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TOPIC: Concept Planning for Production

Concept Planning for Production 5 years 9 months ago #6017

  • rusty
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I've previously recieved some real gems of ideas posting on previous shows and with hope of more gems I'm posting again for Twelfth Night. As per previous plays I'll post my learnings after the event and hopefully provide something for others planning future productions.

I work with younger (16-26)actors in southern region of South Australia and am establishing a private/public funding model for two productions of period Shakespeare per year, touring local venues, schools and key productions in the cellar doors, grounds or barrel halls of local wineries. I bring in older actors to complete casts but my focus is keeping a very good standard of performance and helping younger actors improve their understanding of Shakespeare. Following are my initial thoughts/questions on the play and I'd welcome any thoughts from people with experiance performing, directing or watching this production.

General Concept: I have the feeling that in some regards this play has aged poorly against modern sensitivities of right/wrong given one of the key comedic aspects is blantent workplace bullying. Finding my comfort on presenting this is currently my biggest personal challenge and remains unanswered in my mind at time of writing. I understand this was likely written as a farce and I don't want to over-think it as a result. I see the repetitive pattern of every character being show in both a positive and negative light and think I'll rely on presenting this - with the last scene, showing the forgiveness of Fabian, Feste reminding Malvolio of his past gaps in sensitivity while being gentle with him, and Malvolio completely failing to accept any appoligies and having almost been a victim supported by audience until then, looses their support in his last bitter line.
Orsino & Olivia I really want to avoid presenting Orsino as a prat as I find this makes it too difficult for Viola to fall in love. I am seeing him as a good man, who has temporarly lost his mind being in an obsessive love - giving him a springboard for the end as I really want to avoid the audience feeling sorry for Viola being with him. Olivia is fasinating me as a real lost soul, desperately needing the moody Malvolio and the familurality with Feste to maintain touch with life. Her beauty in wooing Caserio really appeals to me and the rejection she gets fans her later desperation with Sebastian. I really want to push at some complexity for these characters.
Viola: What a wonderful character. I'm keen to pursue some hints of jealousy early between herself and Olivia, until that moves to later pity. Anyone else approached this? In many regards I think she finds herself in a strange land and as Cesario treats life there with a semi-casual detachment.
Feste: Researching the many productions of this but strongly leaning to making him a very melocholic man, almost depressive at times, then over-compensating with a zest for fun. I have a wonderful lute-playing tenor available for this role. I want to end with him having almost invited Malvolio to appoligise for being mean to the fool, with Feste partially apoligising for treating him bad - until Malvolio goes the other way and curses them all. Early in the play I want Feste to be threatened by Malvolio, as contrasted with his normal confidence with everyone else.
Toby & Andrew: Andrew is coming through as a real upper-class twit to me but I will pick out early his moments of introspection and he comes across as quite sad. I will end with him exiting stage seperately from Toby after being abused by him, lingering long enough to show the hurt from this - aiming to have him garner alot of sympathy from the audience despite having been such a shallow fool throughout. With Toby I aim to start him in form, as the fun buffoon but as the play progresses bring out his temper and the callousness of his treatment of Andrew, and Malvolio to end him as a deteriating and deep-down angry drunk.
Malvolio: I am blessed with a strong character actor for this and a man who is naturally a pedent. Seeing him as a middle-class born man who has spent so long dreaming of being more that he cannot tolerate his own class anymore. A little bit of a bully without pushing too much on nasty, more that he would rather the lower classes just knew their place and respected his. A complete failure on emotional inteligence. I'm sure this character will go on a long development during rehearsals.

That's my key top-of-mind thoughts. Any ideas, suggestions or experiance to share would be wonderful.


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Re: Concept Planning for Production 5 years 9 months ago #6021

  • Wayne Myers
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Hi, Rus!

I'm the author of "The Book of Twelfth Night, or What You Will: Musings on Shakespeare's Most Wonderful (and Erotic) Play." Congratulations on getting the opportunity to direct one of the most strangest and erotic comedies ever written. I invite you to visit my book's fan page on Facebook for some thoughts on "Twelfth Night," recent productions, etc.

"Twelfth Night" probably was not written as a farce, although many directors unfortunately stage it that way, treating it as an early Shakespeare such as "The Comedy of Errors" and "The Two Genmtlemen of Verona." But these comedies were written in the early 1590s, while "Twelfth Night," with a sophistication totally out-classing these early Shakespeares, was penned years later, likely in 1600.

