Utah Shakespeare in the Park is a company long committed to free outdoor shows open to the public.
Since its founding in 2010, the company’s director of Twelfth Night, Anne Shakespeare, has been able to get the efficiency of producing a show down to a science.
“I wanted to refine the rehearsal process. How much time do we really need? Rather than rehearsing something over and over that’s not really working. We teach actors to direct themselves which gives them a freshness and a power,” said Anne Shakespeare.
As fitting as her name may be, over the course of Shakespeare’s education, including BYU’s Bachelor of Fine Arts Program, she estimated that 80% of rehearsal time is wasted.
“Often times [most] productions begin with the director not really knowing what to do with the cast or design not completed, “ Anne Shakespeare said. “Because much of performance technique is lost, what we do is teach actors to be so interesting to watch that they have that sort of addicting quality.”
With regard to the lack of props and set in their production, Utah Shakespeare in the Park is also very true to how Twelfth Night was performed in the early 1600s.
“I love how we work with little or no props,” said Jess Thackeray, an actress who plays the male character Antonio in the play. “A piece of paper here, a sword there. The stage is the park and no other backdrop. What makes this so fascinating then is that we, the actors, have to hold the audience’s attention all on our lonesome.”
According to the productions director, what most productions fail to realize is firstly, the ‘music’ or rhythm that is behind the meter of iambic pentameter.
“We’ve been working diligently in the short time frame we have to enhance the words we speak with the energy that engages audiences, and we look forward to a fast-paced, fast-spoken comedy of Shakespeare,” Thackeray said.
According to Anne Shakespeare, the next most important thing in efficiently rehearsing in four weeks is realizing the impact of each character’s gender role on the entire emotion of the plot.
“In our culture, you’re not connected to gender anymore, the way people were back then. In the beginning of the play, most people cut all of the male extras because they don’t say anything. But [William] Shakespeare knew what he was doing to create that male presence; it creates a very strong group dynamic that eventually leads viola to cross dress as a man.” Anne Shakespeare said.
The concept of gender being as such a defined part of society in William Shakespeare’s day remarkably is what enforced young men being used for women’s roles.
“In a similar way, we use women to play men because there’s always more women in theatre,” Anne Shakespeare said. “In four weeks, we teach the women how to have a male presence on stage. To walk like men, to exude a male mentality.”
How do the cast members feel about the four-week rehearsal process? Thackeray hinted into a bit of insight.
“It’s quite a whirlwind of a production, but the director is very inspired the cast is in it for the sake of fun, so it seems to come together well.”