Antonio and Sebastian, characters in Twelfth Night, have been declared OTP (One True Pairing):
What an engaging start to our 2-1/2 hours with the Santa Fe University of Art and Design “Shakespeare and Gender Studies” class!
The prompt was simple: Bring in three or so scenes to perform from Twelfth Night and Macbeth. The students wanted to see the wyrd sisters from Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, and Antonio and Sebastian from Twelfth Night. Associate Artistic Directors Anna Farkas and Ariana Karp and Ducdame Ensemble actor Samantha Blinn were delighted to oblige:
The actors warmed up the class with a bewitching (and apparently, ’90s rap video-esque) adaptation of the wyrd sisters from Macbeth. They developed an open dialogue with the students, discussing the wide range of interpretive possibilities, referencing such interpretations as Rupert Goold’s terrifying nurses in his film adaptation with Patrick Stuart (featuring Ariana and Samantha’s former teacher Scott Handy as Malcolm—love you, Scott!) and the episode of Macbeth in the TV mini-series, Shakespeare Retold, where the wyrd sisters were garbage collectors. The emphasis was on many possible interpretations, especially to do with gender identity and ambiguity, that is already explicit in the text.
Recruiting a student from the class to play the messenger (who gave a wonderfully enthusiastic performance), they then dove into the “letter scene,” the first scene in which Lady Macbeth appears. They first discussed film interpretations of character. Ariana brought up the famous RSC production with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench in which during the lines “Come, you spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here/ And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full/ Of direst cruelty,” Dench appears to be terrified by the very spirits she invokes. It complicates the culturally received idea of her as solely a cruel and ambitious woman. They explained to the class that as an actor, you can never morally “judge” your character, you must find a way in, a way to empathize.
Next, Anna and Ariana performed the famous “Was the hope drunk?” scene in the way they had personally interpreted the relationship. Asking the class how their performance differed from how the students had theorized the relationship between the two characters, a few mentioned that they had never seen the relationship as being founded on love, so the performance was surprising to them. Offering to play the scene as a relationship devoid of affection, our actors then improvised an interpretation which included some raised voices, hair pulling, and a slap! This was a hit and prompted a discussion of how both interpretations could work, depending on what story you wanted to tell.
The Sebastian/Antonio scene from Twelfth Night was of particular interest to the class because of the two characters’ seemingly complex and, possibly, romantic relationship. Samantha and Ariana first performed the scene with the given circumstance that Antonio was in love with Sebastian, but had not confessed his love. The class then asked to see a version where both characters were in denial about their attraction to each other, and so were fully “bro”-ing out, trying to impress one another by their feats of battle and courage. Then, per the class’s request, Sam and Ariana then switched characters and performed the scene as if the two characters had had an affair, but Sebastian was trying to gently end the relationship in the scene. Each version had fans. We discussed how, once again, each different interpretation told a different story, using the same text!
My favorite part of the evening came next: The students asked to see scenes from King Lear, which they had just started reading. By happy coincidence, Ariana just happens to have most of the play committed to memory. She could spontaneously give them the infamous “Ay, every inch a king!” speech that occurs late in the play while Lear is in throes of madness, and then tie in the overt sexual nature of the imagery in many of the mad scenes to the class curriculum.
By this time the students were totally into the conversation and participating as fellow directors. We were able to get six of them up on their feet to play Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, Albany, Cornwall, Gloucester, and Edmund in the first scene of the play, with Ariana as Lear and Samantha as Kent. It was a blast.
We wrapped up with a little talk about about the implications of the first scene and how as an actor, you must keep in mind what is happening to the character in the moment and not play the end of the play at the beginning.
All in all we had a magnificent time with the SFUAD students and their instructor and we hope to continue working with them to creatively color the study of Shakespeare with the hue of performance!