Feasting on the Food of Love: Interviews with Twelfth Night’s Alan Garner, Charissa Word, and Dorothy Smith

July 14, 2018

 

 Alan Garner - Duke Orsino

 

Q: So first and foremost, for anyone who might be new to Summerville or Flowertown, who are you and what do you do?

A: My name is Alan. I am currently playing Duke Orsino in Flowertown Underground’s production of Twelfth Night. During the day, I work for an eye specialist, and at night, I do theatre. That’s about it, pretty boring life.

 

Q: How long have you been involved with the theater?

A: This year will be ten years, actually, this December. My first production was, I played Troy Bolton in High School Musical at Alston Middle School. From then on, it was all I wanted to do.

 

Q: Here we are about two weeks away from Twelfth Night opening. What’s the experience been like?

A: It’s been really good! So, I did my first Shakespeare production last year with Erik Brower as the director, and that was the Scottish Play, obviously. And this summer, I found out Allison, his wife, was directing Twelfth Night, so it’s been pretty awesome, going from doing McB, which is a tragedy, very difficult for your first Shakespeare, then coming into Twelfth Night, which is an incredible amount of fun. Just the people I’ve met doing this show are amazing.

 

Q: How are you feeling with two weeks to go?

A: Pretty good! I think that this show is gonna be hilarious. We have an incredible amount of talent in this cast. Every single person who got cast in this show is incredible with their comedic timing and the way they deliver, and just everything they do. We have a lot of fun at rehearsals, we’re like a family. But we take things very seriously, so it’s gonna be a great show.

 

Q: How has it been working with Allison Brower as your director?

A: Yeah, it’s my first time ever working with Allison. I’ve known her a few years, but it’s my first time working with her as a director. She’s one of my closest friends, I’ve known her forever, and she really knows her Shakespeare, being a drama geek and being a teacher. She has this incredible knowledge and she’s very fun to work with. She’ll tell you what she wants, but she’ll let you do what you think is right; she’ll let you interpret the character as you interpret it. She’s also a lot of fun at rehearsals, so.

 

Q: What do you think of Brower’s interpretation of the story, setting it in this British island colony? Do you think it informs the show in a new way?

A: So, with the version we’re doing, it’s like Pirates of the Caribbean time frame/theme. The show itself fits perfectly within that theme, even the characters, to an extent, kinda match up with characters from Pirates. Sir Toby Belch, who is being played by Daniel Rich, is very much a Jack Sparrow, and my character is very much a Commodore Norrington. He’s a lot better *laughs*, he’s not as much a dry loser of sorts. And yeah, other characters with very similar-Viola is probably like Will Turner. Yeah.

 

Q: Fill in the blanks: the best part of this experience has been [blank]; the most difficult part has been [blank].

A: The best part has been getting to work with this cast. Everybody in it is just a ton of fun to work with, and also this particular character in the show I play, Orsino, he’s a love interest. He’s one of the stereotypical lovers in the show, so he’s not as comedic and funny as the rest, but he’s still important. But then you have characters like Toby or Andrew Aguecheek, who are hilarious, and seeing Daniel and Erik play those characters, and everyone bringing out the comedic aspects has been amazing to watch. The difficult part has been...good question. It’s probably when you’re first doing read-throughs or your first couple rehearsals, and it’s trying to get that Shakespearean wording, the iambic pentameter, down. You’re stumbling over words every other word, but once you get it, you’ve got it. It’s awesome. That initial read of your script can be a little embarrassing though!

 

Q: This isn’t your first time doing Shakespeare with us. You played Lennox last summer in The Scottish Play. What are your tricks for getting into that rhythm that’s so specific to Shakespeare’s dialogue?

A: So, my tips are work with a director who knows what they’re doing. It’s just, really, when you get that script for the first time, study those lines. Break it down. Look it up. Don’t be scared if you don’t know what it means, because I’ll be honest, when I first read this script or McB, there were a lot of words I didn’t know, that we don’t use. Just breaking it down word by word, line by line, it really helps bring out the character when you know exactly what they’re saying, and it helps with the delivery and inflection when you know exactly what they’re saying.

 

Q: I don’t know about you, but my introduction to Twelfth Night was reading it in 8th grade English class. How were you introduced to the play, and what do you have to say about it for people who may have forgotten about it if they’re like me and read it that long ago?

A: So, funny thing is, I hadn’t actually read this play until, it was a few years ago. It was about four years ago, but my first introduction to the concept of this show was, I don’t know if you remember the movie She’s the Man, with Amanda Bynes? That movie, when I was younger, was one of my favorite movies, and it’s based directly on Twelfth Night. Like, Channing Tatum played this guy named Duke, and his last name was Orsino. That was my introduction to Twelfth Night, technically speaking. It’s my favorite Shakespeare comedy by far.

