by Mahira Kakkar
I have been meaning to write since BEFORE the first day of rehearsal, but my sweetheart was in town and then I started rehearsal and so anyway...here I am.
I want to say how EXCITED I am about this show and this play. I have wanted to play Viola for so very long. I pray I can do justice to her and this play. The first day of rehearsals were...how do I describe it? It was like the first day of school, but better because I knew what I’d signed up for. I was thrilled to meet everyone. I already knew the actors playing Malvolio and Sebastian, having worked with them before, and I knew they made terrific colleagues. I was so jazzed to meet my Orsino. And my Olivia. And my Maria. And my Toby Belch. And my Feste. When I’m in love with a play, as I am with this one, everything in my day becomes fodder for my play and work is...not work. The play becomes personal for me. I wonder if that’s how it is for everyone.
Yesterday I was telling someone that doing Shakespeare is like an athletic event. You have to have the breadth of...breath, imagination, heart. Or try to have to it. And akin to an athletic event-it’s thrilling when you’re exhausted and then you find you have the reserves to keep going because you know the wonder of it is beyond your wall of exhaustion-because the story, the range and depth of this thing you are doing is bigger than you. I read this essay once about Sisyphus from the land of mythology and how the rock is also pushed up in joy. And that to me is Shakespeare. And Twelfth Night, or What You Will.
When I auditioned for this role, the actor playing Sebastian, my brother, coached me extensively for it. And by a happy turn of fate got cast in the same production. Being in rehearsal the first day was a heady sensation. I want to try and be as clear about this as possible…Mark Lamos is a director whose aesthetic I adore. He believes in grace, truth and beauty. He therefore works well with people who are mature enough to understand that in this very brutal world that we live in, those are some of the things worth striving for. My first day of rehearsal, I looked around the room and I thought, “My god, everyone in here is thoroughly professional, so very accomplished and simultaneously so humble.” I could wax forth for hours about each actor, but what occurred to me most about that first day, was that everyone wanted to be there, was ready to work and was ready to put their ego aside to do the work. I almost wept (A caveat- I weep a lot). However, when you’re trying to create something as a group, especially something lofty and BIG like a 400-year-old play, you can usually only hope that the team you’re about to work with will be willing to work as a family, right away. And this team was. What a gift! It also helped that we were in Westport - my goodness what an idyllic place. And what a theater! So steeped in history I could almost feel the theater spirits blessing us.
I know this all sounds very schmaltzy but I’m working on Twelfth Night. It’s a passionate play about love and change and realizing one’s true self through love and what it is to really love. And so I feel I can be unabashedly earnest and big hearted because at the end of the day, what else is there? Twelfth Night is a play set in winter. I keep coming back to this. I don’t know why but I keep thinking of it being the dead of winter. Sidebar: I’m from India- I hadn’t seen snow until I came to New York ten years ago in January. I had never experienced cold like that before. It got into my bones. My sweetheart is based in Alaska where it gets to -50 in the winter. In the face of all that cold, where you physically want to keep your breath and your bodily warmth inside of yourself, in the face of a cold that makes you lose feeling in your hands, these people in Twelfth Night, open their hearts to love.
These are also people who have experienced loss. Olivia, Viola and Sebastian have lost their parents and siblings (or think they have). In the face of this death, they choose to love. Orsino, one of the manliest men around, in a court filled with men and testosterone, chooses the road of love, poetry and passion. It is easy to mock him, but it also makes me think that cynicism is a coward’s weapon. Being in rehearsal on the first day and hearing Mark and Milla, the dramaturg, was like being hit with one crescendoing wave after another. So many of the characters in the play choose the path of vulnerability, the more heroic, difficult path. And they choose to express themselves in verse, a more heightened passionate way of speaking. I, Mahira, the actor, have friends who are poets and spoken word artists. When they wish to speak truth-when they wish to articulate their deepest truths and the essence of who they are and what they seek, they speak in verse.
I cannot tell you how grateful I am to inhabit a world where verse abounds, and where love swirls in the air like it is there for one’s having, if only one could open ones heart to it.
More soon to follow.