Shakespeare you can love: Drama prepares ‘Twelfth Night’

Goldie Fields, BP Staff

By Daniel Steinberg, Staff Writer

From the mismatched chairs and miscellaneous props strewn across the floor to the dazed ninth-grader waltzing in 20 minutes late, the Wildfire Theater did not appear ready for a play on Thursday, Oct., 11, after school.

But it was only a rehearsal – in fact, the very first line rehearsal of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night,* and there was still plenty of time until the scheduled opening Dec. 13.

The dark yet airy auditorium holds an audience of 60 plus cast and crew, but that day there were only two actors and the drama teacher, Ms. Emily Chase. Once settled, they started to read their lines.

Sophomore David Lorrell, playing the melodramatic nobleman Orsino, pulled a dusty couch up onto the stage. Lying down on it, he began reciting a mopey soliloquy in broken Shakespearian English.

“If music be the food of love, play on;” said David with sweeping hand gestures. “Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die.”

Before he could finish, freshman Zev Frankel rushed in a bit ahead of his cue, interrupting the performance.

Ms. Chase sighed and sent him back offstage.

“I’m critical because I have a high standard for this play,” said Ms. Chase, “Don’t take it personally.”

Out of the many plays Ms. Chase has directed for Shalhevet over the years, about a quarter of them have been by Shakespeare — which is not all that many, considering she is particularly experienced at directing, producing, and acting in Shakespeare plays. Ms. Chase was even part of a theater company called FreightTrain Shakespeare, a group that staged professional Shakespeare plays in Los Angeles.

“Not to toot my own horn,” said Ms. Chase modestly, “but Shakespeare is my expertise.”

Teenagers, however, often feel differently about Shakespeare.

“I think Shakespeare is overrated,” said sophomore Yossi Sarshar when asked about his feelings for the playwright, “There are so many other poets who have done more thought-out work than him. I don’t even like normal plays, so I definitely won’t be going to Twelfth Night.

Even some of the Twelfth Night cast disfavor Shakespeare.

“I definitely prefer non-Shakespearean plays,” said twelfth grade actress Brianna Marshak, who acts as Olivia in the upcoming play.”“They’re easier to understand straight away, and therefore easier to act in. Since in a Shakespeare play it’s a struggle to understand what you’re saying, it’s much more difficult than a normal play to make choices about how you want to say a line.”

Still, Ms. Chase assures that even the most Shakespeare-phobic Shalhevet student will appreciate the relevancy of Twelfth Night.

“Even though it’s a funny play, there are a certain number of broken hearts before the characters reach their happy endings,” she said, “There’s a sense of bullying and exclusion, which I think teenagers will really be able to relate to.”

Twelfth Night tells the story of Viola, who is stranded and separated from her twin brother after a shipwreck. Viola ends up secretly dressing as a man and helps a duke woo a countess, but a bunch of crazy misunderstandings ensue.

In order to help her actors grasp the meaning of the vivid story beneath the dense 17th century text, Ms. Chase reads through the play with them, analyzing the language.

“Unlike in English class, where you’re looking for themes to write papers on, as actors you’re looking for what’s playable,” Ms. Chase said.

Teaching the actors how to act is not her only job, though. Ms. Chase is serving as both producer and director, which means she also has sole responsibility for managing the budget, promoting publicity, making artistic decisions concerning the play, hiring crew, and communicating with media like the Boiling Point.

“Creating a play on such a small budget that also feels elaborate, elegant, and rich, is a tough job,” said Ms. Chase.

Ms. Chase isn’t the only one working hard though.

“At this point we rehearse about four to 10 hours a week, depending which scenes you’re in, but later in the year we can expect 30 to 40 hours instead,” said junior Paul Merritt, who plays Sebastian. But he added that it’s not quite as bad as it sounds.

“At most practices we have some extra time between scenes, so you can often get your homework done during Drama,” Paul said. “Unless you’re in every scene of a rehearsal or you get out later than 9:30, you can still get a good night’s sleep earlier than midnight.”

Zev Frankel, who plays Fabian, Valentine, and Curio, stated that Drama practices are a huge commitment.

“Drama is very time-consuming for me as an extra curricular,” said Frankel, “If you’re on drama the only other teams you can really be on are the newspaper or debate. With all the practice and study, there’s no time for anything else.”

Drama rehearsals demand a large quantity of time, but actors love every moment of them.

“The most rewarding thing about rehearsals is being able to step out of your comfort zone and be someone else for an hour or two,” said senior Rachel Friedman, who will star in Twelfth Night as Viola. “I think people will be entertained by this play.”

The theater department is counting on this being an entertaining show, too, despite the challenges of Shakespeare. Still, for some students, that might not be a big enough of a draw to buy tickets.

For that reason, in collaboration with the English department, Ms. Chase plans to incentivize students with an additional reward, more tangible than entertainment. All students who attend the play will receive bonus English credit.

“The goals of the Drama department and English department have always been compatible in my mind: close reading, internalization of character, appreciation of authors’ intentions, and understanding of audience,” said English Department chair Ms. Melanie Berkey.

“Especially because Ms. Chase takes such a literary approach to her own directing and selection of plays, every Shalhevet production has legitimate literary and intellectual merit,” Ms. Berkey said. “Seeing these plays can make students appreciate character and narrative on a deeper level, and seeing their peers perform sophisticated, complex plays can make the texts seem more accessible.”

The play premiers on Thursday, Dec. 13 and will continue showing through Wednesday the 19th. If you like a good Shakespeare production or could use a grade boost in English class, you should consider being there.

“My goal,” said Ms. Chase, “is to have every kid walk out after the performance and say ‘Wow, that was a great night of theater. I didn’t know I liked Shakespeare!'”

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