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Crossdressing and Romance

Maija Gustin | Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Get a taste of Shakespeare this week with the newest production from Actors From The London Stage. These bi-annual productions, which feature a group of actors known for their work in British theatre, visit Washington Hall once each semester thanks to support from Shakespeare at Notre Dame. This semester’s production is the comedy, “Twelfth Night.”

What makes Actors from the London stage a unique theatre experience is both the rehearsal process and the performance itself. Unlike most stage productions, these plays do not have a director. Rather, a small group of actors get together and direct and rehearse the play themselves. These productions are truly collaborative for everyone involved and put the power of performance straight into the hands of the actors.

In addition, the performance itself is different from what one usually sees at the theatre — small casts of five actors fill in for large ensemble casts by playing multiple characters in the same play. To avoid utter chaos and confusion, the actors use different props and pieces of costume to differentiate their various characters. Though this can be confusing at the start of a performance, it doesn’t take long to settle into the idea and quickly follow character changes. What’s more, the actors often use this unusual casting for comedic purposes, eliciting laughs from nothing more than a costume or character change.

“Twelfth Night,” is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies. It contains many classic Shakespearian comedy tropes of romance, mistaken identity, disguise and a little cross-dressing to boot.

Twins Viola and Sebastian are separated when the ship they are traveling on capsizes during its journey. Each believes that the other has drowned, so when Viola finds herself on the shore of Illyria, she disguises herself as Sebastian to take a job with the Duke, Orsino. Viola falls in love with Orsino, who is in love with Olivia, who in turn loves Viola’s Sebastian. Of course, Sebastian is not dead, and when he turns up, merry mayhem ensues.

“Twelfth Night” also features a whole host of memorable supporting characters, all of whom round out a perfect piece of comedy.

If the zany plot didn’t win you over, “Twelfth Night” is also the source material for the popular teen movie “She’s the Man.”

While hosting Actors From The London Stage is a theatrical venture taken up by Shakespeare at Notre Dame and other participating groups, it is also an educational program. The group puts on performances and classes for students in different locations throughout the year. During their stay at Notre Dame this week, the actors will also visit classes across various departments to discuss acting, Shakespeare and anything else they can shed light on.

Following the performances at Notre Dame, Actors From The London Stage will also travel to Schreiner University, Middle Tennessee State University, Rice University and Vanderbilt University. Afterwards, they will head back to London for performances at the Fortune Theatre.

This will be the last performance of the academic year at Notre Dame by Actors From The London Stage, so don’t miss out.