This is part of an ongoing series of regional Shakespeare coverage. It’s Tori here with the latest in Shakespeare news from Toronto.
Shakespeare Bash’d returns to the Monarch Tavern from January 31 – February 5 with a 1920s spin on Twelfth Night. I chatted with Artistic Director, James Wallis, Jade Douris who plays Viola, Hallie Seline who plays Olivia, and Franziska Beeler who plays Curio and acts as the composer in what is sure to be another fantastic Bash’d production.
Tori: First of all, congratulations are in order because you will be returning to Stratford again this summer to assistant direct Romeo and Juliet! How does it feel to finish off BASH’d’s so far sold out season and to be returning to Stratford this summer?
James: I feel extremely fortunate to be able to work with so many amazing artists on such thrilling and beautiful plays. Romeo and Juliet is my favourite play and this will be my 5th production of it that I’ve worked on in some capacity, so I’m intrigued by how the play will speak to me this time.
Shakespeare BASH’d has had an incredible year, one of our finest. I’m very proud of that and I look forward to the future with the company. I’m so glad to be finishing the season with this amazing play, which I think is Shakespeare’s best play. Quite the challenge and responsibility. But we’re up for it as a company.
T: What drew you to Twelfth Night and what was your inspiration for setting it in Paris in the 1920s?
J: I wanted to find a period that was growing to ecstasy after great tragedy. To me, the play begins in mourning but ends in exuberance. The 1920’s was a time when the First World War had just finished and people were surprised and happy to be alive. Many young men were killed, a “lost generation” as it is said. To me, this gives the play a context and world picture, to begin with.
Paris is my favourite city and I’ve only been there once. The 1920’s were a time of great artistic change and creation. There was so much poetry and music to encounter. It felt like a bohemian paradise; something that might anger Malvolio but make Sir Toby and his ilk quite comfortable for a long time.
T: Why did you decide to incorporate music into this production? How will music function in the production?
J: Music is essential to the play. It’s very musical, as you know, and the music creates a counter-theme to the play’s romance and comedy. I was insprired to try to find an exciting, period-appropriate musical score, that would be fun but also could bring sorrow and melancholy. The Jazz style of the 1920’s has brought a more earthy sound to the orchestral beauty of the text.
Franziska is a brilliant musician. I am in awe of her talent. She has created a beautiful musical score that I am very proud of.
T: What are you most excited about for this production?
J: The reaction of those that see it. What will they think at the end? This play, more than any other I’ve come across, is a mystery. A magical mystery that is not set in stone at the end of the play. Will the couples be happy? What will Feste do? Will Malvolio get his revenge? What about Antonio?!!!
Shakespeare’s plays are bottomless and this one has a conclusion so complex that it gives the audience an imaginative challenge. I want to hear what they think happens next.
Feste says “and we’ll strive to please you everyday.” It’s important to remember that the play always ends and the future is unknown but there is hope.
Tori: You’re a staple in most of BASH’d’s productions, what keeps you drawing you back?
Jade: There are a lot of reasons I love working with Shakespeare BASH’d! They attract really amazing ensembles that I am proud to have as part of my theatre family. Julia is an incredible actor, but also a tenacious producer who I have learned countless lessons from as her assistant. They do so much great work, and being part of the company means always having the opportunity to be around classical text, which is wonderful. I started with Shakespeare BASH’d as an actor, but they have trusted me to spread my wings as a producer and as a choreographer, which is a gift.
James is really second to none when it comes to text, and he has an incredible ability to approach the work from a place of curiosity. He doesn’t let you gloss over anything; he insists on absolute specificity. Being held to that standard just makes you better. And in theatre, when you find an artist with that ability to raise up the artists around them, you keep working with them until they get sick of you. So that is what I am doing.
Also, James makes a killer rum punch. There’s really no going back once you’ve had it.
T: What have you liked most about this production so far? What are you the most excited about?
J: James and Drew as a directing team are honestly everything you could ever hope for as an actor. We work hard and we go through the text with a fine-tooth comb, but we also make each other laugh, and are silly, and surprise each other constantly. And I have absolute freedom to try everything, and be wrong, and fail, and look stupid because I never doubt that they have my back.
