‘Looking for the human behind the characters’: A Q&A with the cast of ‘Twelfth Night’

| Senior Cadenza Editor

Courtesy of the Performing Arts Department
The Performing Arts Department production of the hilarious Shakespearean comedy “Twelfth Night” opens Thursday, April 17. Student Life recently sat down with the cast, featuring junior Kiki Milner as Viola, junior Anna Richards as Olivia and senior Will Jacobs as Malvolio, for a brief discussion on what we can expect from their production.

Student Life: Is this your first time doing Shakespeare?

Will Jacobs: Yes.

Kiki Milner: A full Shakespeare play, yes.

Anna Richards
: First full play.

KM: No, you were in “As You Like It.”

AR: Oh, well. I had four words in that play.


KM: Well, [Anna and I] studied at The Globe this [past] summer and did scenes and monologues, but never a full play.

SL: Do you want to talk a little bit about your experience at The Globe and if that’s helped at all with this play?

KM: The Globe was really, really fun. I had never done Shakespeare before other than in class, maybe doing a monologue, but I didn’t understand the techniques or process. And at The Globe we did a lot of in-depth work with the text and got a lot of training from lots of different people in The Globe with movement and text work. So I feel like we got a better understanding of how Shakespeare was meant to be performed and how The Globe, even though it’s a big space, is about intimacy. And the Hotchner is intimate because it’s a small space, but Shakespeare really works best when you can really hear and speak to the audience. Especially a direct address to the audience when you’re performing soliloquies.

AR: I feel like Shakespeare is super intimidating as an actor, but going allowed us to discover the formula behind how to approach it, marking scansion, reading it properly, finding the antitheses and all that kind of stuff. It all set us up to really know how to come into this play.

KM: When you know the structural things, it becomes so much easier to unlock the meaning and relevance of the play.

SL: So “Twelfth Night” is a very popular Shakespeare production. What would you say is different about this one?

AR: I think a lot of what Henry has pushed us toward in this play has been looking for the human behind the characters because it’s really easy to play it just silly and surface level. I feel like, especially with the Olivia-Viola relationship, [Henry] really pushed me to find why she gets so invested in this other person and really delve in to the fact that it is true love; even in the first moment, she’s really in love with this person and not to focus on the cheap humor.

KM: I think that’s more of a stylistic choice, and I think playing the comedy doesn’t cheapen it necessarily because the Olivia-Viola relationship is usually one of the funniest parts of the play, but our scenes aren’t played as funny, so it’s just sort of a choice to push toward the emotional reality…like reading subtext further, and I think that most traditional productions of “Twelfth Night” put more of an emphasis on the comedy because it is a comedy, even though there’s these weird elements that aren’t funny, and I think Henry was paying special attention to these things, like the Malvolio plot and the disguise and trickery that can be sort of cruel in itself, so it’s just a choice that was made by the director and the actors based on what our impulses were.

AR: And then, of course, Henry set it in 1950s Havana, Cuba.

WJ: I think the world of the play is probably the biggest thing about this production. The main character is arguably the setting, maybe Viola, but this production is very much taking a tour of the world we’ve created, within Havana, Cuba, and I think it’s distinctive. The Broadway one right now is being heralded as “Mark Rylance’s ‘Twelfth Night,’” but this is very much not any one person or any one story; it’s the “Cuba ‘Twelfth Night.’”

KM: The show has a very ensemble-like feeling to it.

SL: Kiki, what was it like playing a woman who must disguise herself as a man? I’m interested in your answer because in Shakespearean times, it would have been a man playing a woman playing a man, so how did that influence your performance, if it did at all?

KM: I didn’t really think about that aspect until the other day when [Will and I] were talking about it and the Broadway production, which does have a man playing a woman playing a man, and how different that is from me, where I don’t have to put anything on to be a woman—I just have to disguise my femininity with masculinity, rather than adding those layers. It was definitely fun. I really enjoyed it and, during the rehearsal process, not only at rehearsals but in everyday life, I tried to dress a little more masculine if I could and steer clear of really feminine things so I could really feel what it’s like. It was really fun to feel like you were putting on a disguise in some ways and the clothes I wear in the play aren’t that far off from what women wear, like pants, but it’s just the idea to think of a different physicality and how you would react to situations differently. Also, by the end of the play, I discovered that my Viola really enjoys being and dressing and behaving more masculine, and it’s kind of infused into her as the situation forces her to deal with things. And it’s interesting, speaking of the world of Cuba, sort of the way she is able to circumvent and have more freedom is by being a man, and that’s kind of problematic but interesting that she discovers the way she’s going to have the most freedom and agency in that world is to be a different gender.

SL: Will, you recently won the Hotchner Playwriting Competition. Congratulations. Did your experience as playwright influence how you prepared for this role?

WJ: That’s a good question. I think as an actor I enjoy looking at the playwright specifically—not necessarily through the lens of an actor but seeing what sort of choices Shakespeare is making when writing this play, and my experience as playwright helps me understand that. It’s not like I was privy to what choices I would be making as Shakespeare and that’s not really a helpful thought to have. [laughter]

SL: Do you feel typecast as an old man?

WJ: Malvolio is in his early 30s, actually. I’m not really that old. But I love playing old men. It’s so much fun. I’ll never get tired of it. [jokingly] I don’t think I’ve been typecast so much that there are good roles that just happen to be old men that I keep getting. I am no longer in sexy roles.


AR: They tried it once—

WJ: Yeah, they tried it once, in “Anatol,” and since then…I no longer have any sex appeal in the PAD. So that’s a little disappointing.

[more laughter]

SL: Lastly, it’s a Cadenza tradition to end on a fun note, so: if you could switch roles with one other person in the cast, whose role would you take?

WJ: I would take Eric [Gustafson]’s role as Sir Toby Belch.

KM: Definitely Kate [Needham]’s role as Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

WJ: Oh, that’s so right. That’s so true.

KM: Andrew is super funny.

AR: So hilarious. Kate Needham is going to steal the show.

KM: Everybody come just to see Kate Needham.

AR: She is phenomenal.

SL: Is that a consensus from all three of you?

WJ: Lounge singer would be fun.

KM: [joking] You can’t sing though.

AR: Wow.

WJ: I can sing!

AR: I might be Feste too. I do like Feste.

KM: I like Maria too. She’s so tricky and funny.

SL: Thanks, guys. Break a leg!

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