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Shakespeare’s What You Will at Ave Maria: a jester who seriously enjoys acting

Nicholas Ciavarra Ave Maria Shakespeare

Name: Nicholas Ciavarra

School: Ave Maria University

Major: Humanities

Graduation: 2015

Troupe: Shakespeare in Performance at AMU

Play: What You Will (aka Twelfth Night) (click here for tickets April 16-27)

Years with the troupe and various jobs and roles: This is my second year with the troupe. Last year, I played the role of Claudio and this year I am playing the role of the clown, Feste. I performed at the Ave Maria Scholarship Dinner too.

How did you discover and become part of Shakespeare in Performance? I transferred to Ave Maria in the fall of 2012 from a prestigious Liberal Arts college in Massachusetts, where I was pursuing a theatre minor. Whenever I told someone at Ave Maria about my interest in theatre,

I was always told immediately I had to check out Dr. Curtright’s Shakespeare class. After the sixth or seventh time of being told, I realized that I should go investigate sooner rather than later. I met with Dr. Curtright and signed up on the spot.

How are you different because of your involvement with the troupe? I cannot even begin to list the ways I have grown on account of this troupe. I cannot count all the blessings from it either. My own personal bearing has changed. I definitely carry myself differently, with confidence now. Practically, I’ve become a better public speaker too. I am a much-improved actor. But most importantly, the troupe has given me a group of friends that I love, growth in my favorite field, theatre, and a way to give something back to the community.Nicholas Ciavarra Ave Maria Shakespeare 1

How is Shakespeare in Performance different from other drama programs or other Shakespeare productions? When I was studying theatre before I came to Ave Maria, my professor would talk about how modern theatre had lost its communal aspect. She would tell critical stories of the attempts in the sixties to reclaim the sense of union between actors and audiences. When I was there, I didn’t understand what was really lost, but when I became a member of this troupe, it became clear. Since we do Shakespeare “straight up,” we recapture what theatre was born to be. The house lights are on during our shows and Dr. C finds lines for us “to take to the house” or lines that address directly audience members. There is no “fourth wall” in our shows. We speak to audiences, not at them. Because of this practice, we make the audience part of the show. I have never seen a production or been a part of one that turns an audience into a community like this.

What do you love most about what you do? I love acting—the game of being someone I’m not. But the part that I love most takes place in a moment. For a brief instant on stage, sometimes right after you first walk on, sometimes after getting through a killer scene, there is a moment between you and the audience: in that moment, you know they are hooked. You know that you have brought them into the world of the play, where there may be joy, love, hope, despair, loss or a happy ending. That is what I love: that brief flicker of connection between you and the audience because we both know we share something special.

Tell a story or give an example of how Dr. C improved your performance, helped you discover or play your character, or encouraged or inspired you. Just one? With What You Will, Dr. C had me focus on how Feste, as a clown, will imitate other characters in the play. It’s awesome. I am an actor who performs like other actors, who, in turn, are playing their own roles. Dr. C had me imitate “walking styles” and “gestures,” even the “voices” of others. The whole is coordinated very cleverly. And I pull it off brilliantly.

How did Dr. C make this adaptation different or special? Dr. Curtright really has a great eye for seeing what makes each play so perfect. With What You Will, he decided to emphasize the rivalry between Malvolio and Feste. Feste is absent from Olivia’s court at the play’s start and I imagine that is because Malvolio chased him out before the action of the play technically begins. More generally, there is a conflict between somber moods and festive ones in most productions, but Dr. C’s version is fresher, younger, and more vibrant. From the feisty pirate wench to the musical interludes, every moment of the play is a cacophony of humor, joy, and fun.

Nicholas Ciavarra Ave Maria Shakespeare 2If you could destroy one myth about performing Shakespeare, what would it be? People insist that they cannot relate to Shakespeare’s plays. If you spend any time with the text and make an effort to understand it (or better yet see a show where the actors understand it!), you will see that Shakespeare isn’t just retelling stories but showing the human condition. Maybe you haven’t been shipwrecked, forced to disguise yourself, and fallen in love with a duke (as happens in What You Will), but who hasn’t felt the pain of loss or the pangs of unrequited love?

Why should future students join Shakespeare in Performance? To be brief, there is no other opportunity to do what we do. There is no college that produces plays like we do. No troupe that performs the plays like we do. There are no people that work, love, play, and act like we do. What we do here is special, remarkable, and good. Join us!

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