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University group brings twist to Shakespeare

Mikey Howerton and Rina Haimson as Malvolio and Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

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Posted on: December 15, 2022

By Aanisah Husain

The University of Maryland’s Shakespeare theater group, the Maryland Shakespeare Players (MDSP), offers a creative twist to Shakespeare’s timeless plays. Their current production of “Twelfth Night” is set in 1970s California. Jack Benedict, a senior economics major who directed the production, said it includes “a lot of mayhem, cross dressing, gender swapping and love triangles.

Mikey Howerton playing Malvolio
Mikey Howerton playing Malvolio
Photo Credit: Anton Van De Motter

“What’s so wonderful about Shakespeare is that his language is so fluid that we can allow [a change] to happen, and we can make that change without it impacting the plot and messaging detrimentally,” he said.

The group’’s production ran in the Kogod Theatre at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center from Dec. 1 to Dec. 3.

Claire Nelson and Jaime Breeden playing Viola and Sir Toby Belch.
Claire Nelson and Jaime Breeden playing Viola and Sir Toby Belch.
Photo Credit: Anton Van De Motter

“Everything that we cut, everything that we add, every change that we make, we think out very thoroughly to make sure it makes sense for our setting and our vision,” said Liam O’Donoghue, MDSP treasurer and a junior mechanical engineering major.

MDSP is a student-run, theater group that has been performing student-produced and student-directed Shakespearean plays at the university for about 17 years. The group  attracts not only theater majors, but also students on many different academic tracks. 

“It’s become a special thing … it’s a way for all these people who wouldn’t really be given the chance to interact with normally outside of this space [to] come together over theater,” O’Donoghue said.

According to stage manager Alana Isaac, the group is highly focused on creating a “fun, carefree environment.”

“What’s nice about MDSP is that it’s not only that everyone has to be professional all the time,” said Isaac, a sophomore theater major. “It’s not always work all the time. It’s a lot of focus on having fun and getting to know each other.”

O’Donoghue added, “We expect a lot from our actors, [but] we expect people to have fun and goof around just a little bit.”

Alyssa Levin, Nicky Sremac-Saari and Ema Rajala star in “Twelfth Night.”
Alyssa Levin, Nicky Sremac-Saari and Ema Rajala star in “Twelfth Night.”
Photo Credit: Anton Van De Motter

Zoe Gallagher, who is MDSP’s event administrator and a senior public policy major, is a newly minted fan of Shakespeare’s work.

“Every time you read the script, you discover something else, or you discover another joke that you might have missed just because the language is antiquated,” she said 

Benedict noted that being involved with MDSP has been a high point of his time at UMD and motivated him to do even more with the group.

“MDSP has had such a positive impact on my college experience, and I wanted to do something greater,” said Benedict. “I just felt once I was involved with MDSP, I thought it was such a good community that I at least wanted to give something more than I had before.”



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