Monday, November 9, 2015
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night Gets Jazzy - A Candid Conversation With Becca Kidwell Explains
To say that I am well versed in the plays of Shakespeare would be a stretch, though I have read two books, MacBeth and the Merchant of Venice.
I do like it when I find some interesting twists on the norm. Like the one I found the other day. Imagine Twelfth Night a Shakespeare play done to a jazz theme. A very interesting twist on a classic and to speak more about this I am happy to welcome Becca Kidwell from Swiftly Tilted Theatre Inc., the company bringing this show to the stage in New York.
Cliff T.: Becca, a Shakespeare play done in a jazz bar setting that is very different indeed.
Becca K.: Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s most musical plays; it had more songs in it because the new actor in Shakespeare’s company that played the Fool in many of his later plays had a musical background. Also, we are dealing with drowning in one of the first scenes of the play and that most of the characters are drowning in their own sorrows or passions or in drink and that a jazz bar is actually a logical choice for the show.
Cliff T.: I Agree it is unique and very logical. As I mentioned I am not versed in Shakespeare. But from what I have read this is a story about love gone amiss, would that be accurate? Or to put it another way can you explain what Twelfth Night is about?
Becca K.: Twelfth Night is about a group of relatively wealthy folks who spend their time longing after what they don’t have or what they’ve lost. The twins, Sebastian and Viola have lost their family and each other in a shipwreck and are really looking for life after their loss; they find love by accident. Sebastian is saved by the sailor Antonio and wanders around unsure of what his next move will be. Viola dresses up as a man and joins Orsino’s court as a servant. Orsino has seen a beautiful woman named Olivia whom he has never talked to himself, but he is lovesick for her and keeps sending his servants to court her, but she wants nothing to do with him. She falls for Viola (dressed as a man), and Olivia begins to pursue him (her). Toby, Olivia’s uncle, lives off of Olivia’s money and spends his time getting drunk and playing pranks on anyone he can. He has his friend, Andrew Aguecheek, court Olivia, but as the plot unfolds, it becomes evident is around largely for his bankroll for Toby. By the end of the play, all the lovers have found the partners they are meant to be with: Orisino with Viola, Olivia with Sebastian, Toby with Maria. Most of Toby’s pranks are unraveled and forgiven with the exception of the extremely cruel one played on Olivia’s Puritanical servant Malvolio, which more or less is forgiven in the text, but not in my production.
Cliff T.: Can you explain why you decided not to forgive the prank in your production?
Becca K.: I have always thought it is an extremely cruel prank (they lock him away and make everyone thinks he's mad). They remember him as an afterthought. Malvolio is so uptight and thinks that he was more virtuous than everyone else that in my view, this prank would be the final straw. In his own way, he's going to drown himself in his own rage and look for ways to make others miserable.
Cliff T.: I can see how this play could lend itself to a jazz theme given that many jazz tunes are about love lost. Yet this play is considered to be a comedy. In your adaptation of the play are you mixing humor with the theme of love gone wrong or are you planning on staying true to the original plot of the play?
Becca K.: Shakespeare’s comedies actually tend to lend themselves to more dramatic—or at least melodramatic interpretations. (Much Ado About Nothing is one step away from being a tragedy, if the timing had been only moments off). These characters are highly choleric. Sebastian thinks Viola is dead and Viola thinks Sebastian is dead so they’re not too keen on carousing and partying, which is all the rest of the characters do. I’ve compared Orsino to Gatsby and Olivia to Daisy. These two characters love being in the depths of their own despair, which lends itself to comedy if you know they’re not going to have tragic endings. The other characters such as Toby, Maria, and Andrew provide the “low comedy” with the various pranks and drunken carousing.
Cliff T.: Ah I understand. What prompted the choice, why this play? What about the Twelfth Night caught your interest? And what kind of message do you want the audience to get and take away with them after they see the play?
Becca K.: My first reason was that I wanted a non-holiday play for the holidays. While the play is called Twelfth Night it is rarely played on or around this time. By it playing around Christmas and New Year’s, it has given me the opportunity to set the show between New Year’s Eve party and a Twelfth Night party (for US people, that is approximately the equivalent of Mardi Gras). I was looking to do a lighthearted piece after our production of Radiance, The Passion of Marie Curie by Alan Alda. I love Shakespeare and love sharing it with others. It’s fun and one of Shakepeare’s easier plays to understand, and I thought it would be a good place for our company to start with Shakespeare. I’m not really looking to send a “message,” but if I was to send one with this production it would be: to not take life to seriously and take time to enjoy all the little moments life provides. With the exception of the twins, everyone else’s misery in this play is mere hubris.
