Shakespeare in Love is a fantasy based on the inspiration of love, that results in the play Romeo and Juliet
Dr. Paul Hustoles, the Chair of Theatre and Dance Department, is the director of the show. After stumbling across the play adaptation in London, he believed in its potential to be a great play performed by the students at Minnesota State University as well.
Stratford, Canada is the oldest North American location where the oldest Shakespeare festival is hosted and Hustoles attended last year. While he was there, he hoped to glean inspiration for how he should direct Aeneid or the Henry plays, but instead he discovered Shakespeare in Love and he fell in love with it.
At this point, Hustoles has directed 270 shows over the span in his career, including Arsenic and Old Lace. While he hadn’t directed the last Arsenic and Old Lace, he had the experience several other times in previous seasons and each time— even each night in the same week— took on its own mood based on who the performers were.
“I believe every show has its own individual needs and cast,” Dr. Hustoles declares.
The challenge of Shakespeare in Love is that half of the audience will appreciate Shakespeare and the other half shrug him off. What Hustoles says what makes Shakespeare in Love such a compromise is all its dynamic elements, including its robustness in humor, the period styles, and the romanticism. William Shakespeare falls in love with Viola, a young woman from the current time period and she returns his affection, despite knowing their love cannot last. Sword fighting is also incorporated into several scenes, which livens the show along with the humor.
What Hustoles has enjoyed most about orchestrating the show is using the period styles from the Queen Elizabeth time. Queen Elizabeth changes to a variety of costumes throughout the show and the costumes aren’t that easy at first. Lindsey Oetken, who wears royalty well in her role as Queen Elizabeth, agrees.
“The costumes definitely take some getting used to,” Oetken says. Throughout the night, she wears three different gowns, and underneath them are a corset and a quilted petticoat which is the term for a skirt in Queen Elizabeth’s time.
“These help to create the shape of the garment that goes over it,” Oetken explains. “Historically, women wore corsets to create a smaller waistline. Normally in this time period they would wear a hoop skirt to make the skirt a large bell shape, but thankfully McCarl opted for a less cumbersome option of the quilted petticoat.” In addition, there is separate bodice that goes on top of the skirt, and the bodice is laced in the back. On top of it all, she also wears a wig and headpiece, and a lot of jewelry which she loved.
Although she had worn corsets for other past shows, she said it had been a few years so the corset was the biggest challenge as far as costume adaptation. To prepare herself, she ensured she got into it as soon as she could in the rehearsal process.
“As you can imagine, a corset affects the way you breathe and how you move on stage. It changes your posture and effects your mobility dramatically,” Oetken explains. “For example, if I forget to put my shoes on before my corset, I need someone to buckle them for me because I can’t bend over. I basically have no flexibility between my neck and pelvis.”
Queen Elizabeth is Oetken’s first opportunity to play a mainstage role at Minnesota State University, and Oetken expresses that she is enjoying playing royalty.
“Queen Elizabeth is powerful and often the center of attention, which in my real is not something can connect to,” Oetken says. “As an introverted person, and a person who prefers quieter leadership roles in real life, it’s fun to explore the opposite on stage.”
Ryan Feist, a junior at Minnesota State, takes on William Shakespeare’s honored role as the poet. But the irony is that Shakespeare steals many of his ideas from Marlow, another contemporary writer of the time.
“He’s a character who is so deeply steeped in history, but he is shown in the light of a struggling artist instead of the literary genius that he is known as today,” Feist writes in an email.
Part of the humor lies within Viola who dresses like a man to play the Romeo romantic hero Shakespeare struggles to write about. But in that historical time period, women were banned from public stages of entertainment and that fact adds to the action. The situation also furthers the humor since Shakespeare does not realize when he is passing Romeo love notes, that he is given them to her directly. While her father engages her to marry some other man of status, she is in love with Shakespeare and uses the stage presence to spend time with him.
There is a scene when Shakespeare visits Viola at her home when she is on her balcony. He struggles with confidence in how she should win her over with his words and asks Marlow, who is nearby, what he should say to her. It causes an amusing fiasco, which at the end of it, Viola’s nurse discovers Viola’s lover but she helps Viola keep her secret.
“I was shocked and excited,” Feist describes as his reaction to learning he would play William Shakespeare. “It’s such a difficult role and I was excited to take it on.” Feist has acted in other shows at Minnesota including Peter and the Starcatcher (Peter), Newsies (Davey), Mothers and Sons (Will Ogden), and The Diary of Anne Frank (Peter van Daan).
“David McCarl did a fabulous job designing the costumes and Scott Anderson and the rest of the costume shop worked their butts off to get all of them built in a short amount of time,” Oetken said. “I am honored to wear these costumes!”
The play will continue running on November 7-9 at 7:30 p.m. or weekend showings on the 9 and 10 at 2 p.m., and tickets can be bought at the box office between 4-6 p.m. on weekdays. Another option is online for single tickets at MSUTheatre.com. Tickets are $16 regular, $14 for seniors ages 65 and older, children under 16 and groups of 15 or more; and $11 for MSU students. In addition to this, students will be able to get a bogo deal on tickets for the rest of its run, so they’re encouraged to bring a friend along for the journey!
Header photo Courtsey of the MNSU Drama Department.