About Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night (the holiday) was celebrated in Shakespeare’s time as, well, the twelfth night after Christmas and the official end of the winter holidays. Similar to the Feast of Fools or Saturnalia, revelers were given free rein to mock the strict social hierarchy: servants impersonated masters, women impersonated men, and of course, there was raucous and unbridled drinking, feasting, and mischief-making. We don’t know if Shakespeare actually wrote Twelfth Night for the holiday– it’s only referenced once in the script– but its themes of power reversal, fleeting love, gender, madness, and unabashed revelry certainly suggest so. 

The characters of Twelfth Night are always after something they aren’t (Viola as Cesario) or someone they can’t have (Malvolio and Orsino after Olivia, Viola after Orsino), according to the rules of everyday, normal society. Twelfth Night, however, is a time for pretensions, to wear the mask of someone who are not– and at the end, when all the deceptions are revealed, each of the characters is granted a little more knowledge of their true selves.

It’s worth noting, by the by, that Viola’s gender deception would have been interpreted differently back in Shakespeare’s time, due to laws banning women from performing onstage. This meant that young boys would play female roles, so for a character like Viola, you end up with a man playing a woman playing a man. When, at the end of the play, Viola is revealed to be a woman and thus able to marry Orsino, Shakespeare seems to present us with a convenient heteroseual coupling– conveniently brushing aside the fact that Orsino might have had a romantic interest in “Cesario”, while the courtier that Olivia fell in love with was actually a woman. Even today, this poses questions.

Youth Shakespeare Society of Pittsburgh

The Youth Shakespeare Society of Pittsburgh (YSSP) was founded in 2019 by high school students with the express purpose of making engagement with Shakespeare’s history and works more accessible to youth throughout the Pittsburgh area. The main tenets of the YSSP’s mission are to:

  • Provide an organization through which teens can gain experience directing, designing, and performing in Shakespeare productions.
  • Sponsor upwards of one full length production a year/season.
  • Introduce more opportunities for youth to learn, read, and engage with Shakespeare throughout the Pittsburgh area, but with a starting emphasis on Shaler and surrounding townships.
  • Celebrate and acknowledge young local talent and give them a platform to develop.

Through this, the YSSP wants to foster an interest in Shakespeare and other classical works from a young age, and provide hands-on learning experiences for anyone interested. The YSSP hopes to bring Shakespeare to youth who otherwise may not have the opportunity in exciting and fresh ways.