I’ve recently been directing my HND Acting and Performance students in the Studio’s inaugural Shakespeare production - Twelfth Night. It will also be the first Shakespeare production produced in our new studio theatre The Old Gymnasium Theatre, in Glasgow.
Every opportunity to direct a Shakespeare play is a chance to learn something new about the play, the playwright and the company of actors that you are working with.
Twelfth Night is a twins play (there were probably twins in Shakespeare’s company) in which mistaken identity causes many laughs, and drunken knights cause mayhem for everybody. It is riotous, sexy, and a lot of fun. It’s also pretty positive, upbeat, and easy on the audience - there’s not a huge amount of verse, and the amount of rich poetic imagery is toned down to allow a broader audience to engage in the comedy.
Here’s some things I’ve learned from directing the play:
Structure is King (or Queen): The structure of Twelfth Night is very predictable. Act 1 - Meet the Characters and Set Up Some Situations, Act 2 - Watch those situations get worse, Act 3 - add a twist etc. But the simplicity makes it easy to follow for an audience and gives most of the company a lot to do throughout the rehearsal process.
Acting Secrets: There are many secrets hidden within the text. Particularly instructions to the director/actors. Looking out for the hidden direction helps you to tell the story, but it also means receiving instructions directly from Shakespeare - even though he’s not been around for 400+ years.
Gear changes make monologues: Even in a short piece of text, it’s vital to follow the flow of new thoughts and to make sure that each new thought feels, looks and sounds different from the last.
Go BIG or Go Home: Shakespeare requires fearless commitment. As the actor, you can’t half-arse it, out of fear of being too ‘over the top’, you have to trust the director that they will help you to get to your performance. Shakespeare’s characters feel BIG, and you must go on the same journey.
Respect is Good Reverence is Bad: Shakespeare is dead. You aren’t the Royal Shakespeare Company. It’s okay to make cuts to the text, we are currently using a shortened version of Twelfth Night, which really helps focus on the essence of the play. Our production also includes rap, props that aren’t called for and a conscious acknowledgement of the audience - because Shakespeare’s audience were a huge part of his performances too! It’s good to respect him, but you must allow yourself some room to speak to a 2021 audience.
The production opens next week on Thursday, and we are all excited to see what we’ve managed to pull from these 5 weeks of rehearsing. Unfortunately, we can’t invite you right now because of Covid-19 rules, (our own students can watch) but we hope to see you in the future!
Wanna be part of our incredible HND Acting and Performance course? We’re running in-person and zoom auditions right now for September start.