In 1954, theatrical producer and director (and founder of the Public Theater!) Joseph Papp founded the New York Shakespeare Festival, which was initially conceived as a way of making the Bard's work more accessible to the public. Thus, Shakespeare in the Park was born. It started as a series of workshops for actors and directors to play around with the beautiful words on the lawn by Turtle Pond in Central Park—that is, until a battle with a parks commissioner led Papp and company to build the Delacorte Theater in the same location.
All over the country Shakespeare in the Park(s) started springing up—and, in that spirit, Portland's Northwest Classical Theater Company going nomadic, taking Twelfth Night to parks and vineyards across the northwest. This weekend, they are bringing it to Bend for a two-day engagement, followed by a third in Sunriver.
Twelfth Night is, of course, the story of shipwrecked twins Viola and Sebastian, who are separated—both believing the other is dead—and the crazy comedy of errors (so to speak) before they are reunited. Viola pretends to be a boy, Sebastian kinda/sorta gets hitched and a dandy fop named Malvolio gets his feelings hurt. The show is one of Shakespeare's goofiest and one of his easiest to stage in an outdoor setting since quite a bit of the comedy is physical instead of exclusively based in word play. Twelfth Night is kind-of the B-Side to As You Like It.
Bendite Cassie Conant plays Viola, one of Shakespeare's first truly feminist characters (well, as feminist as one could be in the 17th century).
"Viola finds herself alone and grieving in a strange land," says Conant about her character. "She lost her father some time ago and begins the play believing she has lost her brother. In order to maintain personal safety and gain employment Viola becomes a man. What she doesn't really expect was the freedom that would come with that role, especially in the time this play was written. Not only does she now have freedom of speech with men, she also becomes a bridge between men and women."
Conant has been acting for most of her life. Her first performance was in Little Women at age nine after which she started working with Bend Experimental Art Theater, leading her to performing in A Christmas Carol annually for three years at the Tower Theatre. Twelfth Night is her first paid professional gig.
"Twelfth Night is one of my favorite of the comedies," she says. "Mainly because of the slightly ludicrous set-up. I think one of the things we hope to deal with in our rendition is the issue of identity. I think when the show begins, everyone in our fictional kingdom has kind of lost their identity. And, through assuming an ironically false identity, Viola simultaneously discovers a new part of herself and helps the other characters find themselves again. I think Bendites will really enjoy it."
Aug. 22-23, Drake Park
Aug. 24, SHARC Amphitheater in Sunriver
$22-$75. Tickets available at bendticket.com