‘Twelfth Night’ honored for acting, set, costumes
The Liberty Bell Drama Company (LBDC) received two award nominations and one honorable mention from the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle for excellence in high school musical theater productions.
All three honors recognized the LBDC’s spring production of “Twelfth Night (Taub),” a musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” a classic story of love and mistaken identity.
Each year the LBDC travels to Seattle to watch a play, visit museums and tour a theater. On 5th Avenue Theatre tours in the past, the 5th Avenue education director has mentioned the high school musical awards program to LBDC co-directors Kelly Grayum and Danbert Nobacon. Grayum finally decided to register for the program, informing the cast and crew well into rehearsal, “Oh, by the way, I put us in for those musical theater awards.”
But when the group learned two weeks ago that they had been nominated in two categories — Outstanding Work by Students in Scenic Design and Outstanding Work by Students in Costume Design — “it was still a bit surprising,” Nobacon said. “We had no idea we’d make it to this level. We had watched some of the other award ceremonies in the past and the standards seemed really high. Most of the awards seemed to go to bigger, west side schools, around the Seattle area. It was refreshing to learn they were impressed with us.”
In addition to the two award nominations, rising senior Melody Langan received an Honorable Mention for her portrayal of Feste in the category of Outstanding Work by a Student in a Supporting Role. Langan is a familiar favorite on Methow Valley stages and was well-suited to play Feste, who serves as an ad hoc narrator of the play. Langan sings with confidence and embodies the hallmark of Shakespearean fools both in the play and in her real life: the license to speak the truth.
“Melody has been a core part of the LBDC for the last three years and did a lot of the Merc’s children’s theater before that … she excelled in the role of Feste with her acting, delivery, solo singing and both physical comedy and comic timing,” Nobacon said.
The 5th Avenue Theatre high school musical awards vetting process is thorough. Once schools have registered for the program and paid a small fee, two different teams of two people watch the school musical on different nights. The results of their assessments lead to the award nominations.
Like restaurant critics, theater critics with the education program try to keep their visits discreet; however, since seats were first-come-first-served for “Twelfth Night (Taub),” the judging teams needed to make sure they could get seats on their scheduled nights.
“So we knew in advance when they’d be there, but we didn’t tell the kids or anyone else involved in the production,” Nobacon said. “But [former Merc Playhouse executive director] Missi [Smith] said she observed two people taking copious notes and not clapping. They seemed very focused on their task.”
He added, “But she also said they got up with everyone else for the standing ovation.”
Nobacon credits rising junior Pearl MacArthur (also known as Skylar) with the costume design honor. “Often when we do plays costuming gets left to the last minute and cobbled together,” he said. “But Skylar volunteered to do costumes and was very motivated. She made sketches, she checked out the options in the LBDC costume room. She complemented what we had with some items from The Merc’s costume room, but she also sewed some things from scratch and embellished others, such as stitching braid on umbrellas and sewing stripes on trousers.”
“It was pretty amazing,” Nobacon continued. “Skylar had never taken anything like this on before and she just did the whole thing.”
Like MacArthur, rising sophomore Samantha Miranda (also known as Ghost) had little design experience when she was tapped to create the set for “Twelfth Night (Taub).” Miranda had designed the poster and program for the LBDC’s fall production of “Middletown,” and Nobacon said that he and Grayum relied on Miranda’s artistic chops to design and paint the back wall of the set.
“Ghost had some computer program where she designed it, then she sent us the files for our feedback,” Nobacon said. “The end result was pretty close to her initial design and the way she painted it on that large back wall was pretty incredible. She didn’t chalk it out or anything. She got some friends to help and they just painted it. I didn’t have to do anything.”
Other students built other pieces of the set, including the balcony and the porta-potty. Yes, the porta-potty, albeit a non-functional one. “It’s Shakespeare and there’s a porta-potty,” Nobacon confirmed. In the original version of the play, the character Malvolio is locked up in “a dark chamber” to cure his madness. In the Taub version, a porta-potty serves as the chamber.
Nobacon and the students built the porta-potty upstairs at Liberty Bell High School and then moved it down to the cafeteria for rehearsals. After each class session, they rolled the unit into the commons area for storage, where a coffee bar is under construction. The area looked like a standard jobsite: 2 x 4 framing, some caution tape, and a porta-potty.
“Some students thought the porta-potty was real,” Nobacon said. “We could hear them in the halls saying ‘There’s a porta-potty in there!’ Some of them were even complaining that they could smell it.”
“That was just one of the many fun things about this play,” Nobacon said. “It’s Shakespeare’s plot and characters and themes and language, but there are all these weird, funny, modern twists.”
To anyone reading the list of nominations for the 5th Avenue Theatre awards, “Twelfth Night (Taub)” stands out. Not only was the LBDC the only high school in the 5th Avenue Theatre awards to be performing “Twelfth Night (Taub)” — or any Shakespeare play, for that matter — it was the only high school production of “Twelfth Night (Taub)” in the entire country.
“After last spring’s production of ‘The Laramie Project,’ we wanted to do something different, something a little lighter,” Nobacon says of the selection of this year’s musical. “We all thought the juxtaposition of the original Shakespeare with the modern aspects was really compelling.”
While other schools were performing familiar, popular musicals — “Frozen, Jr.,” “Mamma Mia,” “Grease,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Legally Blonde,” “Matilda the Musical” — the LBDC was memorizing lines written more than 400 years ago. It’s a nod to the quirky, unconventional troupe of troubadours the LBDC has become — they take risks, they make themselves vulnerable, they dream big, they challenge themselves.
Although the LBDC did not receive top honors in either of its nominated categories (Snohomish High School took home the Costume Design award for “Once Upon a Mattress” and Kentwood High School won the Scenic Design competition for “Mamma Mia!”), it made its mark onstage, in a cast of more seasoned schools.
The announcement of the award nominations came after school had finished for the year and students had scattered, so no one from the LBDC attended the 5th Avenue Theatre awards dinner held on the stage at the theater. But the students in the LBDC were already busy with other priorities: other plays, summer jobs, Methow Valley Pride Festival, camps, family time, catching up on sleep. They were, as Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It,” playing their “many parts.”