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Twelfth Night

Behind the Scenes: Twelfth Night

by Emily Czaplewski, Class of 2021
Photo credit: Greg Kaye

On October 1, 2020, Cardinal Stritch University’s Performing Arts Department embarked on a new chapter in its theater performance history with an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that is suited to the times.

While many live events have had to take a pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, Theater Department Chair Mark Boergers and his dedicated students believe that the arts are still a vital part of our lives, perhaps now more than ever. In a time when the world is collectively grappling with the challenge of letting go of control, Boergers pointed out that theatrical performers have always been among the first line of creative problem solvers. For students and staff alike, Stritch’s rendition of Twelfth Night has revealed new heights of unknown challenges and untapped potential.

Since indoor performances are not currently an option, Stritch presented Twelfth Night promenade-style in Heritage Park on the University’s Fox Point campus. This type of outdoor theater provides a unique experience for both performers and spectators, with the scenes taking place in different locations around the 4,000-square-foot park. The audience was invited to wander throughout the space along with the performers, allowing for more intimate and immersive theater. The restrictions on indoor performances may have been the catalyst that pushed Stritch to explore outdoor theater, but Boergers saw this as an opportunity rather than a compromise.

Promenade-style theater made its debut at Stritch this year, but it is quite popular in other places, including Chicago, where Boergers directed a “Shakespeare in the Park” series for 12 years. Boergers’ wealth of experience in making Shakespeare accessible to audiences – both intellectually and physically – has been a remarkable gift to the Stritch community.

Twelfth Night

Reflecting on his adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous comedy on mistaken identification and love, and his background in promenade-style productions, Boergers said, “The show itself is definitely Shakespeare, but we’re adjusting with the times. It took this situation for us to really explore outdoor theater as a team.”

Among the challenges posed by an outdoor production were the necessity of fully portable props and limited or no microphone usage, a high probability of unforeseen elements like weather and rapidly decreasing daylight hours, and in 2020, COVID-19’s potential to halt production. Besides the more pressing risks, like a full cessation of the production, COVID-19 also affected the design and performance of the show. Boergers shared that the prop team for this show had to limit costume designs to materials that could be washed in hot water each night, and performers learned new ways to project their voices while wearing face coverings and working in a non-acoustic space.

Despite these challenges, Boergers is proud of his students’ commitment to flexibility, safety, and professionalism, and their willingness to embrace appropriate risks for the sake of sharing in this creative experience. When asked what the biggest surprise of this production had been, Boergers replied, “Seeing how thirsty our students were to get back to it.”

With a whirlwind four weeks of rehearsals, one week of dress rehearsals, just four performances, and countless unknowns, some might ask why Stritch even undertook this project.

For Boergers and the cast, the answer has was clear from the beginning. “When we started, our team had to decide that it was worth it to work on this show whether it goes up or not. We had to take a look inside at what it means to do the work as artists, working together and offering this to the world.”

Because of COVID-19, each performance was limited to 16 audience members. The desire to share Twelfth Night with the community was present, but the larger purpose behind the production was a summation of each team member’s own dedication to the arts and passion for the creative process.

Cast member and Stritch student Azucena Reyes said, “All of the things we've learned and discovered throughout this rehearsal process are invaluable. Regardless of how things play out, we have our experiences and memories of the remarkable things we've accomplished together in this short period of time.”

Even until the last performance on Sunday, Oct. 4, nothing remained certain except the commitment of Stritch’s students and staff to embracing the unknown, and the innate human need for connection, beauty, and a creative purpose. Wherever you may find yourself, the cast of Twelfth Night and the Stritch community invite you to join them on this journey of savoring moments of joy and connection through exploring the creative gifts that you alone bring to the world.

For those who could not attend Twelfth Night in person, the Theater Department is planning to release a video of the performance for streaming in the coming weeks, at no cost to viewers. To receive information on the release of this video and join the Performing Arts mailing list, please email boxoffice@stritch.edu.