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The Scarlet & Black

Inside the Arts: Casting Twelfth Night

The Theater and Dance department recently concluded the casting process for the College’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night,” to be directed by Professor Ellen Mease in her last directorial project before retirement. The choice of play is fitting, as Mease first directed “Twelfth Night” at the College in 1979, 40 years ago. The production is dedicated to Ed Moore, Grinnell College’s former resident Shakespearian, who passed away in August of 2018.

“Twelfth Night” will utilize Shakespeare’s original text with modern flourishes.

“The music is kind of catered to a [19]30s or 40s theme, and the costuming is kind of 70s, ” said Amelia Zoernig ’21, who was cast as Valentine, attendant of the lovesick Duke Orsino. “But [Mease is] very true to the text. ”

In casting the show, Mease emphasized the importance of employing Shakespearian text. Auditions were open to all students, regardless of previous experience, but the first round of auditions required students to read Shakespearian text. Students also had the opportunity to show off additional talents, from juggling to stage combat.

After individual auditions, Mease conducted callbacks in a way somewhat unique compared to other performances.

“Callbacks for [Mease] are a little different compared to the rest of the theater department because she has everyone sit in for everyone. Basically, everyone sits in the audience … and watches everyone do whatever she has called them back to read,” said Molly Stone ’20, who was cast as Viola, one of the play’s central characters.

Through this process, the director has the opportunity to see all potential actors perform monologues and observe actors’ chemistry.

“It is competition. It’s the best audition, the most plausible and immediate, natural and honest behavior onstage, and the chemistry that can be revealed only when you are pairing a Viola with an Orsino in their most intimate scene and do several pairs of potential Violas and Orsinos,” Mease said.

“Twelfth Night” presents an additional challenge to the casting process. The narrative thrust of the play relies on the mistaken identities of Viola and Sebastian, a pair of twins. For these roles, the director had to identify two actors who could be somewhat realistically mistaken for each other.

“The twins make a special problem in ‘Twelfth Night.’ You can’t have a Sebastian and Viola who differ in height by a foot or in weight by 50 pounds, because that just makes Olivia and Orsino look like buffoons if they can’t tell the difference,” Mease said.

“Twelfth Night” will run from Friday, March 8 to Sunday, March 10 in Roberts Theater.

Ellen Mease gives feedback to actors rehearsing for this spring’s production of “Twelfth Night.”
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