In the final scene of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night; or What You Will, Duke Orsino struggles to understand: “One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons.” How can this be?
Antonio, the outlaw, is equally perplexed and chimes in: “How have you made division of yourself? An apple cleft in two is not more twin than these two creatures.”
SPOILER ALERT: This charming confusion is due to the reuniting of Twelfth Night's Infamous Identical Twins*, Viola and Sebastian.
Viola and Sebastian are in good mythical and literary company when it comes to “two of a kind” siblings. From the godly twins of Apollo and Artemis in Greek Mythology and Romulus and Remus in Roman Mythology, to the Gemini Twins of the Zodiac, to the Weasley Twins of Harry Potter fame, to the numerous sets of twins in dramatic literature (e.g. Goldoni’s The Venetian Twins, the musically conjoined sisters of Side Show, and returning to Shakespeare and his Comedy of Errors where he “doubles-down” on the twin motif with not one, but two pairs of identical siblings)… art, science and culture have been fascinated by and drawn to these doubles since the genesis of literature and oral tradition.
Indeed, there does seem to be something magnetic and otherworldly about these “apples cleft in twain.”
But in all these on-stage explorations, how often were those theaters and playwrights luckyenough to work with the real deal???To have twins playing… twins??
Well, Titan Theatre Company just so happens to have lucked out.
In a rare and exciting production of Twelfth Night; or What You Will, Opening March 24that the Queen's Theatre, real life identical twins, Lauren and Sierra Tothero, will have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to take on Shakespeare’s infamous identical duo, Viola and Sebastian. And you have the once-in-a-lifetime-chance to see it!
In a conjoined interview (sorry ladies. couldn't resist.), I ask Sierra and Lauren, a bit about what it was like to grow up as “an apple cleft in two” - among other things
Read on to get to know
Titan’s Talented Tothero Twins.
- Which of you was born first?
Lauren was born one minute earlier.
- Do you have any other siblings?
Nope! We were a 2 for 1 deal.
- Where did you grow up?
Right smack dab in the middle of Austin, Texas.
- What is it like growing up as an identical twin? Are there advantages?
Haha it’s interesting because, since we don’t have any other siblings, we don’t have anything to compare it to. But it is hard to imagine understanding someone more than we understand one another. I mean it was definitely to a...shall we say...eccentric level.
We had our own language growing up and stuff.
We also had the same tics and neuroses that we wouldn’t know about until we talked about it years later (thanks therapy!).
- Are there disadvantages to being an identical twin?
One disadvantage about being a twin is that in our culture twins are either sexualized or infantilized, and we experienced both growing up.
As teenagers we were consistently talked down to - called “cute”, “adorable,” etc.--not exactly what we were wanting as we were trying to grow into empowered adults. People would also ask our boyfriends “How did you choose??” which was like… what!?! Pretty insulting.
Another major annoyance growing up was people always compared us. Some people-- we're talking adults, like other kids’ parents--would even ask us questions like “Which one is the smart twin?” or “Which one is the athletic one?” Really!?! When else do you ever find it appropriate to ask that question about siblings? But since we were identical twins people thought it was ok for some reason.
Our parents would be very good with responding “Oh we don’t compare our kids,” but people would push. “I mean...who gets better grades?” People have this intense desire to compare us, and it was incredibly annoying.
- How did you deal with this constant comparison?
Lauren: The best thing we ever did for ourselves was go to different colleges. It was the first time in our lives that we each had a group of friends that didn’t know our twin. I was always the shyer one growing up, so I relied on Sierra to create our social life, and eventually had insecurities about being able to have friends without her. But luckily it wasn’t an issue at all! I finally realized “Oh. I’m a whole person even without Sierra. Sweet.”
- Do people have a hard time telling you apart? If so, how frustrating is that and how do you overcome it?
When we were younger, absolutely. We legitimately won a Twin’s Contest in Ocean City, New Jersey four years in a row!
Now that we’re older, it’s less so. And our best friends and family generally have zero trouble. But every now and then, to their utter shock, our mom or dad will call us the wrong name! It’s rare and only for a moment now, and people are always extremely apologetic when they call us the wrong name. But it is truly not a big deal or offensive to us. It’s something that’s happened our entire life, so we don’t really think twice about it.
- Okay. Have to ask. Have you ever pretended to be one another to confuse people?
We did once in elementary school on April Fool’s day because our class really wanted us to, but usually we were too shy to go through with it. It’s one of those weird things that pop culture is all about, but when you think it through it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
- There’s been a lot written about a psychic connection between twins. Have you two ever experienced anything like that?
We’ve had the same dreams on the same night.
We finish each other’s sentences all the time.
In conversations, we know exactly what the other is going to say before she says it. It’s just a matter of deciding who is going to be the one who talks.
And like we said, we also had our own language when we were little.
- Where do you each live now?
Lauren is in Los Angeles, and Sierra is in Austin...for now.
- What are some of your biggest differences as people?
Sierra: Hmmmm… Lauren’s really into beets, and honestly...I could take ‘em or leave ‘em. Taste kind of like dirt to me. But Lauren loves them.
Lauren: And Sierra, however, likes cashews. And I am not a fan.
Sierra: Haha seriously though...there aren’t many. I suppose like any close people or best friends, there aren’t many. From a nature vs nurture perspective, we have identical nature and pretty close to identical nurture, so it’s not surprising that we’re pretty darn similar.
- How did you get into theatre?
It’s just something we both always loved. We’d always be putting on plays and shows for our neighbors to come see. Acting in front of movies and whatnot. We were cast in this puppet show in 1st grade and loved it.
Sierra: I remember assuming that everyone loves this. It took a few years to realize that the love of performing is not intrinsic for everyone. We did musicals in middle school and then went to the fine arts academy in Austin for Performance Theatre. That’s when it became an obsession. I don’t think we came home from school at a usual time for 3 years (shout-out to Mom and Dad for those 10pm pick-ups!).
- What was the first show either of you did?
Not discounting our elementary school theatre experiences (which were awesome! Go arts in schools!), our first traditional theatre experience was Annie in 7th grade. We were chorus orphans. This was quickly eclipsed by our stand-out performances in the Lullaby League in the 8th grade production of The Wizard of Oz. Chorus Orphans to Chorus Munchkins...what a rush.
- Since Chorus Orphans to Chorus Munchkins... what have your individual theatre training backgrounds been?
Lauren: I received my BFA in Drama from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts
Sierra: I received my BFA in Acting at Rutgers University. But do you want to know what’s crazy? Lauren didn’t get accepted to Rutgers, and I didn’t get accepted to NYU. How weird is that!?
- What is your favorite Shakespeare play?
Sierra: I’m kind of a romantic, so I have to say Romeo and Juliet. I love exploring and celebrating that naive, youthful, unapologetic love. The text in that balcony scene--all those shared lines--is so fun to say. Too bad how it ends though...yikes.
Lauren: I love As You Like It. Rosalind rocks. I’m also all about the portrayal of strong female friendship.
- What draws you to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night; Or What You Will?
Sierra: Feste has always been one of my favorite characters in the canon, so I’m excited to have a scene with him. It’s also exciting to explore that feeling of unrequited infatuation between Viola with Orsino.. And of course the opportunity to work with Lauren for the first time in 9 years!
Lauren: It’s going to be so fun playing with the different levels of “gender-bending.” I’m a woman who is playing a man. Sierra is a woman who is playing a woman who is playing a man. It’s a cool twist on the original productions in Shakespeare’s time (when all the characters were played by men). I’m excited to see how our portrayals--me being a man and Sierra being a woman playing a man--are similar and different come opening night.