The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 18, 2007


CCHS's Twelfth Night on the lawn

CCHS theater wraps its season with an alfresco production

The full title of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, written around 1600, is Twelfth Night, or What You Will. The effervescent comedy was probably written as a Twelfth Night (January 6) entertainment to commemorate the night the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem and found the baby Jesus. Renaissance England celebrated that event with a lot more secular and liquid diversion than religious fervor. However, it is the subtitle of Shakespeare's play that has always been of particular interest. "What You Will" is probably the seventeenth-century equivalent of "whateverrrrr," and so it has granted to directors and actors down the centuries license to "play" with the play, to see who can score the next broad and creative interpretation of it.

CCHS drama director and theater arts teacher George Kendall is attempting his own twist on the original by switching the genders of most of the characters. Shakespeare worked with an all-male cast, the younger members of which played the female parts because their voices were still high enough to be convincing. Kendall, however, has actually reversed the genders of the roles themselves: women play women and men play men, but Duke Orsino is now a duchess; Viola is now Violone, played by Carlisle's Owen Callahan; Violone's brother, Sebastian, is now his sister Sebi and Malvolio is now Malvolia. Kendall says he made this decision because Shakespeare's plays have few women, and this way, the majority of his auditioners, girls, would have more roles to play.

Getting the actors and the audience into Shakespeare

To do this, Kendall had to play a bit with the script, adjusting pronouns and some of the descriptive words to fit the genders and Shakespeare's rhythms and to retain the integrity of his language.
CCHS students (left to right): Noragh Devlin, Campbell Payne, Nicole Guild (kneeling) and Hannah Rogal rehearse out-of-doors in preparation for performing on a flat area on the hill above the softball field at the school. (Mollie McPhee Ho)
Kendall stresses language with his students, because decoding the language and being able to use it skillfully are the keys to the playwright's characters. Shakespeare was an actor and wrote with great respect for actors, building his vision for characters and their emotions into his rhythms, tempos and word choices, rather than commanding it with specific directions. His technique has given 400 years of actors both a brilliant foundation on which to build characters and immense latitude to interpret them within the framework he created.

The results of the CCHS preparation and interpretation of Twelfth Night include surprising and modern approaches to the madcap relationships in the play: women take the lead as wooers, while some of the men have to sit by the phone, so to speak. The male-to-male relationships in the play take on a very different character as they become female-to-female relationships; in short, the balance of power between the sexes that Shakespeare bent and manipulated for his generation takes on a decidedly 21st-century comic character.

Lovely language, beautiful setting, plenty of action

In a nod to the bard, whose theater was that "wooden O" out-of-doors now replicated at the Globe Theatre in London, and perhaps to Boston's Shakespeare on the Common, CCHS's Twelfth Night is staged outside in an almost made-to-order flat area on the hill above the softball field at the high school. The setting makes for a very pleasant evening: the audience provides its own lawn chairs or blankets, and perhaps a picnic. Scenery is a simple series of platforms with the backdrop of grass, trees and sky, and the emphasis is on the performers. Costumes are a blend of periods, to look traditional but timeless and highlight the personalities of the characters. Because Shakespeare is Shakespeare, there is at least one well-choreographed and showy swordfight.

Cast members of Twelfth Night sit in the "wings" of the outdoor theatre during rehearsal on Saturday, May 12. (Photo by Mollie McPhee Ho)

Carlisle is well represented in the play, in the persons of Katie Innamorati as Antonia (Antonio in the original), Oliver Bojanic as the Priest (one role whose gender remains as Shakespeare wrote it), Callahan as the lovestruck Violone (Viola in the original), and David Dawson and Noragh Devlin are two of a trio of actors playing Feste (the musical clown of Shakespeare's play), adding vocal harmony and some period instruments to the atmosphere of the outdoor production.

The play opened last night, and continues with performances tomorrow and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

And for our next thrilling spectacle

When the lights go down on Twelfth Night, CCHS thespians will begin preparing for auditions for a yet-to-be-named fall production that will figure in some ambitious and exciting plans. Kendall has been researching an opportunity offered to high school students through the American High School Theatre Festival (AHSTF) to participate in the so-called "Queen Mother" of arts festivals, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Students spend ten days there among more than 100,000 other students and professionals from around the world, rehearsing, marketing, teaching and mounting four performances of the show they have brought with them. (The CCHS entry would be the fall 2007 production.) In addition, students spend two days in London, sightseeing and attending a West End production, tour around Edinburgh, see as much live theater as they can at the festival and view the famous Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world's largest arts festival. Among the ranks of its participants are Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, the cast of Monty Python and other international celebrities. Currently, about 1,100 American students participate in it each year. If strategies and fundraising go according to Kendall's plans, CCHS would join three other secondary schools representing Massachusetts: Phillips Academy at Andover, Deerfield Academy and B.M.C. Durfee High School at the August 2008 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Mosquito will keep you updated on this project. In the meantime, if you have yet to see Twelfth Night, catch it this weekend on the lawn at CCHS.

Ed. note: In case of rain, hie thee to the auditorium.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito