While triple-digit heat settles into the Treasure Valley for much of August, Christmas is about to come the Idaho Shakespeare Festival... sort of.
William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (the title refers of the 12th day of Christmas—remains a favorite more than four centuries after it was first unwrapped. Its themes of gender identity, accepting change and loving oneself feel contemporary as we follow the perils and passion of Viola, one of the most popular characters in the Bard's canon.
Prior to the Friday, Aug. 5 opening of Twelfth Night—which will feature 15 performances through Sunday, Aug. 28—we sat down with Cassandra Bissell (Viola) and Juan Rivera Lebron (Orsino) about their summer under the stars.
How did your professional relationship with the company begin?
Bissell: December 2013, I was just about to run out of unemployment. I had auditioned for Charlie Fee in the fall, and I actually got an offer to go somewhere else. I sent Charlie and email, and it turns out that he had already cast me as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing for the next season. It turns out that everyone else knew except me. Somehow, I had been left off of the email list.
Lebron: I was working at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2007. Charlie was in town and asked if I would audition. I said sure. I think it was three years later that I received an email with an offer for a role, but I couldn't do it that year. The next year, I got another offer to join ISF for a production of The Imaginary Invalid.
Where is home for you now?
Bissell: My partner and I are gypsies. We have continually worked out of town. I'm doing Twelfth Night here and in Cleveland, and then I return to Idaho to perform with the Company in Fools in Sun Valley for the early part of 2017.
Lebron: My wife is Christine Webber; she plays Olivia in Twelfth Night. We kept a home in Los Angeles for two years; we're also gypsies now.
What's the upside of having two actors living under one roof?
Bissell: Being comfortable enough to change ideas. My partner is Neil Brookshire, who has performed many times at ISF.
I'm presuming you have to make that relationship work when you're spending a considerable amount of time apart.
Bissell: But we just came off of 10 months of working together. Our relationship is on solid enough ground so that we can make decisions based on each of our artistic fulfillments.
Do you talk about marriage?
Bissell: I've never been interested in being married.
That said, you seem to be continually cast as women who have obvious tug-of-wars with love, commitment and usually end up married.
Bissell: That's very true.
Over the past few years, I've heard more than a few audience members comment on your naturally curly hair. Quite honestly, it looks like an amazing theatrical wig.
Bissell: It's funny. I've had grown people comment on it more than kids. I was in a production of The Tempest once and as I was coming out of the theater after the show, a bunch of people said, "Wait, that's your real hair?" I said, "Yeah, but you don't need to pull on it." I credit my hair with the success of my Shakespeare career. I used to hate it. I've grown to love it.
Can you speak to how Twelfth Night remains contemporary all these years later?
Bissell: All the big issues are there: love, loss, rediscovering and even reinventing yourself.
Lebron: For my character, who is a duke and of a very high status, it's rare for him to let someone into his heart. He reveals the most intimate parts of his heart to Cesario, who is actually Viola in disguise. And when Viola, this beautiful woman, reveals herself, she already knows my soul. It's a short leap from there to love.
And Boise audiences...
Bissell: Are awesome. This is how these Shakespeare comedies were written to be performed. And Boise audiences always want us to win.