Learn more about CSC’s upcoming production of “Twelfth Night” set in 1850’s San Francisco!
A note from the director, Austin Tichenor:
What’s Twelfth Night about? The first line and scenes tell us very clearly —
Loss. Separation. Music. And Love.
Shakespeare pulled out all the stops in Twelfth Night, using all his favorite tricks to create what is arguably his greatest comedy. There’s a storm at sea, separated twins, cross-dressing, love-lorn dukes, romantic confusion, tricksy devices, overheard conversations, multiple marriages, songs, clowns, and even ghosts. (We don’t see the ghosts, but they’re there.) Twelfth Night has so much going on, it really is the Hamlet of the Comedies.
We wanted to create a world that supported all that, as well as honor the fact that this is CSC’s first production of Twelfth Night in its beautiful new building. Visually, we wanted the set to look as if it grew organically out of the reclaimed barn wood that’s such a prominent feature in the new theatre’s design. Those boards suggested to us both a saloon and a wharf, which led us to think of San Francisco at the height of the Gold Rush as the perfect place to ground Shakespeare’s comedy. Ships sunk and lives were lost in San Francisco Bay all the time; families were separated and fortunes made (and squandered) as people rushed to San Francisco to seek better opportunities, leaving behind loved ones (or fleeing unhappy situations) as they strived to create new communities. The cry that brought many to California was the same phrase that Viola repeats to Olivia — “Westward ho!”
But Twelfth Night is not a factual documentary about 1850s San Francisco; as the Captain tells Viola, “This is Illyria, lady” — a highly theatrical (and at times deliberately anachronistic) comedy in which the setting gives helpful context and specificity to Shakespeare’s frequently archetypal characters. This particular era also gives composer Cary Davenport inspiration for the beautiful and fun melodies he’s created to accompany Shakespeare’s words. In a play that famously declares that “music [is] the food of love,” the kind of music we hear is incredibly important in that it sets the tone for everything we see. Thankfully, in the words of Steve Martin, “the banjo is such a happy instrument.”
I’m thrilled to be joining the Cincinnati Shakespeare family. This is my first time working at CSC, although I’m no stranger to Cincinnati, having performed multiple times up at the Playhouse with the Reduced Shakespeare Company, of which I’m the co-artistic director. And as the co-author of The Complete History of America (abridged) and All The Great Books (abridged), I feel like CSC audiences may be familiar with my work. What’s more, I think I share a sensibility with Brian Isaac Phillips and this incredibly talented group of CSC artists who take their work seriously but never themselves.
We’re all looking to strike it rich, whether financially, artistically, or emotionally. Twelfth Night shows us that it’s possible to hit pay dirt even after the greatest of loss or on the wildest of frontiers.
Check out these costume renderings done by “Twelfth Night” costume designer, Clara Jean Kelly: