Atlanta Director Stages ‘Twelfth Night’ In Albania

Actors Armela Demaj and Florian Agalliu in Teatri Metropol's production of “Nata e Dymbëdhjetë” ("Twelfth Night").
Actors Armela Demaj and Florian Agalliu in Teatri Metropol's production of “Nata e Dymbëdhjetë” ("Twelfth Night").
Credit Courtesy of Ergys Meta

The plays of William Shakespeare often transport audiences to vastly different places and times, all from the comfort of their theatre seats. Justin Anderson was transported by one of the Shakespeare’s plays, but in a literal sense.

Anderson is the Associate Artistic Director of Aurora Theatre and he spent October to December in Tirana, Albania where he directed a production of “Twelfth Night.” It was the first production of that play that the Mediterranean republic had seen since 1987.

Anderson collaborated on the show with one-time Atlantan Jonida Beqo, artistic director of Teatri Metropol. The two met while working on a show at Theatrical Outfit.

“It seemed to be the perfect intersection between a very familiar piece [and] connecting it to its roots,” Anderson told City Lights host Lois Reitzes, “because its location is Illyria, which is ancient Albania.”

“It was a tremendous opportunity,” he says, “to try to reclaim a sense of the story and place it in the location that Shakespeare had utilized.”

That sense of place was bolstered through the use of traditional Albanian garments from the mid-19th century, music from that period, as well as translating Shakespeare’s verse into Albanian.

“It is my hope that these ingredients,” Anderson writes in the director’s notes for the production, “or intentional intersections as I like to call them, will allow an audience to not only receive something that is at once familiar from a literary and theatrical standpoint, but to experience a story that is both for and of the historical context of Albania.”

Anderson plans to eventually return to Albania. He and Bego are developing a musical based on the life of singer Vaçe Zela. In this initial visit to the republic, he says that the most important thing he learned was to become a better listener.

“Often the best thing you can bring to any situation is a sense of openness and vulnerability,” he said. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to have learned to just be in a room day after day and really learn to try to understand the differences and similarities between myself and the other artists I was working with and our different approaches to the work and how we could create something that felt authentic.”