Interview with Artistic Director Ina Centaur on Twelfth Night, Act 1—The Open-Ended Run
by Lora Constantine
What is your vision in directing the play?
“This production attempts to be as true and pure to the play as possible… This is the only one of the Bard’s plays that is not under suspicion from various bad quartos editions, so there might be some insights to be divined if we try to dramatize it based on a close reading—independent of the shackles of any era interpretation.”
What is your artistic vision for this production?
“The best metaphor to describe its visual appearance might be the phrase I conjured up for our Fall 2008 preview season: the play looks like it’s from the ‘generic past.’ This also avoids the politics and extraneous notions connected with modernity. In general, the seen elements aren’t bound to a particular era or interpretation—but serve to help embellish the intrinsic elements of the play.”
Could you elaborate on that?
“The characters basically look like their epithets, and the sets and props are designed to help flaunt and dramatize the intrinsic story and text, as well as the character relations.”
How do the sets help dramatize the play?
“For example, in scenes where class and persona differences play a thematic role, multiple levels are created in the scenic design: Orsino’s balcony is clearly set off-access from Viola, who beseeches him as a servant on the main stage level, emphasizing both their different status and outlook—Orsino’s flamboyance and Viola’s incognito-as-a-servant ‘obedience’. Similarly, the set for Scene 5 also contains different levels, but has stairs within view, allowing for Viola to easily climb up to Olivia, and the other way around—and, indeed, in stark contrast to the Orsino-Viola scenes, something intimate is passed between Viola and Olivia in that scene.”
“Costuming was chosen to convey archetypes of each of the play’s main characters. Orsino looks like a duke, but there’s a certain reckless abandon in him—he looks like a guy in love with the concept of love itself. Olivia is of gray eyes with flaxen hair, but there’s a sadness in her expression—yet she can look like one who would entertain an old clown ‘for want of other idleness,’ or a sister and daughter in mourning—a certain quintessential valley-girl-ism. Viola for Act 1 is portrayed as clever, though innocently naïve—what other kind of character would choose to go incognito as a boy without expecting such complications?”
What brought you to work with character archetypes instead of a traditional era interpretation?
“A duke in love with the concept of love itself, a shipwrecked girl incognito as a boy eunuch, and the fair but young Lady Olivia in mourning—they contrast sharply with the irreverent man-adolescent Sir Toby Belch, the arrogant but sulking Malvolio, and the scolding but lascivious busybody Maria. In the middle of all this in Act 1, you also have Feste, the fool-uncertain-of-his-wit, and the witless Sir Andrew Aguecheek. While you can put them in era outfits, these characters are timeless, and it’s really their personality and role, as created by Shakespeare’s text (and which I’ve tried to summarize in epithet-esque above), that makes them who they are.”
How would you keep the fans who come to every single show excited for the entire open-ended run?
“Those fans typically know that our plays evolve through the course of even a typical run. But, starting in April, we plan to show ‘Variations’ of the play—such as an all-female production and switched-gender productions. Same words, but played by very different people. We’ll see what happens!”
How do you plan to keep the “Variations” together? Would the “Variations” be telling the same story?
“Twelfth Night, Act 1 is about the formation of love triangles… There’s a salient love triangle that evolves through the act, connecting Viola, Olivia and Orsino, and a subtle relationship triangle that forms between Maria, Andrew and Toby in Scene 3. That’s like the unmoving pivot that connects the ‘Variations.’ Our goal is to be able to vibrantly convey these archetypal relationships in both our main ‘traditional’ production as well as our ‘Variations.’”
Do you believe the archetypes would carry through with each “Variation?”
“Totally. I don’t think gender would change a character’s essential essence in the play—if you speak Stanislavsky, we’re talking about his or her super-objective, and I think that would not be transient with gender. Of cousre, you might wonder in a reverse-gender situation, why Violio would choose to go under-cover as a girl Cesaria—but I think it would be for similar reasons; Violio is effeminate, and would rather not want to get beat up in this new land of Illyria, similar to how Viola would choose to go incognito as Cesario to avoid being the more helpless gender… I believe, at least, it’s realistic to have a duchess or countess in love with the concept of love itself—and with Second Life’s high population of Aspie’s [those with Asperger’s Syndrome], I’m sure, for some, the meaning will carry through to heart!”
Would you be changing the characters’ appearances for your “Variations”?
“I think we’ll just switch the voices around for the switched-genders Variation. But, it might be interesting if the characters were explicitly their other gender, with Lord Oliver and Violio incognito as Cesarina. We will be replacing the male avatars with distinctly female avatars (and slightly re-cast) for the all-female production. We’ll have Duchess Orsinia and Lady Andrea Auguecheek and Malvolia! It’s not just an exploration of the play’s famous androgyny… It’s also be fun!”
How long do you think the open-ended run might last?
“I don’t know! We’ll see, I guess!”