Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012

The Acadiana Center for the Arts’ resident theater company finally comes home to play.
By Anna Purdy   •   Photos by Travis Gauthier

LivingIND1“O, had I but followed the arts!” says  Sir Andrew Aguecheek in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. This new year begins with Acting Up! (in Acadiana) performing the play in the Acadiana Center for the Arts’ James D. Moncus Theater in the second installment of Acting Up!’s “A Year of Shakespeare.”

This past Thanksgiving weekend Acting Up! hosted the first installment of its “Year in Shakespeare” with Bard Yard Bash at Blue Moon Saloon. Singer-songwriters and bands performed songs by Shakespeare with Feufollet’s Chris Stafford recording the night. After Twelfth Night, the next segment of this Bard year comes in March when guest director Justin Zsebe brings the family friendly L’Enfants Terribles production to the AcA as part of the Youth Performance Series.

Acting Up! has been acting up for about a dozen years, during most of which it’s been headquartered at the AcA. The actors performed upstairs in a small room, with no stage and moveable, schoolhouse chairs. Several performances a year were done there and many acting classes were taught.

Now Acting Up! has moved to what is arguably the most advanced, tech-savvy performance space in Lafayette. The Moncus Theater boasts 300 seats, studio quality sound and professional theater accoutrements. It was designed to be functional on many levels and for many disciplines and intended to be a home for theater as well as live music.

Since 2005 Acing Up! has functioned as the AcA’s de facto resident theater company, but it only recently signed a contract to officially become the arts center’s resident company. Twelfth Night is Acting Up!’s first performance in the new space, which has been open for more than a year.

Acting Up’s version of Twelfth Night is set — necessarily — with a Mardi Gras theme. “The first time I read the play I was an undergraduate in Maine,” says company founder Amy Waguespack. “Being from South Louisiana, my initial instinct with the title was, ‘Oh, Mardi Gras’ — Twelfth Night marking the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of the Mardi Gras season. Then the themes and the characters also reflect those of Mardi Gras: overindulgence, masking and mistaken identity, all-night revelry, lack of judgment due to overindulgence, etc.” Theatergoers can look for visuals and themes that immediately trigger a familiarity with the play, even if they have never seen it before.

The cast is filled out by several longtime Acting Up! company members. “Hannah Briggs is hysterical as Olivia as is Ricky Briggs as Malvolio,” says Waguespack. “As well as I know this play, the cast still regularly gives me the giggles in rehearsal,” Waguespack says. Lian Cheramie is Maria, Kelly Clayton  Antonio/a, Brian Crutchfield Sebastian, David Guarisco Fabian, Kara St. Clair Feste, Breanne Hernandez Viola, Colin Miller Duke Orsino, George Saucier Sir Toby Belch, and Cissy Whipp is Sir Andew Aguecheek. Several junior company members play minor roles.”

Shakespeare was the original madcap storyteller. Much like Marx Brothers movies, the Bard’s plots revolve around misunderstandings and mistaken identities, masquerades and trickery. Twelfth Night is no different. It begins with a young Viola shipwrecked on an island called Illyria. She believes her twin brother, Sebastian, is dead. In order get around that whole “I have a vagina so I can’t do anything” myth so popular at the time, Viola poses as a man named Cesario and gets a job as a page for Duke Orsino. Orsino is in love with the bereaved Lady Olivia, who is busy mourning her father and brothers and wants nothing to do with any man. Orsino decides to use the seemingly ineffectual Cesario to woo Olivia and act as a go-between. Olivia then falls for Cesario, who is really Viola, who is now secretly in love with her boss, the duke.

LivingIND2
                                  Cissy Whipp, George Saucier and Lian Cheramie

Meanwhile, the comedic subplot revolves around head steward Malvolio, an idiot squire named Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch, Lady Olivia’s servants Maria and Fabian and her father’s favorite fool, Feste. These characters are like the Harpo and Chico Marx of the whole mess.

In the final act Sebastian appears and runs into Olivia who asks him to marry her, believing Sebastian to be Cesario. So Sebastian, who apparently is used to meeting and marrying people the same day, does so. When Sebastian and his new wife appear together in front of Cesario and Orsino, the resemblance is so striking between the twins that Viola takes off her disguise and reveals her true self. The Duke and Viola get engaged.

Remember, too, that when this play was originally performed only men were allowed to be actors, as it was a profession for the common, bawdy folk. So a man played Viola who pretended to be a man.

“This is probably my favorite Shakespeare play,” says cast member Cheramie, who also teaches theater to students in the Lafayette Parish School System’s talented program. “That alone makes me excited about performing it. Another reason I am enjoying this process is that this is Acting Up!’s first Shakespeare with the adult company since 2005. Teaching it every summer [Summer Youth Shakespeare Ensemble], as well as the training I have been doing, through Second City in Chicago and Pig Iron in Philadelphia, has made me hungry to do a Shakespeare. This has been a quick process but has been so fun and exciting that I hope the audience will experience the same.”
 
Catch Acting Up! (in Acadiana)’s Twelfth Night at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 5, 6, and 7 with a 2 p.m. matinee on Jan. 7, as well. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors with special pricing for AcA members. Get tickets through AcA’s box office by calling 233-7060 during normal business hours or go to www.acadianacenterforthearts.org.

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