrence to be pragmatic in a social climate that is vouching for more freedom of expression.

Christopher Lei on April 24th, 2019 at 9:43 pm

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