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Louis Butelli: Now Playing! Twelfth Night!

Louis Butelli as Feste in Twelfth Night. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Louis Butelli as Feste in Twelfth Night. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Hello once again from your pal Louis Butelli, currently playing Feste in Folger Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night. We’re having an absolute blast playing this show, and hope you’ll come along and join us for an evening of love, laughter, and music, with an undertone of sadness and melancholy.

Tickets are selling briskly, so please, get yours now by clicking right here. The more the merrier. Don’t wait! Click here now!

Having played previews and public performances for a week each, and now that the press has started to come out (read some critical raves here, here, and here), we now embark on our second full week of public performances. Our audiences have been amazingly enthusiastic, sharing with us a fascinating variety of responses.

Feste (Louis Butelli) sings "O Mistress Mine" to Sir Andrew (James Konicek, left) and Sir Toby (Craig Wallace). Photo by Scott Suchman.
Feste (Louis Butelli) sings “O Mistress Mine” to Sir Andrew (James Konicek, left) and Sir Toby (Craig Wallace). Photo by Scott Suchman.

This is the extraordinary thing about live theater. Every single performance is different. Some nights the crowd seems primed to roar with laughter. Some nights they seem to prefer to embrace the complexity of the play’s love triangle. Some nights they seem to be in a musical mood. While the work of art remains fundamentally the same from night to night, it is nonetheless altered by the tone of the audience. Or, put another way, this play we’ve been living with for over a month has the ability to “morph,” as it were, to reflect the energy of the audience. Somehow, it seems to hold a mirror up to nature, to reflect something of the beholder back at her or him.

It is this very phenomenon that has me thinking, not for the first time, “why Shakespeare,” and “why now?” What is it about our production of Twelfth Night specifically, and Shakespeare generally that resonates with the times in which we currently live?

Sir Andrew Aguecheek (James Konicek) duels the disguised Viola (Emily Trask), as Feste (Louis Butelli) and Sir Toby Bech (Craig Wallace) look on. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Sir Andrew Aguecheek (James Konicek) duels the disguised Viola (Emily Trask), as Feste (Louis Butelli) and Sir Toby Bech (Craig Wallace) look on. Photo by Scott Suchman.

I won’t presume to make any broad sweeping statements in that regard, but I will say that whatever it is we’re doing seems to have three distinct applications, for three distinct groups of people.

The general paying audience. You are the backbone of what we are doing. You have come to us for any number of reasons – you’re a Folger subscriber, you’re a fan of Shakespeare and/or Twelfth Night, you’re a theater enthusiast, you’ve been dragged along by a spouse or partner, you’re curious, you simply want a killer night out. Regardless, we, as did Shakespeare’s own troupe of players, “strive to please you every day.” We want to connect, to share, to feel something together under the same roof. We are the conduit for the work of a 450 year old playwright, and we connect our present to our past by understanding that we have always been a storytelling species.

Viola’s (Emily Trask) identity is discovered by Duke Orsino (Michael Brusasco), much to the delight of Sebastian (William Vaughan) and Olivia (Rachel Pickup) watching from behind. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Viola’s (Emily Trask) identity is discovered by Duke Orsino (Michael Brusasco), much to the delight of Sebastian (William Vaughan) and Olivia (Rachel Pickup) watching from behind. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Students and Young Audiences. We recently played our first two student matinees for a large demographic swath of new, young theater enthusiasts from the DC Metro area, and they went absolutely bonkers for the show. Hearing them respond with moans for the plight of the confused lovers, giggles for the antics of the clowns, and rhythmic claps and repeated lyrics for the music all seem to be a decent part of the point of putting on the play in the first place. It is our honor, and our duty, to use our art form to wrap warm arms around the audiences of the future. Plus, it’s fun to hear them roar when there is any touching or kissing.

Reviewers and Critics. Ironically, perhaps, this is the demographic that has most to say about the moment in which we live in the year 2013. We have always been an opinionated race of beings – but rarely have we lived through times in which sharing opinions has been quicker, more instantaneous, and more interactive. The rise of the internet, desktop publishing, and social media now allows anybody with a computer, phone, and an internet connection to be a reviewer. Moreover, the Ivory Towers of major print publications now have a chink in their armor in the form of the “Comments Section.” It is now possible to talk back to a critic in a public forum. While I will reserve judgment on the relative merits of this development, it does say something to me about playing Shakespeare, whether in 1613 or in 2013 – fundamentally, people vote with their wallet. They either buy a ticket or they don’t. Reviewers and critics can share their opinion and their experience but, again, it is the general public who ultimately decides the fate of a production.

And…we hope you will indeed buy a ticket (click here!) and come experience our Twelfth Night for yourself.

Life is short, love is fickle, laughter is precious, youth’s a stuff will not endure, and the rain it raineth every day. Come and let us tell you a great story.

The cast of Twelfth Night dances away as Feste (Louis Butelli) strums on his ukulele. Photo by Scott Suchman.
The cast of Twelfth Night dances away as Feste (Louis Butelli) strums on his ukulele. Photo by Scott Suchman.

I’ll close this post as Shakespeare closes his play – with lyrics to a song:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man’s estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
‘Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day.


But when I came, alas! to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain in raineth every day.


But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day.


A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,

And we’ll strive to please you every day.

Until next time!

5 Comments


  • Thank goodness for comments, where we can exchange views with the critics! And with the actors… One wonders how the great performers in history would have handled blogs and tweets and the rest. The great performers of today (like you!) are adding a lot to the entire audience experience.

    You raise an intriguing point on the different audience reactions. When I see a production multiple times, I often note the differences but assumed it was due to something the actors had done. Once, many years ago, I saw Anthony Hopkins in M.Butterfly twice, on back-to-back nights. The first time was electric, the second not so much. I had the extreme good fortune to attend a cast reception after the second performance, and I asked Hopkins about it. He explained to me that, prior to the second performance, he had fallen on his arm and aggravated an old injury he got while filming “Lion in Winter.” (He then rolled up his sleeve to show me where it was injured. To this day I marvel that Anthony Hopkins showed me his arm… I can die a happy woman!) But your explanation of audience dynamics makes a lot of sense.

    I look forward to seeing “Twelfth Night” a second time, to experience the audience reaction again, and to see how the actors have adjusted to their roles in the past couple of weeks. And also to laugh.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, and for all of your love and support, Dawn! And that’s incredibly cool about Tony Hopkins. What an excellent experience.

      I can’t claim to have any definitive answers about audiences and how they vary from night to night. I certainly agree with Mr. Hopkins that any number of factors can contribute to the performance an actor gives (great day, lousy day, arm injury, etc.). With an ensemble piece, like our Twelfth Night, to a large degree, the audience themselves are the final member of the ensemble. They are, essentially, members of the cast, and a vital part of the performance.

      This, again, is what is so special about theater. We can see a film 5 times, and it will always be exactly the same. We change, our relationship to the film changes, but the film itself does not change. At the theater, the entire experience is at once alive and ephemeral – here now, gone in two hour’s time. We share, we interact, we connect. It is truly unlike any other art form.

      Meanwhile, I hope you’ll come and see us again very soon. And bring some friends!

      Thanks again.

      • Friends and I are coming again next weekend, but I decided I couldn’t wait… I got a front row ticket for tonight! So if you notice an old broad looking around at the audience, seeming to be distracted, know that I’m just observing the interactions of the “final member of the ensemble.” Fun!

      • Absolutely brilliant performance tonight. I didn’t think it was possible, but it is twice as better the second time around. The audience loved you all, and I could swear I felt that connection you wrote about. I think that is pretty rare, which goes to prove how very special this production is.


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