Sunday, June 17, 2012

Planet Connections Interview - Casey Cleverly of "Twelfth Night: Wall Street"

By Byrne Harrison

As an artist, Casey Cleverly creates new works of theatre that ask bold questions about contemporary society and pushes theatrical boundaries. Favorite directing credits include: Trojan Women Redux (adapter); Smooth Criminal (premiere), There is No Dash (premiere); A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer (co-director), Rumors, and The Butler Did It.  Casey curates the monthly play reading series COTE Tales, showcasing emerging playwrights work. She holds an MA in Performance Studies from NYU, Tisch School of the Arts, and studied script development at both The College of William and Mary, and Cambridge University.

How did you first get involved in theatre?

I first got involved in theater when I saw an open casting call for the role of Mary in The Secret Garden.  I was age 12 at the time, and my heart skipped a beat at the chance of playing a role in my favorite childhood book. When I got the role, I was mentored by a wonderful Washington DC director who fostered my love for theater.  In high school I directed the main stage play senior year, and that's when I found that directing was my true calling. I loved having the responsibility for the artistic vision of a piece, rather than just focusing on one role.

Who are your biggest influences?

One of my biggest influences were Julie Taymore, as I saw her as really influential woman in the world of theater directing -  an occupation I perceived to be mostly male when I was growing up. My mother took me to see an exhibit about her work, and it changed the way I viewed theater.  I loved what she does through puppet work and breaking the laws of realism.  I'm also heavily influenced by the director Ivo Van Hove.  He takes classic works, breaks them down, so that they are more visceral and raw.  In my directing, I'm very into taking a classic play that people are already familiar with and doing something strange and different with it to really change the perception of the piece.

What is your show about?
When the young Viola takes a job at the financial firm Horsing and Partners, she quickly finds that in order to move up the corporate ladder, she needs to dress as a man. Meanwhile her tough boss Orsino is intent on wooing the business of a major fashion client, Olivia and Co., at whatever cost. Their world turns topsy-turvy as the fashion heiress, Olivia, falls in love with the young analyst in disguise, and Olivia's pesky relatives come to Occupy Wall Street. Twelfth Night: Wall Street is a play full of camp, satire, and serious money.

What inspired you to direct it?

Twelfth Night has always been one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, ever since I first encountered it in 6th Grade.  However, I'm a firm believer that if you are going to do a play that has been done thousands of times already (such as Shakespeare), you need to do something different with it.  Therefore I brainstormed how I could make Twelfth Night a modern parable. Why would a woman need to dress like a man this day in age?  That's when I ran across the recently published exposé, “Suits: A Woman on Wall Street.” The author, Nina Godiwalla, tells with alarming clarity her time as a banking analyst in Morgan Stanley’s Financial Services division. As a Persian-American woman, Nina found out the hard way that America corporate culture is still an old boys club for white, wealthy males.  This book became my basis for turning twelfth night into a gender commentary on modern corporate culture.

Who are your collaborators and how long have you been working with them?

My producers are my colleagues (Ashley Marinaccio and Robert Gonyo) in our theater company, Co-Op Theater East.  We all went to grad school together back in 2007 at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. We formed this company 4 years ago, and focus our work around social issues.  We take turns producing each other's shows.  We also have an ensemble of resident actors.  Two are in this production – Kerrie Bond playing Fabian, and Mike Rhese playing Sir Toby.

Why was it important to you to be part of an eco-friendly theatre festival?

I was really drawn to the concept of an Eco-friendly festival because protecting the environment has always been a really big concern to me. My father was a research scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency, so it was honed in to me at a young age the importance of protecting this beautiful planet we are on.  Planet Connections is the only theater festival I'm aware of that makes environmental awareness such a big part of the festival. Its great to connect the arts with Eco-awareness.

Planet Connections donates a portion of the box office for each show to a charity.  What charity has your production chosen and why?

We chose Women In Need as the charity. I found it was good fit for the play, as they encourage women to be self-sufficient in the working world.  They provide the tools for women to complete their education and find solutions for child-care.
And finally, if a genie were to grant you one wish, what would you wish for?

I would wish for a theater building in New York where Co-Op Theatre East can make their permanent home.

For more about "Twelfth Night: Wall Street," visit or

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