This makes "Twelfth Night" a play of Shakespeare's extraordinary middle period--part of a string of sexually-dark plays filled with lavish, complex characters. Likely written between "Hamlet" and the sexually-caustic "Troilus and Cressida," "Twelfth Night" is the gateway play to Shakespeare's most sexual plays, including "Troilus," "Measure for Measure," and "Othello."

Directors who treat "Twelfth Night" as an early Shakespeare often fill their productions with gimmicks and gags. A director of a recent "Twelfth Night" in San Antonio, Texas, even gave Sir Andrew a dog--"Mr. Pickles"--perhaps supposing "Twelfth Night" needed something "funny" from "Two Gentlemen of Verona." This is not "Twelfth Night." Shakespeare suffused his play with dark humor (which can be accessed only when the characters are played as human beings, not stock characters) with a streak of melancholy coursing through it, but some directors will set it, for example, at a seaside resort to make the play "bright" and "sunny" and "fun."

The 16-26 age range is actually ideal for "Twelfth Night." The ages of the characters vary from production to production, but I particularly like a young Malvolio (20s) and Sir Toby Belch (not younger than mid- to late 30s, which intensifies the conflict between the two men. Unfortunately, Sir Toby is often played as a bloated, aging wreck and Malvolio, too, is often played as a much older, calcified character. How the "practical joke" is played can have a significant bearing on the kind of "Twelfth Night" you end up with. In my opinion, it starts out as a joke, but goes awry. T personally think Sir Toby wants to severely punish Malvolio for his cross-class ambition. A key line is when Toby says he cannot in "safety" "pursue this sport t' th' upshot." What was this "upshot" supposed to be? Was it to end with Malvolio's being driven out of his mind? Or even to suicide? I think the audience has to go along with it until they realize what has happened to Malvolio.

Many reviewers frequently find fault with productions for not exploring the sexual aspects of the play. The main plot focuses on a young woman who disguises herself as a man, and in that guise, soon finds herself caught up in a very strange love triangle with Olivia and Orsino. Shakespeare's devious genius here is that whenever Viola acts on her passion as a woman, she is seen as doing so by everyone else as a man! Things may be far from sorted out sexually at the end. Again, this is a very strange play, and you'll succeed if you concentrate on these aspects. If you turn the play into a farce comedy, however, you'll almost certainly fail.

One other point: Many actresses play Olivia as sex-mad, but this has long been a cliche portrayal. She is brainy, beautiful and spoiled--and she pays the price for that by losing her heart to someone who doesn't really exist--"Cesario." It's extremely poignant.

I consider the following recent productions stand-out "Twelfth Nights" for various reasons: Curio Theatre Company (2010, Philadelphia, Pa.); New Jersey Shakespeare Theatre (2009, Madison, N.J.); Perth Theatre Company (2011, Perth, Scotland); and Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (2008, Garrison, N.Y.).

It's all up to you of course, but I hope you'll find this information useful.

Have fun and keep me posted on how things are going.


Wayne Myers
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The following user(s) said Thank You: rusty, Julianne De Foro

Re: Concept Planning for Production 5 years 9 months ago #6024

  • rusty
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Hi Wayne,

Thank you for your feedback, especially given your experaince with this play. I think I used the reference to 'farce' poorly and completely understand and agree with your sensitivity to avoid the type of presentation that follows. I think what was in my mind was the performance it was written for - the revelry of the Twelfth Night - and you've challenged me to not let the date/festival drive the play's form. The last play we performed was 'Much Ado About Nothing' and we even managed to find some darkness come out from that by making the characters were 'real' avoiding the stock characters I've always found that play regularly attracts. The script for 12th Night is rich for the darker moments and humour and I'm glad to hear you reinforce this. I am at heart a tragedy and history boy so I'm always cautious about letting myself darken the comedies but I'm more relaxed about that with this one.

I agree that Olivia is beautiful and needs that respect. I'm searching also for that in Orsino (I've usually seen him performed as a prat).

I'll take a bit of time going through your references and would look forward to partically coming back with take on Toby/Malvolio and will add Feste to this. More research first.

Not being as familure with this play as I am with the others, and seen more versions I disliked then liked, your feedback (and the therapy of putting my notes out there) has helped me realise I'm being driven more by what I don't want it to be, and I'll send some time this week to identify more clearly, what I want it to be.

Many thanks Wayne.
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