Cliff T.: I also noticed that you are hosting some events, Twelfth Night Music Jam and a workshop. Both sound really interesting can you describe what people attending each will experience?
Becca K.: The class will be an introduction/ re-introduction to Shakespeare using the text of Twelfth Night as its basis. This will hopefully add an additional level of appreciation for the production, which is why participants in the class get discounts on tickets and a copy of the text. At the music jam, they will hear the original jazz music composed for the show performed by the cast and composer in a small casual coffeehouse/bar atmosphere, QED Astoria. Additional music by Jenni Lark and Zac Pierce-Messick will also be performed. Both of these events should provide additional excitement to see the production.
Cliff T.: Becca, how long have you been with Swiftly Tilted?
Becca K.: I created Swiftly Tilting Theatre Project, Inc. in 2013. I was a high school teacher encouraging students to go after their dreams, and I realized that I was not going after my dreams, directing theatre.
Cliff T.: I know what you mean, I work in a call centre, not my dream but, doing interviews like this one is. Can you describe the mission of Swiftly Tilted?
Becca K.: Our passion is To impact a small corner of the world and leave it a little better than before. To search for truth and to share love. To share our knowledge and skills in order to build a theatrical community, that provides affordable, quality, professional theatrical productions for the public through participation as artists, audiences, and students.
Cliff T.: From the sound of it this is not just a job for you but a labor of love. How did you get involved in theatre and with Switly Tilted Inc.?
Becca. K: I wanted to be a theatre director since I was in high school, but took a long, circuitous path to end up working “in” theatre. I got my undergraduate degree in drama, but then I spent time in the business world, got my graduate degree in teaching, and taught high school for five years and starting the company. My husband and I moved to New York from Boston. He has been incredibly supportive of me getting the company going. I do not have a “day job”, but I really wouldn’t have the time or energy for one. This company takes my heart and soul into all of its work.
Cliff T.: If I am not mistaken show times for the play run from December 27th to January 3rd. With a debut on the 24th, where and at what times are the performances going to be held at?
Becca K.: Due to the holidays, the schedule is somewhat irregular. The dates and times are: 12/24/2015 - 2:30pm – Preview, NO SHOW DECEMBER 25,12/26/2015 - 7:00pm, 12/27/2015 - 4:30pm,12/28/2015 - 7:30pm, NO SHOWS DECEMBER 29, 30, 31, 1/1/2016 - 7:30pm, 1/2/2016 - 7:00pm, and 1/3/2016 - 4:30pm. The performances are all held at The Secret Theatre, 4402 23rd St, Long Island City, NY.
The Shakespeare class is being held on 12pm on 12/6/2015 and The Twelfth Night Debut Music Jam is being held at 7:30pm. Both of these events are being held at QED Astoria, 2716 23rd Ave, Astoria, NY. Both of these locations are a short trip on the subway from Midtown Manhattan.
Cliff T.: Excellent thank you so very much for taking time in your busy schedule to chat with me and my readers by email.
Becca K.: My pleasure. Thank you for your interest!
Becca Kidwell is the Director and the person who has adapted and directed Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night a play that will be presented by Swiftly Tilted Project Inc.
As mentioned the play will be held at The Secret Theatre, 4402 23rd St, Long Island City, NY. For dates times and tickets visit http://swiftlytwelfth.brownpapertickets.com, or call 1-800-838-3006.
BIO: Becca C (Rebecca Cecilia) Kidwell, Artistic Director is directing Twelfth Night, and directed Swiftly Tilting Theatre Project’s other productions: Radiance, The Passion of Marie Curie; Don’t Speak Cabaret; and Priscilla Dreams The Answer (staged reading).
Some of her favorite directing projects are: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Julie Johnson, and Measure for Measure. She also sings in cabarets such as Seth’s Talent Show & Metropolitan Room’s Kiddie Kabaret.
She is the author of Feeling Pain Is Normal: An Analysis of Parental Grief in Next To Normal and the original author and editor of The New England Theatre Geek Blog. She has a BA in Drama from The University of Georgia and a MAT in English Education from Boston University. http://beccackidwell.glump.net
To learn more about Switly Tilted Project inc. visit swiftlytiltingtheatre.org. Becca Kidwell wrote to us from New York, NY.