Even if you don’t know the plot, you’ve definitely heard of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, it has intense undertones of queerness and sexuality, but, as Director Becca Millevoi ‘24 told me, “he ends up tying a straight bow on that queerness.” Millevoi and the other students working on the Muhlenberg Theater Association’s (MTA) production of “Twelfth Night (Or What You Will)” have set out to correct that.
Millevoi is not new to directing. “I assistant directed some shows back home, but I didn’t really think about it as something I wanted to explore as an artist until I came to Muhlenberg.” As a theatre and music double major, she’s been involved with a lot of productions as an actor during her time on campus. “I was in ‘Miss You Like Hell’ sophomore year and ‘Little Prince.’ This past fall I went to the Accademia dell’Arte and that taught me a lot about devising.” This show is the second thing she’s ever directed on campus, the first being a play she also wrote which was performed last semester in the New Play Reading Series (NPRS) festival.
Millevoi was not originally at the head of the project. “I was originally brought on as an assistant director because of my devising experience in Italy,” she told me. But because of creative differences within the team behind the show “…I had to take over. It was difficult.”
“There were some bumps and the cast was not super happy with where things were going, so we revamped things about halfway through the process. Now we’re in a really good place and the cast has really bonded. It’s been really stressful but I’ve learned a lot from this process.”
Part of the difficulty of the process was figuring out what exactly the script would be. This show is not your standard “Twelfth Night.” Millevoi said, “The way Shakespeare wrote ‘Twelfth Night’—there are these allusions to queerness, but… [he] tries to hide it at the end. We make it more obvious. We didn’t alter any text, we just took away parts to make it shorter. Any Shakespearian language is from the original text. We changed the ending to make it reflect the queerness in the story.” The setting of the play, both in terms of time and place is left purposefully vague. My favorite deviation from the original script, however, has to be this: “There’s a big dance number at the end.”
What makes “Twelfth Night” different from the other shows in MTA’s Fall Studios Festival is its devised nature. As Millevoi said, it does not stick to the original script but is truly a creation of everyone involved in the production. “The way I like to do my devising work,” Millevoi said, “is I like to have the cast and the creative team to have a very equal say. We had the cast come together to devise the script. It’s chopped together in the best way possible and I’m very proud of them. I’m lucky enough to work with talented actors who understand what I see. With devising, you take it step by step and it’s been very collaborative.”
But the script isn’t the only electrifying part of the production. When asked what part excited her the most, Millevoi responded, “I’m really excited for the costumes. Every named character falls into their own respective time period, keeping up with the unknown vibe. I’m really excited to see them.”
The MTA production of “Twelfth Night” is emblematic of why we still put on Shakespeare’s works, even though it’s been over 400 years since his last play was written. We are constantly finding new ways to reinvent these stories, and the characters contained within them have resonated with audiences in every interaction of these tales.
Millevoi wants, more than anything else, for the audience to enjoy themselves. “I would like the audience to have fun and see Shakespeare’s writing in a new light, and not take everything at face value.” She encourages them to ask, “How can we have more fun with Shakespeare?” and to discover new things about well-loved material. “I want to give a spotlight to certain identities that haven’t had that before.”
“I hope everyone has a good time. Lean into it and enjoy it. It’s fun and campy.”
The MTA Fall Studios Festival runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3. “Twelfth Night (Or What You Will)” will be performed three times throughout the festival.