Festival production to give ‘Twelfth Night’ a Jazz Age makeover

When your previous production ends with the titular character’s head being paraded about, it might be time to lighten the mood a bit, old sport.

The Missouri Shakespeare Festival will do just that with a production of “Twelfth Night,” set for June 19-22 and 26-28. Festival organizers plan to bring some Jazz Age, Gatsby-style flair to one of theater’s greatest comedies.

Set on the island of Illyria (which gets a Long Island makeover for the festival production), the story features a shipwrecked woman caught up in a tangled web of love and mistaken identities.

“Last year, we started off with a very bloody, very violent production (of ‘Macbeth’) … lots of fights and heads chopped off,” said Tim Klein, the festival’s artistic director. “We decided to go in the opposite direction to show a different side of Shakespeare. A lot of his plays are really simple love stories.”

The first Missouri Shakespeare Festival, held in 2013, featured a production of "Macbeth."
The first Missouri Shakespeare Festival, held in 2013, featured a production of “Macbeth.”

The production will be directed by Matt Campbell, a 2011 graduate of Missouri Southern who just received his master’s in directing from Illinois State University.

“I was interested in how to make the show a little more relatable,” said Campbell. “When you think about Long Island in that time period, it was an exciting time. There’s a feeling of extravagance and simplicity that feels right for this piece.”

The cast includes a mix of professional and community actors, and will include Campbell, Klein and Dr. Jim Lile, chair of Missouri Southern’s theater department. The production will be staged “in the round,” with the audience seated on all four sides of the stage in the Bud Walton Theatre.

“If you can imagine, you can’t have the actors sitting for long periods of time,” said Klein. “It lends itself to a fast production with lots of movement.”

Following up on last year’s inaugural Missouri Shakespeare Festival production with one of the Bard’s most well-known comedies wasn’t by accident, says Lile. Staging a comedy after a tragedy makes for a good mix … and bringing some Gatsby-style flair – complete with music of the Roaring ‘20s – will shake things up for the audience, too.

“We want to bring a lively sort of vibe to Shakespeare so that people don’t feel like they’re coming to a museum,” he says.

In the play, the shipwrecked Viola disguises herself as a man named Cesario, who goes to work for Duke Orsino. The duke is pining for Lady Olivia and sends Cesario to deliver his messages of love to her. Lady Olivia falls for Cesario, creating an unusual love triangle.

The first Missouri Shakespeare Festival was something of an “experiment” – one that was well received, says Lile. He hopes that expanding the production to two weekends will help bring the festival wider exposure and continued growth.

“Our goal is that we can run two productions per summer – a comedy and a tragedy that we run for a month,” he says. “Hopefully we’ll grow and the audience will grow with us. We’d also like to be able to go to national auditions and bring in actors from different places. That’s down the road a bit.”

Tickets are $10 and will be on sale at the theater box office closer to the festival’s start date.

For more information, call 417-625-9393.