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Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ is coming to the Stauss Theatre

February 16, 2023

Sounds of live music, sights of European architecture and costume pieces from the 1950s are just a few things audience members will see when the lights go up in the Stauss Theatre for Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” which runs from Feb. 16-26. 

The story of “Twelfth Night” takes place on the shores of Illyria, where Viola is trying to find her brother Sebastian after a shipwreck. The search leads Viola to disguise herself as a man, working for Duke Orsino who’s in love with the countess Olivia. Olivia though is in love with Viola, thinking she is a man, leading to a love triangle between the three characters. 

The show is told through Shakespearean language, using rhythmic beats to convey themes of love, loss and identity. The show also adds modern elements to Shakespeare’s play with live and original music, lighting and sound effects.

Jo Sandburg, assistant professor of lighting and sound, composed original music for the production. Originally she was slated as the lighting designer of the show.

“The director realized that there was a lot of music in this play that Shakespeare had written actual lyrics to songs. And he had heard that I was a composer and wondered if I would like to do that, and then I took on the role of composing original music,” Sandburg said. 

The project for Sandburg brought its fair share of new challenges, as Shakespearean language takes a totally different spin on the way words are used which sometimes can make it hard to understand, she said. 

“It’s been challenging. There are certain lyrics that make sense to me and lend themselves to melodies and others that I really had to work very hard on. But I started with looking at and marking in my script all of the scenes that have music mentioned in them, and then if I don’t know if a particular style is mentioned, and if I don’t know what that is then I go do some research,” Sandburg said. 

Although the language may be difficult at times to understand, Sandburg hopes that audience members aren’t scared away by this and that they can enjoy how funny the script is. 

“Don’t get frustrated with the language. Take the acting and the context clues that the actors are giving you in their movement, in their body language and in their facial expressions, and you’ll find the story in there. It’s a funny story,” Sandburg said. 

Lighting designer of the show Luke Eisner, senior theatrical design and production major, discussed his role in showcasing this story through lighting, explaining the different factors that go into designing the lights. 

“​​So my role is really to help create the sense of time and place using the light which is a really unique challenge. Because I mean, the set stays the same throughout the entire show. So I have to craft where we are in the world and what time of day it is, which is a really unique challenge,” he said. 

Eisner further discussed how time indicated in the script helps with this, using lighting that includes daytime, nighttime and even sunrises and sunsets to help convey the setting and time in the story.

“I’d say colors are probably the most important thing in my eyes, just because in a sense like this trying to create a Mediterranean experience. The kind of teal-ish blues really helped pull through the night times, creating like a soft moonlight. And then you’ve got pinks and oranges to create that simulation of sunrise and sunset,” Eisner said. 

Other members of the creative team like director Mike King, associate professor of theatre, discussed how “Twelfth Night” was his first ever show that he got paid to be in. Now, many years later, he’s revisiting the same script for King’s last show that he is directing at NKU. 

“I wanted to do something that would in some ways bring me full circle, ‘Twelfth Night’ was the first play I got paid to do. So it’s kind of like coming home in some ways,” King said. 

He also reflected on his last show at NKU, explaining how directing his last show has been bittersweet. He spent a lot of time with students in previous productions early in their degree. 

“It’s a bittersweet kind of thing. I’ve really, really enjoyed this production. The cast is really talented. Some of them I’ve worked with before, so I worked with them in their freshman year and now they’re graduating,”

King hopes that audience members can find humor with the show, stating how this play in particular is different from other plays written by Shakespeare.

“I really hope they laugh and can appreciate the fact that Shakespeare can be funny and not all depressing tragedies, but that he has these brilliant comedies as well. You know, out of all of the plays, this is one of the most interesting because he also balances comedy with a little bit of darkness,” King said. 

“Twelfth Night” runs from Feb. 16-26 in the Stauss Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, you can visit

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