Youth Director Adrian Martin Taking on Twelfth Night for Summer Penguin Show
Written by Sam Doherty | July 25, 2022
Adrian (far right) in his natural habitat.
Adrian Martin (he/they) is a rising Junior at Lincoln. He’s been doing theater since his mom realized there was a cheaper alternative to daycare. He’s been doing Shakespeare since he found Penguin in 2020. This is the first time he has ever directed a piece, and he is absolutely thrilled for everyone to see the finished product!
Adrian has been acting for many years, but in 2022 he is the director for Penguin’s production of the Shakespearean comedy Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night follows the story of Viola, a woman shipwrecked in Illyria and separated from her brother, Sebastian. In order to enter the service of one Duke Orsino, the captain of her ship helps Viola disguise herself as a man, after which drama ensues, including an unlikely love triangle and a ridiculous subplot revolving around Olivia’s steward Malvolio’s unfortunate encounters with a host of fools.
In Adrian’s vision however, Illyria is a gratuitously gendered summer camp, the likes of which many people experience throughout their childhood. Viola is a trans participant in said summer camp who has gone back into the closet, and the sea has become the gulf between social groups. It is a story about discovering one’s identity in a space where such things are often frowned upon.
The challenge with putting on a Shakespeare production is one of novelty. Adrian’s talent as a director is shown clearly in the way he has built a unique structure out of the same, 400-year-old script. Old jokes are made new again, time-worn tropes are dusted off and made relevant to the modern world. Adrian comes at Twelfth Night with the fresh perspective of a youth director. In my conversations with the actors, I asked about their experience working with a director who was around their own age. Rudy, the actor playing Sebastian, had this to say:
“I feel like one thing I’ve really liked about having a youth director is that while he’s more in authority, you still feel closer to the director, when they’re closer in age it’s more like we’re all on the same playing field, but everyone is just listening to this one person who has these ideas. So it’s different than say, Penguin always has pretty young directors, but you look at productions with adult-adult directors and there’s that feeling of they’re the director AND they’re so much older than you, so they’re the one with all the answers. But with youth directing, there’s more communication, because the director can ask people for input more often, and we ask him for input, so it’s an equal exchange of information, which I feel like connects the director with the cast more than if the director was an adult.”
As a youth director, Adrian brings more to the table than just fresh ideas, he brings a new relationship between the director and the actors, one that, in this production, has cultivated a sense of community and connection that shines through in the play.
I had the privilege to speak with Adrian about his thought process for the play. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:
Q: “What made you want to direct Twelfth Night?”
Adrian: “…I really frequented our middle school’s library, and I was always taking home books, and so that [Twelfth Night] was the book that I was stuck with [over quarantine]. So, thinking that it was for two weeks, I took it home, thinking I’d be able to return it, and I have that “No Fear” copy in my backpack right now. That summer I just read it, and read it, and read it…That was also the summer that I joined Penguin, I joined Penguin around the same time, and I learned what Shakespeare was, and how to do it, and how to act it, how to read it. I learned how to act. This was also around the time that I was transitioning, that I was figuring out my own gender identity, and Twelfth Night just really…followed me. The idea of being in this foreign place where nothing quite makes sense and you are so…The principle I have for Twelfth Night is that Viola is a trans woman who has put herself back into the closet for feeling for her own safety. I transitioned in the midst of quarantine so when I came back out into the world I didn’t know what the reaction was going to be. ‘Cause I was out as a lesbian in middle school, and it was not great. So I remember being so scared, and I remember coming back out into the world and realizing that so many people had had my same experience, of figuring themselves out during quarantine, and I think that’s what happens in the show. There’s so much queer joy in this show, and at the end, Viola gets to see it, she gets to come back out into the world…
“…I think the experience of making this tough decision between safety and authenticity, and making the choice of safety, and then realizing that there are other people like you, and you can be authentic because there is a community, it’s a privilege. It’s a privilege and also, it’s really…I don’t know, one of the most fundamental experiences in my life has been realizing that there are other people like me, and that I don’t have to be hidden about it. The fear was off of a genuine place, but I got to let that go a little bit, and I think Viola gets to too in this version.”
The decision to set the play in a summer camp was an important one. Adrian wanted a place where Viola might feel the need to closet herself, and where she might have an identity forced on her. But a summer camp, particularly one without real adults present, also created a space where identity could be explored, if in secret.
Another aspect that is important to Adrian is the representation of queer joy in the stories we tell. So often, the stories of marginalized groups are about the suffering of those groups, and while those stories have to be told, they must exist alongside stories of daily experience, happiness, and peace. Adrian’s version of Twelfth Night, while covering topics of dysphoria and othering, is ultimately a story of discovery and reconciliation.
Twelfth Night will be premiering at West Greenlake Park on July 30th at 2pm, and the show will continue on the 31st at the same time!