By Sydney Bucholtz
Assistant Features Editor
It is generally easier to text someone “wyd?” as opposed to “Why, how dost thou man?” and to say “okay, whatever,” rather than, “Go, sir, rub your chain with crumbs.” People also typically wish each other “goodnight” instead of “come, come, I’ll go burn some sack; ‘tis too late to go to bed now: come knight; come knight.” This weekend and next, the Canisius College Little Theatre will be performing Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The production will demonstrate that although these differences in communication exist quite obviously between common time and Shakespeare’s time, they are also very apparent in Shakespeare’s time alone. In fact, within Twelfth Night, the miscommunications between characters are one of the many aspects which catalyzed the plot into a spiral of confusion, intrigue, and all around comedy throughout the play.
Off the coast of a kingdom called Illyria, a shipwreck has left the young, noble-blooded woman Viola stranded. Believing that she has lost her brother in the wreck and now needs protection, she disguises herself as a man and begins to go by the name “Cesario.” She decides to begin working locally on the land, serving the royal Count Orsino. As he lounges in his estate, wishing for the love of the noblewoman Olivia, Viola is sent to woo her on behalf of the count. However, matters are complicated when, instead of taking an interest in Count Orsino, Olivia finds a more heightened interest in Viola, who she believes to be Cesario.
The events that follow are hilariously situated and interwoven based on the mistaken identity of Viola/Cesario, the tireless infatuation of Count Orsino, the presence of twins each trying to accomplish goals without knowledge of the existence of each other, the plotting of servants and friends to counterfeit a love letter to the servant Malvolio, and much more. In fact, the set, lighting, and costumes are as multidimensional and timeless as the plot, and were created with these concepts in mind, as director Eileen Dugan was inspired by them for the theme. For instance, the set design spans from Orsino’s estate to Olivia’s garden and court, and only lighting is shifted so that it feels as though time is almost nonexistent for the course of the show. “My role specifically was to make the tech schedules, but I was pretty much their student liaison,” described Conor Shea, a senior student involved in the production. “[The technical directors] instructed me with what needed to be done and, in the event that they couldn’t make it, I was there to see it done. A lot of the inspiration is a general colonial theme. It started off as a Steampunk theme; there are still traces of it found with the giant clock in the floor and that, to me, is one of the coolest aspects of the set,” said Shea. “The general colonial theme was taken as a spin-off of this Steampunk theme and slowly developed complementary to the costumes and the overall ‘Shakespeare Land’ that is a common trend for schools performing Shakespeare.”
The process of bringing Twelfth Night to life was not only largely completed by set, lighting, and costume designers, but also by the individual actors and their processes of undertaking the roles. Junior Katie Gaisser spoke to The Griffin about her journey in her role, Viola. “I’m used to playing a very feminine character,” Gaisser shared, “so, going from that to trying to pretend to be a small boy is a really interesting transition for me. Like, walking’s different, the way you stand is different, the way you present yourself, and just figuring all that out has been quite a journey.” She also revealed her sentiments for the process of the production with this particular cast. “This show has been the best Shakespeare show I’ve ever been in. The cast is just wonderful and it’s really great to work with all of them. Just the camaraderie you have with everyone in the cast and the crew… It’s a big, giant, happy Little Theatre family. I feel like that’s what really makes the experience good for me,” Gaisser reflected.
Another actor, sophomore Mike Alessi, shared his sentiments about the show as well and revealed his story of personal growth in the role of Malvolio. “Lines are a big one, because you really have to look into exactly what you’re talking about,” Alessi said. “Shakespeare can sometimes be a little difficult to understand, and you kind of have to keep reminding yourself, ‘This is what I’m talking about,’ and ‘This is what this innuendo is,’ and ‘There’s this underlying meaning of what I’m saying here,’” he described. “That’s what I would say would be my biggest triumph: having a better understanding of what was going on in Shakespeare’s head as he was writing the plays, and then doing as much justice to the character as I possibly can.”
The newest members to Little Theatre also possess a similar drive and fervor in portraying their characters to their highest abilities. Freshmen Nicole Benner and Joshua Link discussed their experiences with the show, their involvement in the club, and their roles of Maria and Sir Toby respectively. “I think the best part is kind of learning all the customs of Little Theatre, and it’s all so new,” shared Benner. “I’ve never played a character that can characterize herself the way Maria can. I mean, she comes in and she’s got her hands on her hips, or she’s pointing at someone, so she’s more grounded in her knees, I guess, and that’s different than playing more stiff, uptight characters.” Link also enjoyed the process of becoming his character on stage, as well as a few other bonus aspects which came with the role. “When I’m up there, I’m not Josh anymore. I become Sir Toby,” Link described. “It’s kind of nice to get that out and forget everything else. And of course, I become a knight, and it’s fun. I wear fancy clothes — that’s definitely one of my favorite parts, wearing a purple jacket. But definitely working with the people and making all the friends that I have, that’s probably the best part about it all.”
Kelsey Voelker and Emily Birchenough also made their LT debut as co-stage managers of the production. Birchenough reflected upon the process, “I’m super excited because it’s great to see the progression in the dedication that each character puts into what they’re doing.” Voelker added, “Just that sense of ‘am I doing things okay?’ and watching the growth to: ‘I’m a character.’ That progression is amazing and I love watching it. And people don’t get to see that because they come to the show.” Birchenough reciprocated the feeling, “To see them going from, ‘Okay, these are words…’ to ‘I know my stuff. I know exactly what I’m doing, and this is a full-blown character. You’re going to watch me and you’re going to be amazed and you’re going to be in a different time.’ You transport them, and it’s incredible to see.”
The cast and crew hope to transport audience members out of usually-constructed space and time, as well as to expose them to the quality fruition of the work of such a timeless playwright. In the words of senior actor Mia LaMarco, who plays the role of Feste, “There’s a reason that I’ve done the Shakespeare all four years here at Canisius, and it’s because they are still being performed because they’re good. LaMarco attested, “It’s a telling of real people, but there’s always some kind of mystical power or something other than earth. It’s a world, and we call it ‘Shakespeare Land’ for a reason. There’s just a way that Shakespeare can take you out of time, and make you think and make you laugh and make you smile in a way that isn’t relevant to time. And I think that’s what’s really powerful about it and why I continue to perform in the plays.”
The performances will take place this and next weekend on November 10, 11, 12, 17, and 18 at 8 pm and on November 19 at 2 pm. Admission is free, and tickets can be reserved by emailing LTclub@canisius.edu.