The story is now set in Illyria Corporation, a global shipping and logistics company in which Viola becomes an intern
The Queer Theatre Project’s production of “Twelfth Night” transfers Elizabethan class dynamics to a modern corporate setting. And moreso, the all-volunteer theater company, formed in 2021, is adding a contemporary twist to the Shakespearean play by making it genderqueer and turning the characters into the employees.
The production, directed by Caitlin Donnelly, will run for two successive weekends starting April 23. All the shows are free, but seats for the first two shows at different indoor venues must be reserved through Eventbrite. (The final two performances will be at the Powderhouse Park in Somerville and do not require RSVP’s. More information can be found on QTP’s Instagram.)
“Twelfth Night” is known for its ambiguity on gender and sexuality, as the aristocrat Viola disguises herself as her missing brother and accidentally causes Lady Olivia to fall in love with her. QTP pushes the queer subtext even further by removing gender references and making all the characters genderqueer. The story is now set in Illyria Corporation, a global shipping and logistics company in which Viola becomes an intern.
“Instead of it being about gender, it’s a concealed sense of self,” producer and founder of QTP Matisse DuPont said. “Rather than it being like girl hiding as boy, it’s artists hiding in a professional space.”
The company’s revised script removes all gendered language, a move that allows more range to explore different elements of identity under the pressures of capitalism. For Kael Alberghini, the actor playing the Duke-turned-CEO Orsino, the change offers more possibilities.
“Orsino is a lot of genders, but it’s not a specific one. So what does that mean?” Alberghini said.
Despite its queer undertones, QTP finds that “Twelfth Night” is ultimately traditional. DuPont compared the play to “Mulan” because both works end with heteronormative pairings. The script revision—completed by DuPont, Donelly, and choreographer Kylie Terra Burnham—creates a more fundamental disruption in which Viola as an outsider enters a rigid corporate atmosphere where all aspects of self-expression are suppressed.
“This is really about the human experience … all of our identities don’t exist in a bubble,” said Simon Truong, who plays one of Orsino’s personal assistants.
The modernization of the play also makes the Shakespearean language accessible to audience members. “Twelfth Night” is QTP’s second production since its founding, and the company’s debut with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” last August set out to accomplish the same goal. Although the script was left untouched besides making the lovers gay, the company tried to make the story easy to understand through blocking and costuming.
“We kept the script basically the same, but so many people approached us afterwards and were like, that made sense,” Burnham said.
QTP emphasizes the value of community, and are sending the donations they receive to Youth on Fire, GLASS, and the Theater Offensive. The company chose Shakespeare because of the name recognition but also because of the opportunity to create escapism in a time of collective hardship.
“It’s really about making a community space that is for queer people and our allies,” DuPont said.
DuPont conceived of QTP in summer 2021 when they had a longing to return to theater. They bought scripts of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and posted about the effort on Instagram, which garnered interest and led to Zoom auditions. The company members come from diverse theatrical and professional backgrounds.
“There’s something about the camaraderie of a theater group that is difficult to replicate anywhere else,” Truong said. “Especially as adults, it’s harder to find and create those communities.”
The company plans to expand beyond Shakespeare in the future, and whatever productions they choose will continue to interrogate societal conventions.
“It’s a queer theatre project not because it’s LGBT,” DuPont said. “It’s a queer theatre project because we’re also looking to engage with and examine and subvert norms in general.”