Twelfth Night and Vaudeville

Twelfth Night is a very metatheatrical play, meaning that it continuously calls attention to the fact that it is a play, even at times poking fun at itself. For example Fabian, one of the plays clowns states, “if this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction” (Act III Scene IV). There are theories that every soliloquy in Shakespeare was meant to be a direct address to the audience, and even in our play, we’re always finding ways to directly involve the audience in the production. For this reason it was very important for us to find a parallel between theatre of Shakespeare’s times and the popular forms of theatre at the turn of the century.

We found that the most popular form of entertainment between 1910 and 1920 was vaudeville, which gave us a lot to work with. It’s been really fun to incorporate vaudeville style performance into our show, which we’ve done by adding various entr’actes. There are already moments of song and dance built into the script and we’ve been able to bring those to life in a really unique and fun way.

In doing research we discovered some interesting similarities between Shakespeare’s humor and that of vaudeville comedians. The clowns in Twelfth Night engage other characters in quick back and forth comedic exchanges rich with turns of phrase and plays on words. The following video, a routine by vaudeville legends Shaw and Lee, demonstrates a comedic style incorporating similar tactics.

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We have spent time watching many historical videos of vaudeville acts to get a feel for it. We have also done a lot of work researching clowning. There are two characters in Twelfth Night who are actual clowns but many other characters are clownish. We have incorporated a lot of physical humor based on some of what we found in this research. We have been working with a clowning expert too who has also served us as our fight choreographer. He has taught us much about clown mentality and how much clowning is rooted in basic acting skills as we learn them in classes at Loyola.

Another major benefit of incorporating Vaudeville tradition as a central part of our production is the striking similarity between the costumes of the vaudeville stage and the theatrical bathing “costumes” worn by men and women on beaches across the world during the 1910’s. More to come on that later! But in the meantime prepare yourselves to enjoy a show filled with clowning, sword fights, songs, and dances, which draw on Shakespeare’s tradition and Vaudeville tradition alike!

Posted on by Browyn Sherman in Theatre, Around Campus, Dramaturg Post Comments Off on Twelfth Night and Vaudeville