3rd Musical Theatre Revue

Students perform at the All-Campus Theatre Musical Theatre Revue on April 29, 2022.

All Campus Theatre (ACT) will stage a production of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” with a twist: a setting shift to 1970s New York in the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots.

The play, which has been abridged by ACT’s dramaturg Eli Boldt, will explore themes of queer identity and culture in that era through the lens of Shakespeare’s language. The 1969 Stonewall Riots and its aftershocks play a large role in this adaptation. The production is directed by junior Cearan Jax Costello.

The idea came about last spring when ACT was discussing programming for the upcoming year. Another officer floated the idea of “Twelfth Night,” which Costello had seen for the first time the summer prior.

“I told my team, ‘If we do Twelfth Night, I want to direct it,’” Costello said. “After watching it, I already had lots of ideas and thoughts on it, and it was and is still my favorite Shakespeare play.”

The original “Twelfth Night” is a romantic comedy that plays with concepts of gender fluidity and sexual ambiguity. The main character, Viola, spends the majority of the play disguised as a man named Cesario. The queer themes within the play have led to many LGBTQ-centric performances over the years, including those put on by the San Diego Junior Theatre and Oberlin College.

In ACT’s adaptation, Cesario has been rewritten as a transgender man making his way through New York City in the wake of his brother’s death. Other characters in the play have also been rewritten to be queer. The overall tone of the show has been altered to be racier and more open than Shakespeare’s original.

“I set this show in the 70s because it very much spoke to me as a show about a trans character, even though that was not the original intention,” Costello said. “My first thought was to have this show as an homage to the Stonewall Riots, and the best way for us to do that was to place it in New York in the 1970s.”

“This also creates some incredible tension and intimate moments between the characters due to the tighter spaces imagined in the set, as well as a wide variety of self expression through costumes.”

Isabella Reynolds, a freshman studying American Sign Language interpreting, will play Cesario.

“When I’m attending Shakespeare productions, I love to see them change up the setting or the framing of the story,” Reynolds said. “To have the opportunity to participate in one such retelling is appealing.”

Junior Aliah Mahalati, who is double-majoring in political science and theatre, will play the role of Olivia and looks forward to how the change in time and place will appeal to the audience.

“I think it will help the audience to connect better with the material of the play by grounding it in recent history,” Mahalati said.

Costello says he hopes audiences will come to the show wanting to learn more about queer history and the LGBTQ experience.

“Our show has a unique perspective on issues in the queer community that the college age audience especially might not be aware of,” Costello said. “My hope is that those who come to see it come with an open mind and learn many different perspectives about what it means to be queer in the 70s, as well as now.”

Preparations for the show have not been without their challenges. Plans for their original venue fell through, forcing a move to the Clarence Brown Theatre.

“This overall gives us less time to work in the space, but that only means our team has to work more efficiently to get all the work done,” Costello said. “It is also always great to get to work with the Clarence Brown Theatre staff on projects.”

Another challenge was the language. Although the play has been abridged and edited to fit the new setting, almost all of the Shakespearean language has been preserved in its original form.

“People don’t talk like that anymore, so pronunciation of certain words and the way of talking is very different from what we’re all used to,” Mahalati said.

Performances will be on Nov. 11, 13 and 14 at the Lab Theatre inside the Clarence Brown Theatre. All ACT productions are free to the public. For more information, be sure to check out the ACT website and the ACT Instagram @actutk.

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