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South Dakota Shakespeare Festival Completes Casting for 2021 Production

VERMILLION, S.D. – Chaya Gordon-Bland, South Dakota Shakespeare Festival (SDSF) executive artistic director, is pleased to announce that casting is complete for the company’s June production of “Twelfth Night, or What You Will,” in Vermillion’s Prentis Park June 17-20.

Working with the show’s director Oliver Mayes, Gordon-Bland held auditions in Vermillion, virtually through the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and by special invitation.

“I am pleased that not only was such a strong cast assembled, but also the racial and diversity of the cast will put a world on stage that reflects the best world we could live in,” said Gordon-Bland.

The cast comprises students, faculty and alumni of the USD Department of Theatre. The notable exception is Mia Hilt, who plays the role of the shipwrecked Viola who disguises herself as a man. Hilt is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she studies theatre performance and dance.

Swirled in the tale of mismatched lovers and mistaken identities are Gordon-Bland as Olivia and Abdul-Khaliq Murtadha as Orsino. Gordon-Bland is the associate professor in the areas movement, Shakespeare, and classical styles at USD, and Murtadha is completing a year as visiting assistant professor of acting at USD before heading to Auburn University.

Among the May-December romances are USD’s Joe Stollenwerk, assistant professor of directing, who plays Sir Toby, and B.F.A. musical theatre students Megan Gilbreath as Maria and Carter Hoffer as Sebastian.

The colorful, comical and musical cast is completed with B.F.A. musical theatre students Eleanor Carle as Feste, Grace Kjelden as Fabian, and B.F.A. acting alumnus Caleb Olson as Sir Andrew. SDSF audiences will fondly recall Shekendra Morgan as Malvolio/Antonio, having played Bottom in its acclaimed production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 2019. Swings include B.F.A. musical theatre students Zach Lopez and Claire Vetter and B.F.A. musical theatre alumnus Austin Vetter.

Directing the production is Oliver Mayes, who recently completed his M.F.A. thesis project “Zanna, Don’t” at USD. He also directed “The Eccentricities of a Nightingale” at USD and “Mamma Mia!” with the Vermillion Community Theatre.

Mayes finds special resonance with this play. “’Twelfth Night, or What You Will’ is a play full of invitations. It invites us to examine the power of love and desire, and how that unpredictable power can bring forth conflict for societal constructs such as class and gender roles. Shakespeare has gifted us with a theatrical experience that beautifully provokes deep thought through laughter and joy,” Mayes said.

Gordon-Bland looks forward to returning to live performances. “In considering our production for this summer, there was an overwhelming consensus within the company that it was important to produce a joyful and uplifting comedy. This has been such a challenging and stressful time in the world. The SDSF wants to bring joy to people’s lives, and help support health, happiness, and healing for our communities through theatre,” said Gordon-Bland.

Throughout rehearsals and performances, the SDSF will implement an array of mitigation techniques, including de-densification, distancing, use of masks and thorough sanitation. The free production in the park will take place for a live audience as well as via a streaming platform.

The mission of the SDSF is to engage, connect and inspire communities by exploring our shared human experiences through inclusive, professional Shakespeare productions and theatre arts education. Our values encompass access, inclusion, integrity and artistic excellence.

Since 2012, the SDSF has been producing free, world-class Shakespeare in the Park in Vermillion, South Dakota, accompanied by a wide array of education and engagement programming, through partnerships with local and regional schools and organizations. The SDSF values diversity and inclusion in its work, and it seeks to create theatre and build audiences that reflect and nourish the diversity of its communities. Since its inception, and in keeping with our mission, all festival events are free and open to the public.

More information can be found at


USD's College of Fine Arts encourages students to pursue their chosen professional field in art, music or theater through their study with nationally recognized faculty who are working professionals. Students learn and grow to be professional fine artists with great job potential anywhere in the country. The college offers opportunities for additional real-world experiences through work with guest artists, study tours abroad and opportunities at the National Music Museum and the University Art Galleries on the Vermillion campus and the Black Hills Playhouse in Custer State Park. The college brings more than 80 guests artists to campus annually to work with students.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News