By Laurelle Walsh
Seven theater students, one from the University of Washington and six from Seattle University, are interning at The Merc Playhouse in Twisp this summer, designing, managing and performing in the upcoming production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
The four actors from Seattle U — Josh Holguin as Orsino, Kylie Spillman as Olivia, Amelia Garcia-Cosgrove as Viola/Cesario, and Matthew Weingarten in the role of Sebastian — “are skilled performers who want to work outside of the university setting,” said Merc Artistic Director and Seattle U theater professor Ki Gottberg. “Seattle U has a big outreach component, and this community, with its huge need for more actors to create a viable casting pool, needs not only people of this age, but skilled people who will raise the bar for everyone,” Gottberg said.
Larkin Hubrig, a 2012 graduate of Liberty Bell High School and current drama/communications major at the University of Washington, is stage-managing Twelfth Night.
And Seattle U students Lily Macleod and Meghan Roche, on light and sound design respectively, will be joining the production in the next few weeks to do technical design and “see us through opening,” Gottberg said.
Garcia-Cosgrove, a fifth-year senior who, like all the interns, is pursuing theater as a career, values the opportunity to do classical theater. “I do not have that much experience with classical text, so this has been eye-opening — plus a lot of fun,” she said. “I have learned so much about how to handle verse and how to speak properly. You’d be surprised how hard that is.”
Hubrig read Shakespeare in high school but had never been involved in a production until now. “I now understand why people say ‘Shakespeare is meant to be performed,’” said Hubrig, whose mother Jane is The Merc’s managing director. “I like it a lot more now that I’m doing this show.”
The four interning actors all took part in a production of Hamlet in February 2012, and have all worked closely with Gottberg at Seattle U. And Weingarten, Spillman and Garcia-Cosgrove were among the students in Gottberg’s production of Moliere’s Imaginary Invalid, which traveled to The Merc last February.
The actors “bring myriad talents to The Merc,” Gottberg said. “These kids are all theater majors of senior standing or recently graduated. They go through a pretty intensive program in all aspects of theater, not just acting.”
The opportunity to work on Shakespeare is “huge,” for these interns, according to Gottberg. “We are taught it, and those who teach it love it, but not many theaters do it,” she said. “Big casts and difficulty with the Elizabethan language scare theaters away.”
When Gottberg held auditions for Twelfth Night in Twisp, only eight community members turned out to audition. She cast seven, but two dropped out the week before rehearsals started. “I had to scramble to fill their spots, one a rather significant role,” she said.
Casting young adult roles has been especially difficult at The Merc, Gottberg said. “I have had no people in their 20s audition for me, and … many plays have people of this young adult age as characters.”
Although the challenge of casting a play with 15 characters was not Gottberg’s primary motivation for bringing in interns, it was definitely a factor, she said.
She auditioned students at Seattle U to fill the remaining roles “once I knew which local folks were on board,” she said.
While professional theater is in each of the interns’ future, several noted the value of working in community theater as well.
As stage manager, Hubrig records blocking and prompts actors during rehearsal, and is in charge of running the production once the show opens. “You have to take a lot more initiative [in community theater] than in a professional theater,” she said. “Each job description is broader because the production team is smaller.”
All four actors said they were impressed by the “heart” that goes into a community theater production, from the cast and crew, to the board of directors, to the family that is housing them this summer.
“This reminds you that a lot of people do theater out of love,” said Garcia-Cosgrove, a fact that is easily forgotten by young actors on the professional track. “No one is paying the actors, they aren’t doing this for their resume, they are doing it because they want to. And sometimes I need to remind myself that I do theatre not because it is a job, or because of how cool I look, or whatever, but because deep down there is an intense love and passion for theatre.”
Several interns described theater as being fundamental and transformative in their lives, most especially Holguin, a 2012 graduate of Seattle U’s school of fine arts. “This internship is vital,” Holguin said. “After graduation I suffered a radical mental health shift. I lost my job, my friends, my will to live. It was brutal. Theater is the outlet for my most creative and healthy self.”
On a recent visit with her younger cousins in El Salvador, Garcia-Cosgrove noticed that they lacked direction and any idea of what they wanted to do with their lives, she said. She feels that theater has helped her gain the ability to direct her own life by inhabiting other characters.
“Theater teaches empathy,” she said. “You have to understand what is motivating your character at any moment. If you can apply that to your own life, that’s awesome.”