Benjamin Burton Costume Design and Dramaturgy

This production of Twelfth Night was performed in Spring 2019 in the Weitzenhoffer Theater at the University of Oklahoma. My Co-Dramaturg for this production was Sylvia Kramer, and we collaborated extensively on every aspect of the dramaturgy process. You can download a PDF of our Dramaturgy Presentation here.

Sylvia and I were awarded the Oscar Brockett Dramaturgy Award for our work on this production.

Program Note

What’s in a name? When it comes to Shakespeare, quite a bit. His festive comedy, Twelfth Night, is fittingly named for a holiday – the night in January that finished out the twelve days of Christmas with a bang. In Elizabethan England, this holiday was linked to the tradition of misrule - throwing the world joyfully (and temporarily) out of its proper order. On Twelfth Night, servants could become masters and peasants could become lords. Sir Toby and friends embrace the festive roots of the title with their raucous revels, but Twelfth Night reflects misrule in a more fundamental way, too. Illyria is a world out of order. Storms splinter ships, women dress as men, lowly stewards dream of marrying countesses, fools offer wisdom, and the sweet savagery of unrequited love threatens to destroy nearly everyone. Luckily, though, Illyria is not doomed to its disorder forever. Just as the whirligig of time brings every party to an end, time pulls the characters towards reconciliation, reunion, and romance.

Our iteration of Illyria is built on the presence of water. Constant in quality, yet shifting in temper; reflecting the world while refracting reality, Illyria, like water, finds its truest self in the in-betweens. This ever-shifting nature seeps through the script in Shakespeare’s water-laden imagery, prompting stormy plot points and tumbling out in tears of “eye-offending brine.” The dualities of water have shaped our story and made room for us to live in both the deep, depressive ache of unrequited longing and the boisterous laughter of unrestrained joy. We may laugh, but we also mourn and pine. Perhaps we do them all at once - in Illyria, anything is possible

A Few Shakespearean Terms:

“Fool” - a professional entertainer in an Elizabethan court
“Greatness” - status as a member of the nobility
“Catch” - a type of song we know as a “round” where singers begin the song at different times to interweave the melody.
“Liver” - the part of the body thought to be the seat of passion
“Gull” - as a verb, to trick someone; as a noun, the person being tricked

Notable Dramaturgy Work

  • Conceptual Contributions
    • Design/staging focus on themes and imagery of water, music, duality, and fluidity present in the script
    • Emphasis in performance and staging on the fluidity of characters' gender and sexuality
    • Historically motivated concept of Illyria as a "netherworld" existing both inside and outside of reality

  • Cutting and Editing of the Script
    • Changed archaic words to modern synonyms accounting for scansion and lyricism while emphasizing audience comprehension
    • Changed or removed potentially offensive or distracting lines
    • Cut script for time with sensitivity to narrative and character development

  • Research Areas for Presentation to Actors and Creative Team
    • Shakespeare's Life and Elizabethan Culture
    • History and Origins of the Twelfth Night festival
    • Renaissance Class Structure, Hierarchy, and Phraseology
    • Elizabethan Manners and Etiquette
    • Gender and Sexuality in Elizabethan England
    • Non-Western and Pre-Colonial Ideas of Gender and Sexuality
      • To use in decolonizing our instincts on these concepts while mounting this production
    • Motifs and Themes in Twelfth Night
      • Music, water, melancholy, time and destiny, blood sports and hunting, metatheacricality, birds and flowers, madness and folly, and body/disease
    • You can download a PDF of our Dramaturgy Presentation here.

Production Credits

    Director: Alissa Mortimer
    Co-Dramaturg: Sylvia Kramer
    Scenic Design: Nathan Hatfield
    Lighting Design: Josh Robbins
    Costume Design: Ciara Smith
    Photography: Nathan Hatfield, Wendy Mutz
    Producer: University of Oklahoma School of Drama