Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
For Carolyn Jerz, who plays Viola in Prime Stage Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the Bard runs in her blood.
“My dad is an English professor at Seton Hill University and he teaches a Shakespeare class,” she says. “So from a very young age he would just tell me whatever his students were learning in their college classes and read me Shakespeare plays and take me to see [it] done in the area.”
Like Viola, Jerz is driven and full of wit: The 17-year-old is a three-time winner of the Pittsburgh Public Theatre Shakespeare Monologue and Scene Contest, and takes college classes. She says she relates to Viola’s persistence when finding love and devising plans.
“It’s still like I’m being me, but just in a Shakespeare play,” she says.
Twelfth Night runs from May 3-12. Deceit and romance combine in this Shakespearean comedy, which centers around the residents of the island of Illyria missing connections and finding love.
According to Wayne Brinda, Prime Stage Theatre’s co-founder and artistic producing director, Jerz’s casting reflects Prime Stage’s mission of engaging young audiences in theatre and literature.
“They’re seeing someone who is their age. They can relate to her, they can connect with her, but hopefully they’ll be inspired by her as well,” he says. “I think that can do a lot for young people.”
Andy Kirtland, the show’s director, says her performance shows that Shakespearean literature is not as unreachable as it seems.
“It’s something that’s attainable and doable and that it’s not this far away, saying that they would never be able to do themselves,” he says.
Kirtland’s experience in Shakespeare is grounded in what he calls “historically informed practices”, which means being faithful to the time period it was written in. For Twelfth Night, this entails leaving the house lights on during the show.
“It’s an experience where you are aware of everybody around you. The actors are aware of the audience. It’s not the separation in the storytelling. You’re very much a part of the story that is happening,” he says.
According to Kirtland, Twelfth Night has “more music than any other play that Shakespeare does.” Fado, a genre that originated in Portugal in the 1820s, provides the soundtrack for the show, composed by Monica Stephenson and Gil Teixeira.
“The first line to the play is ‘If music be the food of love, play on,’ and fado music kind of taps into these sentiments of nostalgia and longing and melancholy that a lot of these characters experience and it’s a very interesting way to kind of get their experience being supported by the music that’s played,” he says.
Along with directorial choices, a sensory friendly performance on May 10 and an audio description performance and ASL-interpreted performance on May 11, immerses truly everyone in the Bard’s classic comedy, according to Brinda.
“The people are going to come and have a good time with Shakespeare,” he says.