Program gives teens access to Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s ‘Twelfth Night’
Chances are you’ve encountered the work of William Shakespeare at some point during your academic career, perhaps as required reading in high school; he is, after all, the most famous writer in the English language. But for every student who is hooked at “To be or not to be,” there is another for whom the words on the page are no more comprehensible than a foreign language.
With that in mind, Shakespeare Santa Cruz is working to make his plays accessible to the community with the STAT (Shakespeare Teen Access Tickets) program, which is designed to get teens to experience live Shakespeare performances, including the company’s upcoming production of “Twelfth Night.”
“For a lot of teenagers, the only real knowledge of Shakespeare that they might have, is reading it very dryly in a high school English class,” says Kyle Clausen, the managing director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz. “Shakespeare’s not meant to be read—it’s meant to
be performed and done aloud, so we wanted to create an opportunity. Unless their parents are interested in it, teenagers might not have the opportunity to see
a professional production, or they may not have the money, so this is a way to start exposing teenagers to Shakespeare earlier—and not only expose them
to Shakespeare, but expose them to really good Shakespeare, so they can see why it’s popular, and why it’s lasted for hundreds of years.”
The STAT program is completely donor-funded; all of the tickets given away to participating teenagers are underwritten by donors. “We tend to do it in a group fashion; so it’s teachers organizing a group of students, or some kind of group leader who works with kids organizing a group,” says Clausen.
Last year—the first time STAT was available—more than 500 students took advantage of the program to see “The Comedy of Errors.” The company hopes to reach 800 teenagers for “Twelfth Night.”
The upcoming production will be the company’s fifth incarnation of “Twelfth Night” in the last 30 years, which means it will be tied for the most-produced Shakespeare play by Shakespeare Santa Cruz, along with “The Comedy of Errors” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
However, this will be the first time that the play is performed indoors. “Normally we’ve produced this play outdoors at our Festival Glen, but this year it will be indoors in the Main Stage Theater, so I think it’s going to be a more intimate experience for the audience,” says Clausen.
It will also be the first show that artistic director Marco Barricelli has directed for Shakespeare Santa Cruz. “He acted in the show a couple of years ago, and this is his fifth year as artistic director, but it’s the first time he’s decided to direct a show, so I think that’s going to be special as well,” says Clausen.
For the uninitiated, “Twelfth Night”—like many of Shakespeare’s comedies—hinges on mistaken identity, and focuses on a love triangle that’s complicated by a case of gender confusion.
“I see this play as having a very unique place in the canon in that it’s not really knee-slapping comedy and it’s not big, dramatic tragedy; it lies someplace in the middle,” says Barricelli. “I think there are lots of darker overtones that—if we allow ourselves to play those—I think it allows the comedy that’s inherent in the play to pop out a little bit more and distinguish itself.
“I’m trying not to set the play in any particular time period or any particular place on a map,” continues Barricelli. “I think the play sort of lives somewhere in our imagination; it’s more fable or fairytale-like than kitchen-sink reality drama, and so I think in that way it’ll be distinguished.” Barricelli describes the production as Tim Burton meets Cirque du Soleil meets steampunk. “It’s become a really fantastical place, and I’m very excited about what’s taken place so far.”
Aside from being a unique experience for students, its a significant educational opportunity. “I think it’s important for students to see professional actors in their craft; just seeing how they take words off of the page and are able to translate them into emotion and comedy and tragedy,” says Dan Dewig, a teacher of performing arts at St. Francis Central Coast Catholic High School, who organizes groups by selecting students with an interest in theater, and students who have enrolled in certain classes.
In addition to the aforementioned benefits of experiencing Shakespeare, there are other ones that are even more profound. “I always say if you look between the covers of a complete work of Shakespeare, you have between those two covers an entire chronicle of the human dilemma, or human existence, or what it means to be human,” says Barricelli.
He also notes that seeing Shakespeare live makes a big difference. “These plays that we have left to us hundreds of years later, these are merely blueprints; Shakespeare had zero intention for anybody to read his plays on the page—they were meant to be seen, they were meant to be up in front of you in three dimensions, so you can hear the plays, rather than having to read the plays, and it’s a very different experience,” says Barricelli. “And if you start early with young people, I think the experience they get out of a Shakespeare play—being in the theater, in the same room with the actors speaking the language out loud—is a much more positive experience, and they’re less likely to shy away from Shakespeare as they grow older.”
On that same train of thought is the idea of audience development. “The younger we get people started watching Shakespeare, or watching live theater even if it’s not specifically Shakespeare, the more likely we are to make them into lifelong theater fans who are going to come back to either Shakespeare Santa Cruz or other theater companies, so we’re also helping build audiences for tomorrow,” says Clausen.
And upon building an audience, the company also has a responsibility to teach them. “Part of our mission here at Shakespeare Santa Cruz—being a part of UC Santa Cruz—is an educational mission,” says Clausen. “So we have an obligation to educate children and provide arts education and expose them to arts experiences they maybe wouldn’t be able to have otherwise.”
“We’re really proud of this program,” Clausen continues. “Last summer when these groups would arrive, you’d have 20 or 30 or 40 teenagers all lining up to see a Shakespeare play, and then coming up afterwards and saying how much they loved it. It was really great to see.”
‘Twelfth Night’ runs from July 24 to Aug. 26 at UCSC’s Mainstage Theater, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $14-44. For tickets, call 459-2159 or visit shakespearesantacruz.org.