 

Q: How are you approaching the love triangle plot of the show?

A: So, the way I think Orsino approaches this is he is just completely oblivious to Cesario (Viola) throwing out all the signs that she is in love with him. He is so madly in love with Olivia, that he will stop at nothing to have her. It’s not until Act V that he truly realizes who he is actually in love with.

 

Q: What do you personally take away from this part and this show?

A: The part that I’m playing, the thing that I relate to the most is his longing for just wanting to be liked and loved, and surrounded by people who care about him. Being a person who is in charge of an entire land and group of people, you kind of wonder if people like you because of who you are or because of what you are. Granted, that’s not how it works with me, but it’s wanting people to be around you, wanting to be liked and loved, and wanting to know people appreciate you, which is something I very much relate to. And he’s a hopeless romantic, just like me. *laughs*

 

Q: Now it’s time for a group of questions from the fans on Facebook. This first one comes from Dorothy Smith, who asks, “What do you think of girls with short hair? Asking for a friend.”

A: Well, so, what I think about girls with short hair is, y’know, I prefer long hair, but sometimes you don’t really see what’s really truly in front of you until it’s right there, and it’s literally said out loud and thrown right into your face.

 

Q: Josh Parker says “Malvolio wants his tablecloth back,” whatever that means. He also asks “Wherefore art thou so moooooooody?”

A: I just want to be loved! That’s all I want. It’s just love.

 

Q: Two questions from Lindsay Cooper: “How do you feel about men with spotty facial hair being allowed in public?” and “If music be the food of love...what should you do?”

A: They shouldn’t be. She was looking at me when she wrote that. Well, I would say “turn it off, but then play on.”

 

Q: Courtesy of Jennifer Haman, “How long does it take you to do your hair in the morning?”

A: Probably about, well, funny story. When we were doing the photoshoot here, the girls, it was me, Charissa, who plays Olivia, and Dorothy, who plays Viola, they got here, we all got here at the same time, we were doing our hair, having a grand old time. They were finished, they were in costume, they were ready to start shooting...and then there was me, who was taking literally an hour to do my hair. Probably about three hours. ...that’s a joke, ten minutes. All I do is blow-dry it.

 

Q: This question comes to us from Stacie Louise-Jacques: “From your character’s POV, how would they summarize the show?”

A: So, it’s funny because a lot of these characters, he actually never really meets until Act V. So he’s essentially kind of clueless about the storylines, because this show has a lot of storylines and narratives. But for his particular- how he would say it is, he’s in love with this girl, this girl he’s never met, and it’s about finding what’s in front of you. And how you don’t realize what’s right there until it’s thrown at you. It’s literally said to you out loud that that’s what you want. And then you realize all along, and there’s a bunch of other shenanigans. Poor Malvolio! That man, he gets beaten and locked up for a long time, and he gets locked in that poor chest for a long time, and I feel bad for him to be honest. I feel like I’m the only person who has sympathy for Malvolio.

 

Q: Last question: give me your best pitch as to why anybody who might be on the fence should come see Twelfth Night.

A: So, I understand that Shakespeare might be intimidating and scary, because I have been to performances where it has been iffy, especially if you don’t know the show or the story. But I promise you, the actors we have doing this show, their abilities will hands-down make you understand everything that’s happening. It all comes from the actors, and we’ve worked hard to portray these lines that might be a little odd in a way that everyone can understand and everyone can enjoy, and it’s really gonna be funny.

 

Charissa Word - Countess Olivia

 

Q: First of all, for anyone who isn’t familiar with Summerville or Flowertown, who are you, and what do you do?

A: My name is Charissa Word, I’m a fitness instructor at the Summerville Family Y. I went to college for vocal performance, and I’ve taught voice lessons, flute lessons, piano lesson, and I’ve been a general ed music teacher.

 

Q: How long have you been involved with the theater?

A: So, Sweeney was my first production here. I’ve only lived here for two years. And before that, I had not done any theater in twelve years. I’ve directed a few, but I haven’t been in any shows since 2006.

 

Q: We’re about two weeks away from opening night. What’s the experience been like?

A: It’s a lot of fun! This is my first Shakespeare, and I’ve always loved Shakespeare. This is my favorite of his comedies by far. And I love Allison, and everyone in the cast is insanely talented.

 

Q: How are you personally feeling with two weeks to go?

A: I’m not nervous, I feel like I’ve had to really study for this. This is my first Shakespeare, my first straight play, I usually do musicals. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. It’s fun.

