Upon hearing the name “William Shakespeare,” many people think of tragedies. Tales that are always brutal and bloody, brimming with betrayal. Stories of deception, disaster, and inevitable disappointment. While there is a time and place for such melancholia, it does not completely define The Bard. His comedies are equally impressive, balancing farce with quick-witted wordplay. One such example is Twelfth Night, or What You Will, which is Cincy Shakes’ summer 2022 free Shakespeare in the Park touring production.
Created in 2007, FREE Shakespeare in the Park makes professional theater accessible to thousands of people. Powered by donations, the program allows the arts to flourish in unlikely places.
“This year welcomes a new era of FREE Shakespeare in the Park by upping the production value, bringing the heart of a mainstage production to communities,” says Jeanna Vella, Director of Marketing and Data Analytics for CSC. “At no cost, audiences get an authentic experience of how Shakespeare’s work was first performed in open-air theaters in Southampton.”
The Twelfth Night tour kicks off July 15 at Eden Park and is scheduled for 40 performances at parks in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana before concluding on September 4. Sign language interpreted performances and audio described performances are offered on select dates.
Twelfth Night is the story of Viola, a young woman who finds herself shipwrecked and separated from her twin brother Sebastian. Alone in a strange place, she adopts a male persona as a means of self-preservation, going by the name “Cesario.” While serving Duke Orsino, a prominent aristocrat, Viola develops feelings for him; however, Orsino pines after the Countess Olivia, who in turn desires Cesario. Rife with misunderstanding, the play explores love’s universal effects on humanity.
“Twelfth Night celebrates love in all forms— friendship, family, and romance,” Vella says. “Adapted with a modern touch, the production’s set and costumes feature a nautical theme, perfect for a summertime romance on the coast of Illyria.”
Despite being 400 years old, Twelfth Night is undoubtedly relevant. The character of Cesario is as real as any other, stirring up theme ideas such as gender performativity and sexual fluidity. Viola is a plucky heroine, displaying cleverness and competence in extraordinary circumstances. In other words, moments of introspection are skillfully dispersed throughout the play’s obvious hilarity. “There’s a little bit of everything for everyone, from romance to comedy and fun-filled fight scenes to musical numbers,” Vella says.
Twelfth Night, or What You Will is not an epic tragedy, but that doesn’t mean it lacks substance. As the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company will show, it produces a lighthearted catharsis, no less valuable than that of Hamlet or Macbeth. Fortunately, you have the chance to experience it for free.
“For 15 years, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s FREE Shakespeare in the Park has been the only professional outdoor theater opportunity in the Cincinnati region during the summer, and one of the nation’s largest summer Shakespeare offerings, both in the geographic area covered and in audiences served,” says Vella. “The park tour is an annual tradition and the heart of CSC’s mission to bring Shakespeare to life for all.”