Cal Shakes hits SF for unplugged ‘Twelfth Night’

California Shakespeare Theater’s new production of “Twelfth Night” is being presented this month not just on Mission Street in San Francisco but on tour too, including the Alameda County Juvenile Detention Center.

Director Michelle Hensley thinks the author likely would approve.

“Shakespeare had people from all classes in his audiences. He didn’t just write for the wealthy people with good educations who were well behaved,” says Hensley, artistic director of the acclaimed Minneapolis-based troupe Ten Thousand Things, which performs classics in prisons, homeless shelters and detox centers as well as for the general public.

Among the reasons Shakespeare goes over well in places outside theater, she says, is because “he told big stories that would engage everybody. And the characters in Shakespeare, many of them live their lives at the extremes of human existence, much like many people in our nontraditional audiences.”

California Shakespeare Theater Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone approached Hensley about coming to the Bay Area to help connect with local marginalized and low-income communities as part of Cal Shakes’ 40th anniversary celebration.

She agreed, and her production, which runs in low-cost performances at Intersection for the Arts, features an all-female cast of Cal Shakes’ stalwarts.

“It’s a play about gender confusion, and when you have the same-sex cast playing all the parts of male and female, it kind of increases the gender confusion, which is really fun. And it kind of gives you a sense of what it might have been like in Shakespeare’s day watching the play, except that it’s all women instead of all men,” says Hensley, whose troupe is known for its stripped-down style.

The production values for “Twelfth Night” differ from those of typical Cal Shakes shows performed in the company’s expansive outdoor theater in Orinda.

“We don’t use a stage. It’s very bare bones,” Hensley says. “It’s really just a circle of chairs with the actors performing in the center. All of the lights in the room are on. It’s kind of raw, in a way. One person in the Twin Cities said, ‘It’s like mainlining theater.’ You’re so in the middle of it.”

Feeling quite positive about the show, Hensley says audiences will find themselves “really sucked into the story, watching the best actresses, the clearest storytelling and watching in a very intimate, immediate way. … It’ll be some of the best Shakespeare you’ll ever see.”


Twelfth Night

Presented by California Shakespeare Theater

Where: Intersection for the Arts, 925 Mission St., S.F.

When: Opens Feb. 20, 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes March 2

Tickets: $20

Contact: (510) 548-9666,

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