Online Feature

Psychadelic 12th Night
Production Overview & Photo Display

by Joan Robbins
Ada, Ohio

Check out production photos here!


"If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die."

Duke Orsino's opening line of Twelfth Night embodies the three elements of the play that emerged as crucial for me in our 2007 production at Ohio Northern University: that this is a play about appetites, about an all-consuming kind of self-absorption, and that this world is one in which experience is often best expressed through music. I sought a cultural analogue that would most effectively tie these threads together, and that would resonate for our students and audiences. I settled upon the United States in the late 60's, early 70's, locating the production musically in the world of rock and roll, specifically post-protest rock, and pre-disco.

Rock and roll generally contains the energy and youthfulness that characterizes Twelfth Night, its "psychadelic," mind-bending qualities mirrored in the nature of Shakespeare's Illyria: a place of "improbable fiction," as Fabian says, presenting "a natural perspective that is and is not (Orsino, 5.1)." Furthermore, I felt that the self-absorption of Shakespeare's characters paralleled the increasingly narcissistic tendencies of American society heading into the 1970's. Disillusioned with political ideals and dreams of changing the world (i.e. the civil rights and peace movements), people were turning inward, retreating to more private lives and the preoccupations of the "me decade."

The concept manifested itself in all aspects of the production, beginning with character interpretation, furthered by Costume Designer Whitney Locher's period costumes.

Duke Orsino spent his spare time as a would-be rock star, the lead singer of his band. Feste was a female folk singer, inspired by Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, and Joni Mitchell. Olivia was a wealthy socialite, inspired by Jackie Kennedy, and Maria became her sophisticated personal assistant. Sebastian and Viola (as Cesario) looked like young rockers, wearing suits that resembled those of the Rolling Stones.

As for the revellers, Sir Toby appeared as a has-been producer/agent, reduced to dependency on his niece's household. Sir Andrew Aguecheek (bisexual in our production) fancied himself a hip swinger (a la Austin Powers), but got it all wrong. Malvolio, shocked by the racy improprieties of the rocker scene, set himself above it all, and was thus destined to become the thing he claimed to most despise. Rock and roll taken to the extreme resulted in the glam/glitter rock scene, and thus our Malvolio chose to appear before Olivia decked out in a rendition of David Bowie's androgynous Ziggy Stardust!

All other production elements effectively melded together to reinforce the production's central idea. Composer Jon Negus composed music for all of Shakespeare's songs (and for the opening lines of the play), wonderfully capturing the late 60's/early 70's style. The actors/singers were accompanied by a live band, positioned on a platform to the right of and slightly below the stage, but in full view of the audience.

The band also played thematically appropriate music from the period for all of the scene changes. The production was presented in a 550-seat proscenium space, not known for its intimacy. Scenic designer John Stone countered that problem by designing a large raked platform stage that jutted out over the first two rows of seats, effectively thrusting the action of much of the play into the house.

The platform was shaped like a giant guitar (see right). The sound hole was a trap/entrance, the neck consisted of a set of stairs leading to a bridge, lined with what were made to look like machine heads (four foot dowels with discs attached to the top). Some of these 'machine heads' were removable, and used as trees in the box tree scene.

The strings of the guitar were abstracted in Picasso-like fashion, and extended from above the sight lines in the fly space, down to the upstage edge of the platform where they were secured (leaves grew on them in the garden scenes). The psychadelic nature of Illyria was communicated best in Kathe Devault's lighting, which was full of the colors and patterns of the period.


Cast & Production Staff

Twelfth Night
by William Shakespeare
with Original Music Composed by Jon Negus

Ohio Northern University, February 7-11, 2007

Production Staff

Producer - Nils Riess
Director - Joan Robbins
Dramaturg - Michael Friedman
Stage Manager - Erika Prizzi
Scenic Designer - John Stone
Lighting Designer - Kathleen E. DeVault
Costume Designer - Whitney Locher
Musical Supervisor - Lloyd Butler
Technical Director - Scott Henkels
Props Master - Brian Retterer
Sound Designer - Abby Cooley
Fight Director - Robert Behrens

The Cast, in order of appearance

Orsino - Michael Doyle
Curio - Mary Elsey
Valentine - Matthew Byal
Beach Bathers - Chris Chiles & Jennifer Radomski
Viola - Dana Ellison
Sea Captain - Matthew Zimmerman
Sir Toby Belch - Robert Behrens*
Sir Andrew Aguecheek - Brandon Price
Maria - Rose Emrich
Feste - Taryn Pramuk
Fabian - Chris Chiles
Olivia - Lindsay Naiman
Malvolio - Bryan Beckwith
Sebastian - Patrick Mullen
Antonio - Ryan Hales
Go-go Dancers - Mary Elsey & Jennifer Radomski
Bartender - Matthew Byal
Police Officers - Jennifer Radomski & Matthew Byal
Priest - Matthew Zimmerman

*Member of Actor's Equity