A Conversation with the Directors of TWELFTH NIGHT, OR WHAT YOU WILL

With Owen Horsley, RSC Director in Residence
and Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, directors of Fiasco Theater’s TWELFTH NIGHT, OR WHAT YOU WILL

Owen Horsley, RSC Director in Residence: Fiasco produced Twelfth Night in 2010 at Access Theater. What has drawn you back to this play? And what has changed in the way you see the play 7 years later?

Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, Twelfth Night directors: All of the aspects that originally interested us: the great characters, language, philosophy, physical and musical events all still bring us to Twelfth Night. Also in 2010 neither Jessie nor Emily was available, so it’s an opportunity for them to play two of the great female characters in Shakespeare’s cannon. But one of the primary realms of interest is that Twelfth Night relies equally on prose as well as verse. Since 2010 we’ve been heavily influenced by the work of Cicely Berry and Andrew Wade. Andrew Wade in particular opened our eyes to the purpose, structure, and rhythm of prose that has utterly changed how we perceive it and work on it. We’ve spent several years developing those tools and are excited to put them to use in Twelfth Night.

OH: Shakespeare’s language can often feel intimidating to actors and audiences alike. How do you as a company approach the heightened text of Shakespeare in your rehearsal process?

BS: We have developed a process and approach to the text that allows us to discover the play and its ideas on its own terms. We try to strip away any assumptions and to hear (as much as possible) what is actually being said, and what it actually means. We often use a series of games and exercises that help us reveal dynamics, responsiveness, and the architecture of the thoughts.. Then we move into a mode of physicality (while still at the table) that lets each actor explore the connection between text, body and behavior before any staging gets introduced. It’s a ton of fun.

OH: Having spent some time in the rehearsal room the atmosphere is really dynamic, fun, and open. How was Fiasco born?

NB and BS: Fiasco was born out of the crucible of our shared graduate training at the Brown/Trinity MFA acting program. The six of us met and worked together there. In graduate school we, as actors, took full responsibility for all aspects of our productions: acting, directing, music, fights, dramaturgy, and even writing. We missed the creative agency of that in our professional experiences and started Fiasco as way to continue that journey.

OH: You have presented work by other playwright’s but you have consistently returned to the work of Shakespeare. What makes his plays so appealing?

BS: The language, the stories, the wildness, the boldness, the honesty, the surprise, the rhythms, the specificity, the depth, the silliness. Ultimately the plays are so appealing because of their invitation to discover and celebrate both theater-making and the living of life.

OH: Why, in your opinion, do you think Shakespeare is still popular with audiences around the world?

NB and BS: Shakespeare continues to be popular with people around the world because, among English-speaking dramatists, he was uniquely capable of breathing the full richness of universal human experience into the language of his characters: love and hate; honor and sin; the mortal thoughts that drive us; humor and wit are all realized. It is precisely because his characters are humans, that is to say people of any era and not only of his, that they continue to bring catharsis and joy to audiences around the world.

OH: You are known for your inventive and stripped back approach to storytelling, which often includes music. How do you begin the process of music in your productions of Shakespeare?

BS: Serving as musical director for our Shakespeare productions is such a gift because I get to help figure out how to serve the production, while simultaneously giving the ensemble a chance to explore their musical identities and indulging my own musical passions. We love to make music together, and the joy of that flows into the acting, as well. We start by figuring out how to approach the songs that are written into the piece by Shakespeare, and then see what songs we could add that will aid the storytelling and reinforce the themes and images of the show. The style of those songs is informed by the world of the particular production – and our shows have contained a wide range of musical styles, from renaissance madrigals to bluegrass. But the music is always acoustic or a capella; forms that allow for honesty, harmony, and intimacy. And it’s im