OHIO artists return to their roots for Tantrum Theater’s production of “Twelfth Night”

Published: November 14, 2023 Author: Sophia Rooksberry, HTC ‘26

Tantrum Theater, OHIO’s in-house professional theater company, often brings in professionals in the industry to work collaboratively with students both on stage and on the creative side. Recently, Tantrum Theater opened Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” also known as “What You Will,” bringing in several professionals to mentor and work alongside School of Theater students, including two guest artists whose ties to OHIO remain deep.

Shelley Delaney, a retired professor from OHIO’s School of Theater, is the show’s guest director, with OHIO alum, Megan Culley, acting as the production’s guest sound designer and composer. Both guest artists have a long history of working on OHIO’s stage.

“I’m really happy to be back…in a teaching environment, but also as a guest, so it’s kind of the best of both worlds,” Delaney said.

Delaney came to OHIO with a full professional acting career behind her and did a deeper dive into directing upon her arrival. She still has a New York agent and pursues acting but feels too at home in Athens to leave just yet. This production of “Twelfth Night” will be her fourth Shakespeare show as a director, and she is ecstatic to be participating in this particular play.

“It is a funny play, it is an accessible play…it’s (part of) a conversation we’re in everyday about gender, and Shakespeare was writing it 400 years ago,” Delaney said. “The dialogue about who you love, and what that is supposed to look like by what is prescribed by a given society…is torn so wide open in this play, it’s shocking to think of it as 400 years old.”

Delaney described the environment of the show as more elemental than architectural and the contemporary and organic setting is contributed to by Culley’s expertise and artistry.

Originally, Culley, a 2016 graduate of the MFA in Production Design and Technology program, came to OHIO as a speech pathology major, and then switched disciplines in grad school after discovering a passion for sound design and the theater. Culley moved to New York after graduating and has worked on regional and Broadway productions ever since.

“Athens is really special to me, I lived here for seven years. Most of my formative memories happened here, and I just really loved the theater department and the professors, and I lept at the chance to work with all of them again,” said Culley on her decision to return for this project.

The open-ended setting of Tantrum’s Shakespeare rendition allowed Culley to combine her skills and experience in a new way, fusing Portuguese, Italian, Greek and African influences into both the music and sound design.

“I’ve never done a show that combines all those things,” Culley said. “Every single show is different. Every single Shakespeare is different. It all depends on where the team wants to go.”

With this show specifically, the design team, headed by Delaney, put an emphasis on the language that Shakespeare is so renowned for.

“(For) so many people, most of their entertainment comes through their television. There is great acting and writing on television, but it’s the rarer television show that is language driven, and I love language. I love that there are words that are so delicious to say, we’ve been laughing for weeks about ‘consanguineous’,” said Delaney. “Besides that, the job then becomes (to)...make that clear enough so it doesn’t feel like we’re speaking a foreign language, and it’s really important that…you don’t bring the language down to being casual, that you rise to the language.”

There are many things an audience member can gain from seeing a Shakespeare play, especially one as chaotic and timeless as “Twelfth Night.”

 “What I hope (the audience) gains is another viewpoint into a Shakespeare (play) that they’re hopefully familiar with,” Culley added. “Hopefully they see some of the darkness in it, see some of the comedy in a different way and come away with a new lens for a story that is familiar.” 

The creative team also hopes that the actors, which is mainly compromised of acting students from OHIO, as well as professional guests, find some new lessons in their work on the production.

“I believe in the teaching of acting, and theater as an environment that creates better citizens of the world,” said Delaney. She believes that learning how to perform Shakespeare will also guide them in future theatrical endeavors.

“Shakespeare is glorious to play. It’s really hard work to do, but then the playing of it is as easy as you can possibly get. I want (the students) to do all the work so that they cannot think about it at all when they’re doing it and just take the ride,” Delaney added.

Tantrum Theater’s “Twelfth Night” will conclude on Nov. 18 and included shows with talkbacks and ASL interpretation.

The core message that Delaney channeled into the production, one that is sure to inspire and resonate with any potential audience member, is that she “wants everyone to love theater.”