The Human Race Theatre Co.
What is love? ’tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.
Seize the day. Enjoy the moment. Youth won’t last. Carpe Diem.
Aaron Vega has a vision. Take the bard’s classic comedy, Twelfth Night (orginally set in ancient Illyria) and plop it into an American / Jazz Age / F. Scott Fitzgeraldean setting. Cool.
You gotta be creative and have some guts to do something like that, no? Well Vega is and does! At 28, Aaron Vega (recognizable to most WSU & Loft Theatre audiences from his appearances on-stage) now holds the record as the youngest director of a production in The Human Race Theatre Company’s history.
The show, one of Shakespeare’s classic comedies, was written in 1601. It earns it’s name from the 12th night after Christmas Day, referred to as the Eve of the Feast of the Epiphany in the Catholic faith. In Shakespeare’s time, however, this 12th night had become quite the uproarious occasion, and the Bard felt compelled to contribute an evening’s entertainment to the frivolity. What better contribution to the revelry than a plot featuring shipwrecks, misguided romance, mistaken identity, merry pranksters, and, (of course) cross-dressing.
“if music be the food of love, play on.”
Don’t expect to hear lutes or panpipes accompanying this production, instead a wide range of music from the 1920’s, from Gershwin to Fats Waller. Additional music has been composed by WSU grad Christian Duhamel, who also appears on stage as Feste, the clown.
onStageDayton questioned Vega about his unique vision for the production & his first experience directing in the Loft.
onStageDayton: What was your goal in setting this production in 1920’s Jazz-Age America instead of the original Ancient Illyria?
Aaron Vega: Playing it in the ‘20s will help tell the story to a modern audience. The poetry of Shakespeare can be a hurdle for some audience members who aren’t used to it, so placing the story into a time-period that we all have at least a vague visual knowledge that helps people relax and enjoy the beautiful story. That being said, most people that have never seen or heard Shakespeare except in a high school English class, will find themselves pleasantly suprised at how much they will understand the poetry of the language.
OSD: By moving the plot into a more modern setting, what kinds of problems did this present to you and your actors? What creative freedom did it provide?
AV: The question I asked was, “does this help or hinder the story?” We’ve all heard about Shakespeare shows that have been placed in settings that don’t make any sense. HAMLET set in space springs to mind as an example. It was a fairly logical step to set it in the ’20’s because of all the rich history in this country at the time. Women’s suffrage, prohabition, jazz, etc. I knew we were onto something when the actors started coming to me with ideas about their characters based on the period AND supported by the text. It helped us go further and deeper with a play that can sometimes be played just for laughs.
OSD: Do you think that your choice to change the time and place of Twelfth Night might make the show more appealing to an audience that might normally not choose to attend a Shakespearian production?
AV: Yes. Yes. Yes. But again, give the play 8 minutes and then you’ll really be shocked at how much ANYONE can enjoy the language. The story is so accessible and there are so many characters, that everyone watching will be able to connect to at least one of the characters on stage. The actors and I have worked very hard to make sure that the play remains human. All of the relationships, character’s intentions or plots-even clowning-say human. It’s really been quite lovely to watch. The setting only amplifies that. It’s easier for me, as an audience member, to feel connected to a character if they’re dressed at least a bit like me. The second you put someone in poofy pants, and poofy shirts, even I get turned off.
OSD: This is your first directing gig with The Human Race and you are the youngest director in the history of the company–What has this experience been like for you? Following in the footsteps of great local directors such as Kevin Moore, Scott Stoney and Marsha Hanna, did you ever find yourself questioning your creative decisions throughout the process?
AV: It’s been a joy and an honor. I’ve questioned a few decisions early on but I had Marsha Hanna and Kevin asking the tough questions and making sure that I was as specific as I needed to be. They’ve been incredibly gracious and supportive. The other side of the story is that there is a larger staff at The Human Race Theatre Company, in their office and scene shop (where they build all of their beautiful sets), who have also been tremendously supportive. It’s nice to know that there are theatre companies in this country who are still dedicated to local audiences and telling a beautiful stories on the stage. My wife and I live in New York City and the amount of work has been getting smaller and smaller due to the economy and theaters closing their doors. The fact that a professional theatre company with such a good national reputation is still willing to produce the classics AND call Dayton, Ohio it’s home is truly inspiring. That is all because of people like the staff at the Human Race and specifically their leadership in Kevin Moore and the late Marsha Hanna.
OSD: Now that the show is about to open, what excites (or terrifies) you most about preparing for audiences to see this new version of classic Shakespeare?
AV: The actor’s dedication to the humanity of the characters is what keeps inspiring me. My dream is that people in the Miami Valley will choose live theatre as an entertainment option in a world that is becoming increasingly more disconnected. The Human Race Theatre Company at The Loft Theatre is Dayton’s opportunity to directly engage in their community and have a collective experience with other people from the area. It’s also fairly inexpensive and a wonderful way to enjoy their day. They’ll remember the play for the rest of their lives. Can any of us say that about the last TV show we watched?
Twelfth Night is the fourth production of the 2010-2011 Eichelberger Loft Season of The Human Race. It will be the first Human Race production in more than 20 years without Artistic Director Marsha Hanna, who died January 3 of complications from esophageal cancer.
The cast of Twelfth Night is a result of local and national auditioning, including many members with local ties. It includes two Human Race Resident Artists, Tim Lile as Sir Toby Belch and Scott Stoney as Malvolio. Vega’s wife, Claire Kennedy (Lend Me a Tenor, A Christmas Carol), plays Viola, whose disguise as a man sets off the play’s events. Another WSU alum, Sara Mackie (Green Gables) plays Olivia.
Yellow Springs native Kevin Malarkey, a UC College-Conservatory of Music senior, is Valentine. Matthew Moore of Cedarville plays the Captain and Antonio. David Dortch, a veteran of Blue Jacket, plays Orsino.
Jennifer Johansen of Indianapolis (A Christmas Carol, Romeo and Juliet) is Maria. Josh Stamoolis, longtime Cincinnati Shakespeare resident performer, is Sir Andrew Aguecheek. And Justin Flagg, from the Royal Scottish Academy via New York, is Sebastian.
Behind the scenes, Dick Block designed the set, Lowell A. Mathwich the costumes, Rich Dionne the sound, Resident Artist John Rensel the lighting. Heather Jackson is the production stage manager, Scott Kimmins the Technical Director, with Heather Powell on props, Andrew Ian Adams on wardrobe and Nathan Dean on sound.
Photos by Scott J. Kimmins
-SA/Human Race Theatre Co. Press ReleaseWe encourage local theatre companies to submit calendar items HERE, and official press releases to onStageDayton@gmail.com.
Tickets & Performance Information:
TWELFTH NIGHT (January 28 – February 13 at The Loft Theatre, various performance times).
More information and tickets are available through www.humanracetheatre.org, by calling Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or toll free (888) 228-3630. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Schuster Center box office, or at the box office at The Loft two hours before curtain.