Hello once again from your pal Louis Butelli, currently playing Feste in Folger Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night. We’re having an absolute blast playing this show, and hope you’ll come along and join us for an evening of love, laughter, and music, with an undertone of sadness and melancholy.
Having played previews and public performances for a week each, and now that the press has started to come out (read some critical raves here, here, and here), we now embark on our second full week of public performances. Our audiences have been amazingly enthusiastic, sharing with us a fascinating variety of responses.
This is the extraordinary thing about live theater. Every single performance is different. Some nights the crowd seems primed to roar with laughter. Some nights they seem to prefer to embrace the complexity of the play’s love triangle. Some nights they seem to be in a musical mood. While the work of art remains fundamentally the same from night to night, it is nonetheless altered by the tone of the audience. Or, put another way, this play we’ve been living with for over a month has the ability to “morph,” as it were, to reflect the energy of the audience. Somehow, it seems to hold a mirror up to nature, to reflect something of the beholder back at her or him.
It is this very phenomenon that has me thinking, not for the first time, “why Shakespeare,” and “why now?” What is it about our production of Twelfth Night specifically, and Shakespeare generally that resonates with the times in which we currently live?
I won’t presume to make any broad sweeping statements in that regard, but I will say that whatever it is we’re doing seems to have three distinct applications, for three distinct groups of people.
The general paying audience. You are the backbone of what we are doing. You have come to us for any number of reasons – you’re a Folger subscriber, you’re a fan of Shakespeare and/or Twelfth Night, you’re a theater enthusiast, you’ve been dragged along by a spouse or partner, you’re curious, you simply want a killer night out. Regardless, we, as did Shakespeare’s own troupe of players, “strive to please you every day.” We want to connect, to share, to feel something together under the same roof. We are the conduit for the work of a 450 year old playwright, and we connect our present to our past by understanding that we have always been a storytelling species.
Students and Young Audiences. We recently played our first two student matinees for a large demographic swath of new, young theater enthusiasts from the DC Metro area, and they went absolutely bonkers for the show. Hearing them respond with moans for the plight of the confused lovers, giggles for the antics of the clowns, and rhythmic claps and repeated lyrics for the music all seem to be a decent part of the point of putting on the play in the first place. It is our honor, and our duty, to use our art form to wrap warm arms around the audiences of the future. Plus, it’s fun to hear them roar when there is any touching or kissing.
Reviewers and Critics. Ironically, perhaps, this is the demographic that has most to say about the moment in which we live in the year 2013. We have always been an opinionated race of beings – but rarely have we lived through times in which sharing opinions has been quicker, more instantaneous, and more interactive. The rise of the internet, desktop publishing, and social media now allows anybody with a computer, phone, and an internet connection to be a reviewer. Moreover, the Ivory Towers of major print publications now have a chink in their armor in the form of the “Comments Section.” It is now possible to talk back to a critic in a public forum. While I will reserve judgment on the relative merits of this development, it does say something to me about playing Shakespeare, whether in 1613 or in 2013 – fundamentally, people vote with their wallet. They either buy a ticket or they don’t. Reviewers and critics can share their opinion and their experience but, again, it is the general public who ultimately decides the fate of a production.
Life is short, love is fickle, laughter is precious, youth’s a stuff will not endure, and the rain it raineth every day. Come and let us tell you a great story.
I’ll close this post as Shakespeare closes his play – with lyrics to a song:
Until next time!