Published: Oct. 29, 2019

Award-winning director returns to MSU for 'Twelfth Night'

Contact(s): Abigail Tykocki College of Arts and Letters

Award-winning playwright, director and actor Gus Kaikkonen returns to Lansing as a guest director for the Michigan State Department of Theatre production of "Twelfth Night" by William Shakespeare, running Nov. 8 – 17.

Prior to its closing in 2010, the BoarsHead Theater was mid-Michigan’s oldest professional resident theater. In the theater’s 43 years of business, Kaikkonen directed, acted in, or wrote over a dozen shows, including three separate productions of his play "Time Steps."

His prolific career includes being in the original Broadway cast of Equus and, most recently, directing a New York production of "Hindle Wakes." For the past 25 years, Kaikkonen has served as artistic director of Peterborough Players in New Hampshire.

Known as one of Shakespeare’s classic comedies, "Twelfth Night" explores themes of gender confusion. A girl, Viola, disguises herself as male to be near the man she loves, only to be pursued by the woman that he loves. The result is a madcap tale of mistaken identities and misplaced affections.

“Shakespeare wrote really strong female roles in a time and medium that was inherently misogynistic,” says Kaikkonen. “Yet, he wrote with a discipline and awareness that isn’t making fun of anyone. He was adept at holding a mirror up to society. The characters of Olivia and Viola are finding their own way and are not interested in doing what the men in the play want them to do.”

His concept for the production is simple. “We want the audience to understand the story. In directing the show, I’m not trying to find the best Viola, for example. I’m trying to find the actor’s best interpretation of that character. What will make the play unique is the fact that this specific actor is playing that character. I work to see who my cast are as people and try to infuse their behaviors in the characters.”

In addition to his role as a guest director, Kaikkonen is also instructing Michigan State students in a classical acting course.

"Twelfth Night" runs for ten performances Nov. 8 - 17 in the Arena Theatre at the MSU Auditorium building. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $13 for seniors and MSU faculty/staff  and $10 for MSU students. Tickets are available at, at the Wharton Center box office or by calling 1-800-WHARTON.

Jamie Lien as Olivia, Isa Rodriguez as Viola and Brandon Drap as Sebastian with Director Gus Kaikkonen pose on the set of "Twelfth Night."