Whether you’re a Shakespeare aficionado or you’ve only seen the (very loose) Amanda Bynes film adaptation, She’s the Man, you probably at least know the basic gender-swapping premise of Twelfth Night. Now, you’ll be able to see the classic Shakespeare comedy come to life as Hart House Theatre opens their production of the play this Wednesday.
The Medium sat down for a chat with two of the stars of Twelfth Night: Darcy Gerhart, who plays Viola, and Theatre Erindale alumna Alison Blair, who takes on the role of Maria.
The Medium: First, could you talk a bit about what makes this production of Twelfth Night unique?
Alison Blair: I think the biggest thing that we’ve been talking about, and [director] Matt [Gorman], has been talking about is that in Twelfth Night there’s always this huge sense of urgency, but it takes place over, like, three months. So our production takes place over one night, so the whole arc of the story is the course of one night.
Darcy Gerhart: Yeah, I’d say that’s the biggest adaptation. And the fact that it’s all set in one place, too. It’s not jumping back and forth between Orsino’s house and Olivia’s house. […] There’s no sea coast. These characters are all in really confined quarters, so it really makes the way that they interact and their conflicts much more immediate and claustrophobic, almost. It’s like being trapped in a hotel with your ex.
TM: What do you think it is about Shakespeare’s comedies that allows the humour to translate so well hundreds of years after they were written?
AB: I think the thing about Shakespeare is that a lot of the subject matter is really universal. And I think that’s the basis of all great playwrights. It wasn’t confined to, “Oh, here’s this in-joke about popular culture right now.” […] A lot of it is just jokes about the human condition. It really hasn’t changed.
DG: And there are so many archetypal relationships in Shakespeare. Like the girl who’s in love with the guy who doesn’t love her back. That’s a really archetypal story. There’s the character of the fool. You can still kind of find that in modern-day plays and movies and stuff. There’s always the “straight man” and his foil. Those are just things that carry on in our culture year after year after year because they’re part of our psyche.
TM: Alison, how have your experiences with Theatre Erindale shaped you as an actor, and how have they affected your work beyond graduation?
AB: Theatre Erindale is such a crazy program because you do six years of school in four years. So you do your two-year Sheridan diploma over the course of four years, and you do a four-year drama studies program as well. I think the biggest thing I learned from Theatre Erindale was how to balance work and theatre, because it’s a really busy program where you’re doing 40-hour class weeks. You’re at school from eight o’clock in the morning until 10 o’clock at night and then you have to go home and write an essay. Or you have to go home on a Thursday night after a show that you finished at 11 o’clock and then you have a midterm the next day. You really have to balance being a theatre student and being a university student, and I find a lot of theatre programs don’t have that. […] And in life, I’ve been able to keep myself really busy and still be able to find time to work on everything because those are the skills that Theatre Erindale taught me. And I’m really thankful to Theatre Erindale for that, because I have a full-time job. I’ve usually got two shows on the go, I’m on the board for a theatre company right now. I’m really busy, but I’m able to be busy because Theatre Erindale gave me those skills.
TM: Darcy, in your role as Viola, there are some unique challenges with the whole switching-between-genders thing. What do you have to do as an actor to ensure that the audience connects to your story when there’s all this craziness going on around you?
DG: I honestly do as little as possible to make it clearer. I just try to trust the text and play the scene as written, rather than doing a bunch of “boy acting” or adding all those layers and trying to show the audience what I’m feeling. I think that the text is so good and the story is so good that the more you put onto it, the less clear it becomes.
TM: With Twelfth Night, one of the major components is assuming other people’s identities. If there were one actor whose identity you could temporarily try on, who would you choose?
DG: I feel like Kenneth Branagh would be a good one. He gets to direct all of these amazing Shakespeare adaptations and then act in them too, and then have a stage career on the side.
AB: Lately, Matthew McConaughey has kind of been doing whatever he wants, and I think it would be cool to see what it’s like to do whatever I want. As an actor, to take on all of these roles… I want to know what’s going on in his brain.
Twelfth Night opens on Wednesday, November 6, and runs until November 23. Be sure to check out the Medium’s full review of the production in next week’s issue.