This month, Shakespeare BASH’d brings an all-star cast into the Roaring Twenties with Twelfth Night. The play boasts an all-star cast that features some of the city’s best young Shakespeareans. To find out more about this production and their preparation for their respective roles, Daniel Briere (Sir Toby Belch), alongside Jesse Nerenberg (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) answered a few questions.
HM: You are well versed in Shakespearean roles. How are you preparing for the role of Sir Toby Belch in this production of Twelfth Night set in 1920s Paris?
Daniel B: I always start with reading the play out loud to myself, for clarity and language. The last few productions of Shakespeare I’ve done have been mostly in verse, and Sir Toby speaks all in prose. There’s a different rhythm to that, in thought and breath. I usually read some critique, to get an idea of what other people have thought about the character and play, context to Shakespeare’s other work. Music helps get into the 1920s: Django Reinhardt, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker. I ask for approximate costume pieces as early in rehearsal as possible, things like hats, suspenders, shoes. So much of character comes from what they wear, and that all comes from the period, the design.
HM: Sir Toby keeps Sir Andrew Aguecheek as a ‘friend’ because he is fun and has money. Can you describe how you and Jesse Nerenberg work together to bring these characters to life?
DB: We started really early onto our feet, because everyone was pretty well on the same page with the language and clarity. There’s no way, for example, to figure out the letter scene with Malvolio until you start figuring out how it works in the space, how we hide from him. And Jesse is a skilled physical comedian with that stuff. He makes big choices and has great instincts. Which will be very important when we start playing for audiences on January 31st, because they’ll change the comedy again, tell us what works and what is funny. And we’ll work together to keep finding things, trying to make it better, playing.
HM: As a comedic yet punny character, how do you describe your own sense of humour to that of Sir Toby’s?
DB: Sir Toby’s sense of humour is like that certain point of drunk where he feels like he always has the perfect thing to say. And so he toys with language, playing with multiple meanings of words, even makes some up. I get to that point into about two glasses of scotch. For about fifteen minutes before I stop being articulate at all. But I love puns all the time, too. Word play is so important, obviously to Shakespeare as well, and I don’t know if our culture values it in the same way any more, even compared to 1920s Paris. People say that puns are the lowest form of comedy, but does that mean then that they’re the foundation of comedy?
HM: The performance will take place at Toronto’s Monarch Tavern. If Sir Toby is ordered a drink at the Monarch, what would he order?
DB: Sir Toby would order a whole bottle of red wine and drink it to himself. Anything French.
HM: Given your experience with Shakespeare BASH’d, how are you preparing for your role as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in this production?
Jesse N: Mostly I’ve been just trying to have as much fun as possible in rehearsal, trying as many different things as possible. Some ideas stick, some get tossed aside. Hopefully by opening there will be a good shape to the whole piece that we will all be able to play within. Great comedy has to be both precise and spontaneous (at least I think so).
HM: Sir Andrew is often described as gullible and as such, Sir Toby is quite friendly with Sir Andrew. Could you tell us how you and Daniel Briere have developed these characters for this production?
JN: Working with Danny is a lot of fun because he’s always willing to dive in head first and (often literally) fall on his butt in the process. And go for a beer afterwards (we can lie to ourselves and call this research, I suppose).
HM: If Sir Andrew ordered a drink at the Monarch, what would he order? What would you order?
JN: Sir Andrew would order some wine, and end up paying the tab for the whole bar. I’d probably order a bourbon on the rocks.
HM: Is there a character (either in Shakespeare or elsewhere) that you’d love to portray, and if so, why?
JN: There are definitely several. I tend to like characters that have certain level of ambiguity to them, whether it’s a moral ambiguity or some other type of secret. I can pull off playing the jerk with a heart of gold, or the nice guy who’s hiding a knife behind his back.
With a cast that includes Daniel and Jesse and several other talented actors, Artistic Director James Wallis has re-imagined this comedy inspired by Parisian style and culture in the 1920s, and set to original music by composer Franziska Beeler. Jazz, dancing, poetry, and speakeasies make the perfect backdrop for the re-invention of this classic story.
Twelfth Night, presented by Shakespeare BASH’d, is packed with some of the city’s best young talent, as well as brimming with the spirit, passion, and music of the 1920s. We won’t want to miss this new staging of Shakespeare’s classic comedy. The show runs January 31-February 5 at the Monarch Tavern. For tickets and more information, visit shakespearebashd.com.