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On Loss and Love in Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’

Kelsey Busboom talks about the play’s themes of coping with family death, wanting what you can’t have and actually getting it.

Twelfth Night,” originally written by William Shakespeare to cap off a season of partying, is a wild ride of music, secret identities, lost love and longing. The UH production premiered March 2 but sold out long before rehearsals began. Kelsey Busboom, who is working towards a B.F.A. in acting in the School of Theatre & Dance, opens up about her experience with the production and her role as Lady Olivia. 

How did your journey as an actress start?
I started acting in high school plays and decided theatre was the world I’d like to work in one day. I loved the discipline, and I particularly enjoyed spending a set period of time with a character. At a young and impressionable age, I learned the value of stepping into someone else’s skin and examining their choices, desires and interactions with other characters. It helped me step outside of myself and observe my own actions. 

How did you connect to Lady Olivia?
When I first started working on Olivia, I pictured her as a pretty, pretty princess far removed from who I am in my daily life. But, while she may very well be a pretty princess, she’s got a fire inside her. When I began to dive into her relationships, I realized how human she was. At the top of the play she is mourning over the death of her brother, but her comedy is revealed through her deeply human desire to be loved and wanted. The harder she falls, the stronger she returns. She’s also very kind and thoughtful, and I think she made me a better person because of that. I love Olivia. 

What is the play’s theme?
The standout theme for me would be desire. This show is loaded with characters who are so unhappy with their current situation that they would do almost anything to escape it. They often turn to fate or time for council before they decide what they want for themselves and how to go about getting it. It’s a very human experience to go after something you’ll probably never get. But the shock of getting what you wanted, after so much failure, is a healing experience that could inspire an audience to go after what they want just one more time (and then another time after that).

How is “Twelfth Night” relatable to a contemporary audience?
I believe their relatability lies in the characters’ attempts at fulfilling their desires. This show is also relatable through the loss that each character feels, and how they must learn to navigate that loss. Sir Toby Belch abuses alcohol to cope with his brother’s death, whereas Olivia swears off men for seven years in the hopes of keeping the memory of her brother alive through extended mourning. They handle the same loss in very different ways, but in the end they both alienate themselves in their mourning. 

How did it feel to perform in a sold-out show?
It can be exciting to see that the show is sold out before rehearsals have even begun, but, during the run of this show, I learned how little audience size really matters. Of course, we want as many people to see our work as possible, but the best audiences are not necessarily the largest in number. The best audiences were the ones that engaged with us, showing their interest in the story that we’re telling. 

What parts of the production stood out most to you?
The best and most challenging part was working with our wonderful director, Sara Becker. She is a true master of her craft, and even when she’s working with someone else, there is so much knowledge to be gained from listening to her. Sara values careful detail in an artist’s work and comes to rehearsal prepared, so she expects the same of you. 

Working on Shakespeare is always challenging, but that challenge is part of the reason his work is still relevant today. If you work carefully, you can find a performance that is uniquely your own while simultaneously joining a league of lucky performers who have done the same.