"Be Not Afraid of Greatness…"

Post-grad theater student Amanda Lee assumes nigh every duty as she stages a production of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night'' with an all-female cast of friends.

Such a lonely grind it is, writing a dissertation, spending all those late nights tunneling through library stacks in stalwart, scholarly solitude.

Then again, you could just get all your friends together and put on a show.

Such is the post-grad strategy of Amanda Lee, a University of Central Florida Master of Fine Arts in Acting candidate who has masterminded a production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night as the basis for her thesis.

The play, which will be presented by an all-female cast, is a 17th century screwball comedy about shipwrecked twins who are separated and then reunited in a topsy-turvy blur of cross-dressing, mistaken identity, and lovesick wackos. It will be staged at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center in Loch Haven Park at 7 p.m. March 16, 17 and 18.  The playbill should be an interesting read, given that Lee, who will appear in a lead role of Viola, is also the producer, costume designer, set designer, executive producer and overall wrangler of the 12 other actors in the cast, all of them fellow UCF theater majors who volunteered their help. 

And don’t think for one minute, by the way, that after going through all that, she’s actually getting out of that scholarly-solitude business: In the end, she gets to hit the stacks and write her thesis about the production.

But that’s how she planned it.

The entire enterprise is her way of creating and then examining a Shakespearean production in an age of gender fluidity and shifting perceptions of traditional male-female roles and identity. Casting herself as Viola – a girl who masquerades as a boy to protect herself after being washed ashore on a strange land – is Lee’s way of giving herself a unique perspective of a provocative and au courant subject.

“There’s been a big shift in how Shakespeare is presented in the U.S. in the last 15 years – a lot more cross-gender casting,” she says. “There have been all-female productions of Julius Caesar, of Romeo and Juliet. It’s a way of exploring gender as a social construct.” (In Shakespeare’s day, there were no women actors, so teenage boys whose voices had yet to change were cast in female roles. Sarah Bernhardt created a sensation when, in 1899, she turned the tables by performing the title role of Hamlet.)

Setting aside the gender-bender angle, Lee’s DIY staging effort might also serve as fodder for any scholars inclined to study how necessity can be the mother of invention. Collaboration between the Orlando Shakespeare Theater and the UCF Theater Department is the norm, but this year, when state funding of the arts were severely cut back, the Shakes had to cut back the number of plays it presented. That’s the main reason Lee decided to take on the enterprise herself, leaning on friends and borrowing costumes –  it’s going to be presented in ‘70s garb – from Lake Howell High School’s theater department.

Tickets are $10. Check out www.mandilee.net for reservations. By now you can probably guess who’s running the box office.


Categories: Arts Beat