Tomorrow and Sunday afternoons at 3:30 p.m., Masque & Gown will replace theater seating with lawn chairs and stage lights for sunshine as it performs Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” on the art museum steps.
Until the 1980s, Bowdoin students performed a Shakespeare classic on the museum steps each spring. This year, Masque & Gown decided to revive this tradition and marry it with one of its own. Director of the play and Junior Representative for Masque & Gown Francesca Kusserow ’24 explained that she wanted to bring back this beloved tradition with one of her favorite comedies.
“It translates into a modern comedy, and I think it’s the most funny to modern audiences even with old conventions from the Shakespearean days,” Kusserow said. “‘Twelfth Night’ is timeless.”
Given the lasting popularity of the piece, Kusserow wanted to maintain the integrity of the play in its performance rather than creating a modern rendition.
“I just wanted to make something that was truly Shakespearean. I’m a little off with the costumes, but hopefully [Shakespeare] won’t notice too much,” Kusserow said.
In many ways, performing Shakespeare outside without microphones showcases the play as it would have been performed at London’s Globe Theater during Shakespeare’s time.
“It’s open air, and people are all around, so you have to be loud enough to reach them,” lead actor Eleanor Beyreis ’25, who plays Viola, said. “There’s so much insanity going on in ‘Twelfth Night’ that it can take [up] that big of a space, and it can fill it up to reach all those people.”
Kusserow emphasized that performing outside forces the actors to reimagine their blocking and interact with Bowdoin’s environment in ways that a main stage production does not offer.
“It’s not like you can just create a set and that’s what it is. You have to interact with something within the bones of campus, which I think is a really cool way to use the space in an interesting way. You’re performing in a space that is old, beautiful and intricate,” Kusserow said.
In addition to the challenge of applying their indoor blocking to the outdoor stage, the performers also had to analyze the language to deliver their lines to a modern audience. Actor Tom Wilson ’26, who plays Sebastian, took “Shakespeare’s Afterlives” with Professor Aaron Kitch, where he read “Twelfth Night” and considered how the language could be presented in a stage production. Wilson noted that conveying the story to those who may not be familiar with the play or Shakespearean language was a challenge that the performers initially faced.
The cast has formed a supportive environment to foster their individual and collective growth as performers. As a show composed of all first-year and sophomore students, the play has introduced many to the Masque & Gown community for the first time.
“One of my favorite things about Masque & Gown is that it’s such a collaborative process,” Beyreis said. “There’s a lot of opportunity for you as an actor to have a lot of creative license and make suggestions that really make the play your own.”
At its core, “Twelfth Night” is a romance with many converging subplots and evolving character dynamics that blend together to create the comedy of the show.
“I think at the end of the day, all of the characters in ‘Twelfth Night’ are looking for some kind of true relationship, whether that’s a friendship, a relationship between a master and a right-hand man or love. And I think they find that in different ways, but it’s sort of only at the end when the disguises come off that you see true love was really there,” Beyreis said.
The cast hopes that the audience will embrace the chaos and comedy of the show, even if they are unfamiliar with Shakespeare and that the public production will engage members of the community that are less familiar with Masque & Gown.
“I hope people aren’t afraid to laugh at things. It’s meant to be a comedy, and as actors, we want to draw the audience in and have them be a part of that with the laughter in their reactions. So please, yell at us. Laugh. Do whatever. We love it,” Beyreis said.