Director Stephen Heatley moves Twelfth Night to New Orleans. Photo by Tim Matheson.
Director Stephen Heatley moves Twelfth Night to New Orleans. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Theatre at UBC kicks off its new season with a production of Twelfth Night inspired by a trip to The Big Easy.

“We wanted to kick off the season with a comedy and something that could feature the talents of the UBC BFA acting students, not to mention our excellent designers and stage managers,” says director Stephen Heatley. “Twelfth Night is full of fun and has popular appeal and that feels like a good way to launch the season.”

One of Shakespeare’s most popular romantic comedies, Twelfth Night is a story so overflowing with mistaken identities, cross-dressing, mischief and unrequited love, that it is not only a great way to launch a season, it is also a perfect vehicle for Heatley’s vision of moving the action from Southeast Europe to Southeast Louisiana.

“We still refer to the place as Illyria, it just happens to feel like the French Quarter in New Orleans,” Heatley explains. “There seemed to be several compelling reasons to use New Orleans as a setting. One was the juxtaposition in that city of Bourbon Street/party central to the very prominent cemeteries right in the downtown core. The play itself teeters on the tension between those interested in hedonistic reveling and those who are in mourning. New Orleans seems to truly embody that juxtaposition.”

And what better way visit New Orleans than during Mardi Gras, another inspiration that Heatley draws upon heavily in this production.

“There are the disguises in Twelfth Night and so much of the Mardi Gras celebration is about masks and hiding one’s identity and how it allows you to be involved in the sense of Misrule that is embraced in the Mardi Gras festival,” he says.

Inspired by his own visit to New Orleans, Heatley says that he is always on the look-out at the thematic values that come out of the text and how they might resonate within the world around him. “That way, we are not trying to make the play fit into a box that we create for it, but rather finding a container that helps the themes and ideas of the play resonate on stage.”

Heatley is also helping to immerse his audience inside the Mardi Gras world of beads and king cake with original music from composer Richard Link, for the plays Fool, Festa, to sing.

“It has this New Orleans idea and any existing music for Twelfth Night did not necessarily fit this jazzy/Dixieland environment,” explains Heatley.  “Richard said he would write a few songs for us and they fit beautifully into the world of our production.”

In addtition to Link’s original compositions, the show will also include incidental music chosen from New Orleans Dixieland and Jazz standards.

Twelfth Night plays the Frederic Wood Theatre (6354 Crescent Rd, UBC) September 25 – October 11. Visit http://theatrefilm.ubc.ca for tickets and information.

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