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Elle Fisher, left, James Kay, second from left, Diego Kjelland, third from left and Tessa Huston, right, rehearse the opening scene of "Twelfth Night."

Students and actors practice their lines for the School of Theatre and Dance’s production of “The Twelfth Night” on the stage of the Globe, the famous set where William Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed. Except this “Globe” wasn’t built at the end of the 16th century on the banks of the Thames. It is a replica built three years ago by Alessia Carpoca for the production of ‘As You Like It,’ and sits inside the circular, black-walled room of the Masquer theater in UM’s PAR/TV building. 

“We get to engage in the material the exact way they would have,” Assistant Director Shane Lutz said. He says the students are particularly excited to be in a Shakespeare production since the University of Montana only produces one every two years. 

Jalynn Nelson is a senior studying acting who commands the wooden stage as she rehearses Olivia’s lines. The Illyrian lady with suitors to spare poses an interesting challenge according to Nelson, who tries to find humanity in a woman whose goal is to control her surroundings. 

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University of Montana theater student Diego Kjelland (Curio), watches his fellow actors during rehearsal for William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." Kjelland, a junior, starred in "White Christmas" in 2018.

When Nelson marches off the stage, the cast of the play runs out from behind the massive structure and begins waving blue silk sheets around the base of the stage to represent waves. Other actors remove and place props on the set. There’s no crew to do it for them. They’ll be arranging and conducting the scenes during performances in full costume. 

There’s a space for the cast to sit with the audience on the left side of the stage as they wait for their scenes. People seated on either side of the structure will be able to see the actors making partial costume changes backstage before they go on. Lutz refers to the behind-the-scenes movement happening in full view of the audience as “meta theatricality.” 

Mark Plonsky is a visiting assistant director of theater, who composed some of the music for the play and arranged the rest. He described the sound of the play as circus jazz cabaret: exotic but simple, just like the play. The story is chaotic, featuring drunkards pranking each other and a cross-dressed love triangle. The protagonist, Viola, is played by Kady Nordstrom, a senior studying acting. 

“When we meet her, she has been long orphaned,” Nordstrom said. “She has to do everything she can to fit in.” 

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University of Montana senior James Kay (Duke Orsino) peels a pear during rehearsal.

Viola fits in by dressing up as a man named Cesario after a shipwreck leaves her washed up on the shore of Illyria. She falls in love with Duke Orsino, who is already in love with Olivia, who promptly falls in love with Cesario. Nordstrom admires Viola’s wit and optimism in the face of chaos. And she hopes the audience will find her version of Viola as relatable as the rest of the play is. 

“What college student hasn’t gone through a love triangle?” Nordstrom said. 

Ben Park, a second year in the masters program, plays Sir Toby, Olivia’s uncle and, by Park’s description, a drunken rogue who is part of almost every joke in the play. The cast described Shakespeare as having a lot of audience interaction; wherein the characters often break the fourth wall and speak directly to them. Parks says his character does this the most and he enjoys making the audience part of the play. 

“This story may be 500 years old, but almost anyone can relate to it,” Park said. “Comedy hasn’t changed. It’s never really going to change. The audience can be part of a history of audiences.”

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Randi Nelson (Fabian) reads aloud from a letter during a scene from Act Four. Nelson's character is a prankster character and a servant.

Not everyone on the cast of “The Twelfth Night” has performed Shakespeare before. But they all bring excitement and a great deal of talent, according to Parks. Those who haven’t done something like this before learn as they go.  

“It’s chaotic in the best of ways,” Nelson said.

 ‘Twelfth Night’ opens in the Masquer Theater, Wednesday, Nov 13 at 7:30 pm and runs through Dec 1. Visit the griztix.com for specific dates and times and to buy tickets.