Twelfth Night - Notes from the Director

Life is a Celebration

“Even so quickly may one catch the plague?”

Of course the answer to Olivia’s question is “yes, even that quickly” when speaking of both the stealthy hit of love and the deadly grip of sickness.  This is especially true in 1602, the date of Twelfth Night’s first performance.  With many thousands of Londoners dying every year from bubonic plague and no end in sight, what kind of world was left for the living?  How might one exist in the wreckage left behind, much less find something as beautiful as love in it?

Twelfth Night is absolutely packed with rich motifs for a director to focus on in such an honorable exercise as the pre-show notes.  The search for one’s other/better half; the literal hunt for love; nature’s inconstancy and the inconstancy of our nature; and of course the end of the party - the Twelfth Night itself.  So why choose the PLAGUE?

Because just as the shipwreck pulls us to an extraordinary land, the twins’ separation urges a fantastical search, and the hind spurs on a passionate chase, the plague brings us Shakespeare’s ode to life – Twelfth Night.  The acknowledgment of death gifts the living with a reason to celebrate the simple and miraculous achievement of getting another day on earth, even when it is cold, painful, wanting, or cruel.  Sickness can strike like lightning, and after that fashion, love can take hold even in an instant and seem to “purge the air of pestilence.”  With Twelfth Night, Shakespeare offers a love letter to the breathing, and in it he relishes the many kinds of music that our perseverance can bring.

Survivors of this wreck that we all are, we who sit together today to hear this play, we’re alive, and that is cause for a celebration.  Inside of that life, we can choose to concern ourselves with societal rigidities:  the hours we keep, the respect we pay to the hierarchical order, the lonely clawing towards personal advancement; the pulling tight of our mourning veils, or we can choose to concern ourselves with joy:  the songs we sing, the jests we pull, the friendships we forge, and all the perfectly wrong people with whom we fall in love.  Knowing that this very well may be the last night of the party, with the sun just about to rise, which will it be?  It is with great joy that we offer Twelfth Night to you, to do with what you will.

Beth Burns

Guest Director