 

Q: How’s it been working with Allison Brower as your director?

A: I love it! We were in Sweeney together, so we had a friendship from there. You can tell she has a love for Shakespeare and a knowledge, she’s tried to educate us and set us on the right path. She gives us a lot of freedom, too, you know? Play with the character, kind of develop it how we see.

 

Q: What do you think of her decision to set the show in this British island colony? How do you think that changes the context or informs the show, if at all?

A: I think it fits perfectly. Like, Shakespeare probably didn’t intend for it to be all Pirates of the Caribbean, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work! All the characters seem to fit perfectly in that setting. Of course, we have our Pirate Dan, that’s my personal favorite. *laughs* It’ll be most people’s favorites.

 

Q: Fill in the blanks: the best part of this experience has been [blank]; the most difficult part has been [blank].

A: The best part has been, I would say, just working with this particular cast. It’s a lot of fun. The most difficult is definitely memorizing Shakespeare. It’s just so many words! It’s a lot of pink highlighter in here.

 

Q: Shakespeare has a very particular rhythm to his dialogue that’s difficult to get sometimes. Do you have any tricks or tips to get it down?

A: I feel like a lot of it might be context. If you can figure out what’s going on, and honestly even trying to take it the way we’ve done: we go through each scene in Shakespearean language, then go through it in modern language, just to familiarize yourself with it and make it less foreign, almost. And try not to rhyme. Iambic pentameter’s so much fun!

 

Q: I don’t know about you, but my introduction to Twelfth Night was reading it in 8th grade English class. How were you introduced to the play, and what do you have to say about it for people who may have forgotten about it if they’re like me and read it that long ago?

A: Well, I don’t remember what grade I was, probably 8th or 9th when I read it, and it was our senior trip, we saw it at a Shakespeare festival. I feel like, as far as the show goes, this is easy to follow. It’s maybe not to just read, but once you see it, and see it in context, hopefully it’ll translate, even in Shakespearean language.

 

Q: How have you been approaching Olivia? She’s in mourning when the show starts, but suddenly, she falls into this goofy love triangle plot. How do you play that?

A: So, I really think a lot of her...she’s genuine in her mourning, she is, but I feel like a lot of her feelings until she meets Cesario are kind of just superficial. And then, once she meets Cesario, then that’s, y’know, that’s real. She’s determined. And on the same hand she has all these other people around her, she has this snooty butler in Malvolio, she has the drunk cousin. She’s a little, not flaky, what’s the right word? She’s got so many wild elements around her - she’s got Feste, the fool, she’s got so many people that come and go - but they all stick around her. There’s something about her that makes people want to stay around her, and she doesn’t turn them away. She has a sense of loyalty.

 

Q: And it isn’t just Viola & Orsino, you have Sir Andrew and Malvolio trying to win your affections as well. Is it weird being that kind of center of romantic attention?

A: No, it’s fun! *laughs* It really is, it’s not that big a deal for Olivia, she doesn’t really care. She just blows it all off until Cesario. And poor Orsino, she just, my favorite part is she lists all these things about him, like “I guess he’s okay, he’s rich, he’s got all this, blah blah blah, but still no.”

 

Q: How would you summarize the show from your character’s perspective?

A: Okay, so, she, Olivia, is basically the master of this house. And she’s in mourning, until she meets Orsino’s messenger, who she tries to convince to love her as hard as she can. And then she thinks that she’s finally won his love, but it’s really her brother, and she gets a happy ending after it. After all that she’s kinda gone through with her cousin and people throwing themselves at her, she deserves it. She’s kinda put up with a lot! Malvolio and his yellow stockings...

 

Q: What do you personally take away from this part and this show?

A: Tricky question. What do I personally take away? What I kind of said before is that even though she has a lot of...very interesting characters in her life that she could send away, she’s really loyal to these people. She’s loyal to her house, she’s loyal to her cousin, and when she finds Cesario, she’s desperately loyal to Cesario. I think that’s my favorite characteristic, her loyalty. All the things that she’s been through, she still tries to be a good person. Snooty person, a little bit. To Orsino, anyway. Poor Alan!

 

Q: Last question: give me your best pitch as to why anybody who’s on the fence should see Twelfth Night.

A: Okay, well, this cast is so, so talented. Allison just chose the perfect people for each role, and it’s just hilarious! I’ve seen these scenes so many times at this point, and I still laugh every time. Plus, it’s a love story! Everybody gets a happy ending! ...except for Malvolio. *laughs* Who doesn’t want to see a happy ending?

