Why is Metblogs so excited about SJSU’s steampunk Twelfth Night?

David Scott and Kayleigh Larner as Toby and Maria

SJSU’s steampunk version of Twelfth Night starts this Friday, and the excitement and buzz before the show even opens is tremendous.  I have been lucky enough to preview a few rehearsals and am happy to say this show looks VERY entertaining yet also true to Shakespeare’s word.  The SJSU Theatre Department does not get much press but they should, because the productions I have seen there have met or exceeded the quality of any professional theater company in this area.  And with a ticket price of $10 for students/seniors and $20 general admission, one can hardly go wrong.

I asked director Kathleen Normington and dramaturge Dr. Adrienne Eastwood to talk a bit about this steampunk version of Twelfth Night.   If you are interested in steampunk, or question the decision to bring steampunk to Shakespeare, I recommend reading their answers below.

First, Director Normington commented on the interesting music choices and the striking visual aesthetics.

Director Normington:  Music choices are very untraditional and were inspired from my 16 year old son’s playlist. He introduced me to “dubstep” music and that became a key sound component for the show. It has an edgy, harsh quality that seems to fit the world of the play that we have created, most especially in the character of Orsino, the drug-addled, love-crazed “Duke.” I worked with a student who created some original dubstep music for the production and we threw in some trance and the music of Dirty Three, Bassnectar, and Moby. An eclectic mix that seems to help tell the story of the play for me.

Twelfth Night, with Drew Benjamin Jones as Malvolio.

On scenic design: This comedy, like many of Shakespeare’s comedies, places the main characters in a natural environment and I wanted to expand that for the setting. Many of the scenes occur outdoors and the beach became the dominant design concept for the entire play. I wanted a contrast between a completely realistic and natural environment with the metal, wood, and metallics of steampunk that is most revealed in the costumes and props. Steampunk became a style choice that grew out of the main themes of the play: time, disguise, and the intersection of a modern sensibility and the romance of a Victorian past. I had no idea at the time I was forming these ideas that steampunk had such a devoted cult following.

I then asked Dr. Eastwood to justify the decision to take this fascinating steampunk concept and meld it with the famous work by William Shakespeare:

One of the first decisions a director of a Shakespeare play has to make is whether or not to produce the play in period—using Elizabethan costumes.  Many directors eschew the traditional Renaissance modes in order to update the play’s themes or make them palatable for contemporary audiences.  Such an idea marries the old with the new—the historical with the modern—a concept that is in itself very Shakespearean, since his plays are meaningful in both historical and universal contexts. Twelfth Night, as with many of Shakespeare’s other plays, is both of its age and for all time.  A steampunk Twelfth Night merges the old with the new in exciting and deeply resonant ways.

Illyria, the world of the play, is a fictional place.  No such country exists on any known map.  And time moves differently in Illyria—along the familiar linear trajectory, but also in a cyclical motion, ebbing and flowing, folding the past into the present.  Indeed, for the festive characters like Sir Toby, time seems to stand still—another drink, another song, another practical joke.  But for the besotted lovers, time must untangle the knot of misapplied affections.  How will this fadge? Time will tell.

Kayleigh Larner, Kim Burns, Jessica Salans

Steampunk similarly collapses time, blending the past with the [future].  With an aesthetic based nineteenth century England but reaching toward a fantastical future, we see time both moving forward and looking back; it exists both as a historical moment and beyond it.  The steam technology and bizarre, archaic optical gear, put to use in unfamiliar ways also suggest that ordinary rules don’t apply in a steampunk setting.  The atmosphere created by the steampunk aesthetic underscores the temporally topsy-turvy Illyria, a place where the festive powers of timlessness will join forces to try and rid their world of darkness and grief.  But as Shakespeare ensures in his play, disruptive forces are powerful ones, and in the end, audiences leave anxiously hoping that true love and friendship did indeed prevail.

Interested Shakespeare lovers can read Dr. Eastwood’s study guide to prepare for the show.

I’ll be there opening night ready to review the show.  I hope to see you there as well.  Not just to support our local University Theatre students, but because SJSU has consistently produced outstanding stage productions, and I don’t think they’re going to let us down this time either.

Twelfth Night
November 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20 7pm

SJSU University Theatre
Fifth and San Fernando next to the San Jose Public Library
Tickets $10 students/seniors; $20 general admission
Tickets Online
Or call 408 924-4555

Wheelchair Admissable

1 Comment so far

  1. SJSU steampunk Twelfth Night « NeoVaudeville Evolution (pingback) on November 13th, 2010 @ 4:26 pm

    […] Why is Metblogs so excited about SJSU’s steampunk Twelfth Night? | San Jose Metblogs. […]

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