I’m excited for people to see my co-mates in action. The people in this play do such an incredible job, and I can’t wait for audiences to enjoy them as much as I do!
T: Twelfth Night is a play all about mistaken identity and disguises, have you found it challenging to try to tap into Viola? What would you say are her strongest/ most identifying qualities/ characteristics in your opinion?
J: What is really wonderful about Viola is that although she spends most of the play in disguise, she is honest, and is constantly revealing her true self to the audience. Interestingly, the real challenge of this part has not been so much about developing and putting on, but more so in revealing, being vulnerable, and being brave enough to do those things truthfully and honestly. Viola is smart, and kind, and has a wide view of the world. She begs to be approached with an open mind and an open heart.
T: You’ve been in a few of BASH’d’s productions, what do you like best about working with them? Hallie: Shakespeare BASH’d always gathers such a wonderful group of artists who are passionate about the work, professional in their approach and also such wonderful, giving, joyful people. It’s truly incredible to be surrounded by a whole cast of artists who are surprising me daily and inspire me to strive to dig deeper into my process and exploration of the play.
T: What have you liked most about this production so far?
H: This play is fun and smart with its fair share of surprising pangs of heartbreak. It’s surprising and fast-paced. I’ve seen the play many times but this is my first time exploring it for myself. It’s been a joy to see how these artists are bringing themselves to their characters and illuminating the story in rich and surprising ways. There is always more to explore and play with!
T: What are you the most excited about?
H: I can’t wait to share this with our audiences. BASH’d shows are always so engaging, both as an actor and as an audience member (of which I’ve been both quite often). As performers, we’re encouraged to turn to our “friends”, the audience, when our characters are looking for answers or someone to bounce ideas off of. I love that. It’s a soft level of “audience engagement” that I always feel is more on the welcoming side than the demanding side. It keeps everyone engaged. We’re all a part of the story and we need each other to get through. Also, especially with the comedies I’ve done and seen with BASH’d, it’s a big ol’ party! Grab a drink, relax and get ready to have some fun!
T: What have you found the most challenging?
H: Olivia is quite the surprising character to explore. Her journey is fascinating and, what I’ve found to be, quite heartbreaking. She goes from a state of extreme grief and mourning to a completely new, vulnerable, surprising, confusing and infuriating spell of love. She’s constantly putting herself out there, little by little, fighting her pride, her status and lack of experience in the wooing department, and getting shut down every single time and yet, once she goes there she can’t and will not back down. She’s a great challenge for an actor!
T: What can we expect from the original score?
Franziska: As the play is set in Paris in the 1920’s I was trying to re-create the feel of the time in the music I wrote. Most of the score is jazz-oriented – my main inspirations were Django Reinhardt for the songs sung by Feste, and Ravel and Gershwin for the incidental music in between the scenes. We also do a great opening scene with some of the cast members singing songs from the 1920’s by Kurt Weill, Fats Waller, and other contemporaries of that time, so I recommend showing up early to the play to catch that scene!
T: What do you think music adds to this production?
F: I think when you listen to a song you can often tell what the composer’s starting point was: The beat? The harmony, or melody? A specific instrument? For me, the starting point was Shakespeare’s lyrics. Before writing the music, I spent some time reading the lyrics in order to find out the tone we’re trying to create in that scene. I, therefore, hope that the music helps to strengthen Shakespeare’s message, set within a 1920’s Parisian environment.
Thank for your answers! I can’t wait to see the show!
Twelfth Night runs at The Monarch Tavern from January 31- February 5. Make sure to get your tickets fast as they have a tendency to go fast!
Tuesday, January 31 – 7:30pm
Wednesday, February 1 – 7:30pm
Thursday, February 2 – 7:30pm
Friday, February 3 – 7:30pm
Saturday, February 4 – 2:00pm
Saturday, February 4 – 7:30pm
Sunday, February 5 – 2:00pm
$19 online at www.shakespearebashd.com
$20 at the door