 

Dorothy Smith - Viola/Cesario

 

Q: First of all, for anyone who isn’t familiar with Summerville or Flowertown, who are you, and what do you do?

A: My name’s Dorothy, I’m a theater teacher. I have lived in the Lowcountry for the last fourteen years, and we first moved here, my husband and I came to Flowertown because one of my students was in a show here. Fun fact, it’s Josh Parker, who is in the show here. But we came here to see Josh in a performance of Alice in Wonderland, and we just started auditioning and volunteering for the last fourteen years. About five years ago, my husband directed Much Ado About Nothing, which was also pirate themed! Small world.

 

Q: How long have you been involved with the theater?

A: Probably since I was in the womb. Both my parents did theater, they met when my mom was doing shows at the Black Hills Playhouse in South Dakota. They were always building sets, volunteering, whatever needed to be done, when I was growing up in New Mexico. It’s kind of always been my thing.

 

Q: We are exactly two weeks away from opening night. What’s the experience been like?

A: It’s been fantastic! Everyone’s in the cast is really really nice, and Allison’s gonna kill me because i don’t have all my lines yet. *laughs* There are a lot of people in this show I’ve seen before, but since I teach, I can’t really be in those shows because there isn’t time. Summer is really my only window, so there are a lot of people that I’m happy to work with, especially Alan. And Charissa is fantastic, she’s good at literally everything, so this is really fun. And some of the people in this cast are former students, so it’s nice to work with people who I helped train, but now we’re on the same level and we’re working as colleagues and peers, instead of teacher and student.

 

Q: How are you personally feeling with two weeks to go?

A: I’m excited! I hope that people really like the show, I hope they will be eager to see it, because I think it’s really funny, and I think Allison’s done some really great stuff with her casting choices and her directing choices, and I’m excited to see it all come together, because she’s done a really incredible job.

 

Q: How’s it been working with Allison Brower as your director?

A: It’s lots of fun. She approaches it very much like a teacher because I approach it the same way. She wants people to have a good experience because if the cast is having fun and working together, it’s going to be a good show. Because if you have a good script (which you obviously do, it’s Shakespeare!) and a good cast, and if everyone’s on the same page and helping each other out, the show’s going to be great because that’s how it works.

 

Q: What do you think of her decision to set the show in this British island colony? How do you think that changes the context or informs the show, if at all?

A: I just think it adds a really fun element of playfulness to it. Because a lot of the more comedic characters very much fit the profile of stereotypical characters you would see in a pirate fantasy kind of story. So it’s a really fun connection to be made, and it’s also really given the actors a lot to play with, because they have these character ideas as a jumping-off point that they can start with and build on and play around with. So I think that was a stroke of genius.

 

Q: Fill in the blanks: the best part of this experience has been [blank]; the most difficult part has been [blank].

A: The best part of this experience has been getting to work with new people. The most difficult part has been feeling afraid that I might let Allison and the cast down. I don’t wanna let anybody down! I feel very special that Allison wanted to include me in this experience, so I’m very scared I’ll let people down, and I don’t want to do that. But that’s just my generalized anxiety disorder talking, so...

 

Q: Is this your first time doing Shakespeare?

A: No, actually, the last time I was here acting in a show, it was before my son was born, six years ago. I was Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream here. There was this moment where we were trying on costumes, and Allison wanted me to try this corset on for the one scene where I’m not dressed as a guy. And right on top of the pile is this blue corset that Emma Scott made for me when we did Midsummer here, it was this futuristic, steampunk kind of show, and I was like, “Hey, that’s my corset! That’s my Helena corset!”

 

Q: Any tricks or tips for getting that Shakespearean dialogue down?

A: I’m one of those people who learns best by hearing, so, and this is what I do for all my lines, Shakespeare or otherwise. I record them, me and a friend will go through all my scenes, on book, and I just listen to it.

 

Q: I don’t know about you, but my introduction to Twelfth Night was reading it in 8th grade English class. How were you introduced to the play, and what do you have to say about it for people who may have forgotten about it if they’re like me and read it that long ago?

A: Oh golly. I don’t know, when I was in high school, so, nobody read any Shakespeare in junior high, and you only read three Shakespeare plays in high school; in sophomore year you read Romeo & Juliet; in junior year you read Julius Caesar; and depending on your teacher, in senior year you read Hamlet or Macbeth. But when I read Romeo and Juliet, for me, that was game changing. I was so into it the second I read it, I loved the language, I loved the characters, I loved the story, I loved the wordplay, I loved how different their personalities and how different they were. Did you know that the first lines Romeo and Juliet speak to each other make a sonnet? Just, everything about it was amazing. And after that, I took it on myself to do as much Shakespeare as possible. When I graduated, the one thing I wanted was this big, thick, illustrated Shakespeare, and I spent my undergrad years working through it. I’m sure at some point there I read it for the first time. It’s one of my top three favorite Shakespeare plays because I love his plays where girls have to go incognito as boys. I find that to be the funniest thing in the world; like, I love As You Like It, which is very similar. There’s something really really hilarious about a man playing a woman playing a man.

