Twelfth Night: Greenwich Academy Style

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Photo by Samia Khatib

On December 3rd, after many weeks of sorting through unconventional costumes, 17th-century sound effects, ever-changing blocking, and lines many were convinced were not actually English, Group IX successfully performed Greenwich Academy’s annual rendition of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in Massey Theater. Group IX’s adaptation of this timeless play was eclectic, to say the least. Each class, assigned a few scenes from the play, picked their own theme. The spectrum ranged from circus, to Hawaii, to preppy, and even to Jersey Shore! Although the themes and settings constantly shifted, the play as a whole was easy to follow, refreshing, and proof that Shakespeare’s work is universal and timeless. The ambiance of the audience itself was buzzing with nervous excitement as each class watched their peers bring the words they had studied to life. Backstage was a hive of activity punctuated by moments of stillness, and whisperings of, “how did we pull this off?” Directors and costumes and props masters actively triple checked that everyone had what they needed, whether it was supplied lines or a funky 80’s disco hat.

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Photo by Samia Khatib

As ninth grade English teacher Mr. Jeff Schwartz put it in his introduction to the performance, “Mistakes are, of course, to be expected.” Throughout the performance itself, his prediction was proven true; mistakes were indeed inevitable, and audience members –mostly composed of Group IX– laughed along with the actresses on stage. But this is part of the beauty of the event. As Mr. Tom Sullivan, Head of the GA Upper School, put it, “I can’t think of a better way to teach Shakespeare, and I give credit to Mrs. Samantha Gault, Mr. Schwartz, and Ms. Anna Brenner for going so far beyond the usual range of English assignments.  I also love that it’s such a varied, democratic, and not-so-perfect performance, which is always good to see in the Upper School.” A personal highlight was Nicole Hessler’s rendition of Malvolio, a condescendingly disgruntled and power-hungry servant to the Countess Olivia. She was able to transform into a riveting Malvolio through spot-on acting and adoption of extremely accurate idiosyncrasies of the servant, which was made possible because of her commitment to the part. “One time, after English, I was walking through the middle of the courtyard by the entrance to Massey, and I felt this funny feeling in my legs. I looked down and realized that I still had my garters on!” she recounted. Evidently, Nicole went above and beyond in embodying Malvolio both in and out of the English classroom! Another highlight of the night was during Act III, scene III, in which Olivia proclaims her love for Cesario, who in turn rejects her. Keeping with the “circus” theme of our class, Olivia was a ringmaster. In an attempt to symbolize disguise and duality, Cesario became a circus puppeteer that carried a Jar Jar Binks puppet in the scene. Needless to say, deep and passionate declarations of love were somewhat hilariously juxtaposed with the silly Star Wars character flopping around on Cesario’s arm. As to the overall Shakespearean experience for Group IX, Mr. Sullivan comments, “It’s an activity that leaves a lasting memory (upperclassmen still remember their roles), and it also gives freshmen immediate respect for the rich challenge of performing Shakespeare.” Group IX English teacher Ms. Anna Brenner adds, “It was a treat for me to see the ninth graders’ interpretations of Twelfth Night. I thought the students did an excellent job capturing the play’s humor. The production was fun, funny, and inventive.”