The University of Winnipeg (U of W) Department of Theatre and Film is starting the season off with a wild interpretation of Shakespeare’s dramatic comedy, Twelfth Night: or What you Will.
Producer Christopher Brauer, associate professor of theatre and film, added some new elements to the classic production including a giant storm, original music and gender bending.
“The gag at the middle of the show is a gender gag,” Brauer says. “They’re gonna love the characters.”
When casting the production, Brauer found himself with a problem. There are two men and seven women in his class, which did not match the casting requirements of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
The play is a perfect fit for studying and doing character work, so Brauer didn’t want to discard the piece in favour of another just because the genders didn’t fit.
To solve his logistics problem, Brauer flipped the genders, adding a commentary on gender identity to the classic Shakespearean comedy. The storm at the beginning of the play is also the beginning of the gender flipping, kind of like a visual metaphor.
This isn’t the first time the U of W Theatre department has adapted casting to suit the actors. In 2003, they ran an all-female cast, which they hoped would showcase “the confusions of desire and gender at the heart of this fascinating play.”
Other compelling aspects of the play, besides a comedic cast of relatable characters, is the fact that the whole production team is composed of U of W students.
This includes the set design by Darryl Audette and an original music score by Davis Plett, who is a student of music.
“My approach to the whole thing is postmodern jukebox – like Jack Johnson, meets folksy lament, meets high school Christmas band concert,” Plett explains.
Plett, who is also a local folk guitarist, worked with Brauer to create covers as well as original music. Plett tailored each piece to individual performers, even teaching one cast member how to play the ukulele for her part.
Brauer says he knows Shakespeare inside and out and teaches with an emphasis on performing Shakespeare. He has also directed extensively all over Winnipeg, and is directing the upcoming Richard III for Shakespeare in the Ruins.
“Shakespeare writes impossible stories but the situations inside of the satires have his amazing truthfulness,” Brauer says.
“He gets at big truths through artifice. He doesn’t have a mandate to be realistic. He can use theatricality and silliness to portray what it is to be a human being.”