 

Q: How have you been approaching Viola? She falls victim to this awful shipwreck at the start of the story that separates her from her twin brother, and you don’t know if he’s dead or alive, but then in the blink of an eye, she’s in this whacky love triangle. How do you play that?

A: Well, one of the things I’ve kinda been looking at with her is, gender in general is such a huge theme in this play. Something that really struck me is that both of the twins, Viola and Sebastian, think the other is dead and have to make their own way. Sebastian almost reacts “like a woman” and finds a rich guy to take care of him and help him out. He teams up with Antonio and let’s him be his sugar daddy. And Viola approaches it from a much more “masculine” perspective: “I gotta find a job, I gotta find out what I’m doing with my life, I gotta figure this out.” And even when she catches feelings for Orsino and finds herself tangled in this triangle, she never gets caught up by it. She’s very laid-back, she’s like “I’m gonna let this play out. No use figuring it out, I can’t begin to, so I’m gonna see what happens.” And that’s very cool because it’s opposite from me, I’m a very emotionally-reactive person, and she’s just like, “let’s see what happens.” And even though she’s embroiled in this insane situation, she reacts with a measured “I’m gonna do my best and see how this works out.” There’s probably a good lesson in there for people like me. Beech Hill, what would Viola do? Be more chill?

 

Q: Speaking of Sebastian, how’s your relationship with his actor been? Is it like family?

A: What’s funny is at our first read-through, I found out Jason stage managed a Shakespeare production at Clemson that had one of my students in it. Patrick Burnett, a former student of mine, was in that show, and they knew each other, so it was nice to feel that connection with him from the start. And then we went and got our hair cut together, so it’d match, since we’re supposed to be twins, but it’s sad because we don’t have many rehearsals together. We only meet at the end of the play. He’s in these scenes with Sir Toby and Antonio and his crew, and I’m in these scenes with Olivia and Orsino and their crew, and we just never get to hang out.

 

Q: Viola is the animating force of the play’s action. Is there any pressure that comes from basically being the catalyst to the show?

A: If I think about it, yes. But I don’t try to think about it that way, I try to think about it like, everybody in the play contributes something to the overall enjoyment of the story, the humor of the situation, every character is important and contributes something. And I think a lot of times, I’m less a catalyst and more a foundation. Even though a lot of the drama revolves around my presence in this place, she’s not a character that acts a lot, acts out a lot, to move the plot forward. I don’t make a move on Orsino, I don’t really do anything to Olivia except be like “I’m trying to redirect you to Orsino!” I don’t try to change things up, Toby tries to, Malvolio tries to, Orsino and Olivia try to, they’re all driving characters whose choices move the play forward, and Viola’s like “I’m gonna see what happens and stay out of trouble!”

 

Q: How would you summarize the show from your character’s perspective?

A: Worst shipwreck ever, but, best shipwreck ever. *laughs* I don’t know! Um...it’s kind of a coming of age story for Viola, just for her. She’s, whether she was ready or not, she was dumped out of the nest and told “you gotta figure this shit out!” so she does her best to rise to the occasion and keep smiling and keep her head above water and keep moving forward. She’s a good little bean, that sweet Viola.

 

Q: What do you personally take away from this part and this show?

A: There’s so much. Probably, to revisit something we talked about earlier, the idea of just, take a breath, take a minute, take a step back, and wait and see what happens. Don’t make any decisions too quickly or too rashly. Take a minute, take a breath, and the outcome will be more productive and healthier, if you can do that. Also, gender is a social construct.

 

Q: Last question: give me your best pitch as to why anybody who’s on the fence should see Twelfth Night.

A: Because it has everything that any comedy could possibly want! It’s got characters you love to love, characters you love to hate, characters that are utterly ridiculous, there’s not a single moment of boredom in this show because it doesn’t matter which of the character’s storylines you’re following, interesting things are going down, and the actors are entertaining and engaging with their characters. It’s really nice to be part of such a talented cast, and I don’t know if the actors are really really good, of it it’s Allison being really good at putting the right people in the right roles, but it’s just delightful. Everyone is exactly where they should be for this play.

 

 Twelfth Night runs July 19th through July 22nd. Tickets are on sale now. Buy Now or call 843-875-9251 for tickets.

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