Young Shakespeare Players East returns with “Twelfth Night” after long pandemic hiatus

  • The Young Shakespeare Players East conduct a dress rehearsal for their production of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Atticus Belmonte (Duke Orsino) gets into costume before the Young Shakespeare Players East conduct a dress rehearsal for a production of “Twelfth Night.”

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    Joseph Lesley (Sir Toby Belch) and Theo Janke (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) share the stage ashe Young Shakespeare Players East conduct a dress rehearsal for their production of William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Emma Hale (Fabian) and Jaya Thurrell (Viola) share the stage as the Young Shakespeare Players East conduct a dress rehearsal for their production of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” STAFF PHOTOS/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 1/11/2023 4:59:10 PM
Modified: 1/11/2023 4:58:14 PM

For the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the youth theater troupe Young Shakespeare Players East are finally back where they belong.

“There is poetry that’s meant to be read and poetry that’s meant to be spoken,” said Apprentice Director Percy Burch, “and Shakespeare is definitely meant to be experienced live, spoken and listened to.”

“Twelfth Night,” described in a press release as a “nearly perfect happy comedy … filled with lyricism and music, beautiful language, disguise and surprise, and some of the funniest scenes and characters Shakespeare ever created,” will premiere on Friday at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls. This marks the first production the William Shakespeare-focused theater group has performed on-stage in more than two years. Expect the production’s cast and crew to exude particular joy and vigor when the spotlight shines, given the bonds strengthened and challenges overcome during the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of cultural things that happen at (Young Shakespeare Players East) and it was definitely a lot of rebuilding this fall,” said Solena Davidson Carroll, who plays three roles across the production’s two casts.

“When I see all these young people running around and having moments together … it makes me feel like we needed this more than ever,” said Director Suzanne Rubinstein, who founded Young Shakespeare Players East.

Prior to this show, Young Shakespeare Players East kept busy with smaller-scale productions limited in capacity, such as outdoor dramatic readings and virtual performances. Cast and crew members said that as a light-hearted comedy, “Twelfth Night” was fitting for a return to the stage. Atticus Belmonte, who plays Duke Orsino, expressed that “lots of laughs and very sweet moments” help counteract the hardships of the past couple years.

The play centers around twins Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a shipwreck. Viola, disguised as a young man named “Cesario,” falls in love with Duke Orsino, who has fallen for Countess Olivia. Upon meeting Viola, Olivia falls in love with her, thinking she is a man. A humorous love triangle is formed as a result.

“It has everything,” Rubinstein said. “It has romance, it has music, it has comedy, it has everything.”

Complementing the play’s entertainment value is the real-life relevance of its plot. The play contains messages “about breaking social status,” bullying, gender construction and sexuality that is “not making a mockery of that love, but acknowledging how confusing it all is,” Belmonte explained. As actors, understanding the gravity of the plot and staking personal investment in it was a crucial part of the job.

“Understanding is where good performance comes from,” Burch said.

“I feel like I’m actually telling the story and knowing what my character feels,” Belmonte added.

“When you understand it, your audience is able to understand it,” expressed Davidson Carroll.

Staying true to tradition, the play is a “black box” production, featuring a minimalist set that uses signature black boxes for furniture.

“You don’t need that much set to have it actually come alive,” Casey Solis, who plays Olivia, said, adding that such minimalism “makes costuming and props feel really rich.”

Belmonte expressed, however, that “the props and the costumes are icing on the cake.” Above all, what brings the story to life is the genuine investment and effort put in by cast and crew members, the group stressed.

“At (Young Shakespeare Players East), even the smallest roles can have a lot of importance to the overarching plot,” said Noa Rubinstein, who plays Sir Toby Belch.

“It feels like everyone’s bringing their own thing to their character,” Belmonte added.

“I guess what it comes down to is that this program proves young people have the ability and motivation for deep learning and full-on commitment to a project,” Rubinstein explained. “When the kids talk about the culture here, that’s the culture. It’s infectious.”

“Twelfth Night” premieres Friday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m. at the Shea Theater. Additional shows will take place on Saturday, Jan. 14, at both 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., as well as Sunday, Jan. 15, at 1 p.m. Doors open 20 minutes before show time. All performances are free and open to people of all ages. Masks are recommended. The play’s run time is approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes with two intermissions. Concessions both sweet and savory will be available, with all proceeds benefiting the Young Shakespeare Players East Scholarship Fund.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or


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