Audiences watched during Shakespeare Festival’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the fairy Puck disappeared and reappeared at different parts of the stage in little time. It was something that would be impossible for only one actor.
That is because Puck was not played by one actor, but Conservatory of Theatre Arts alumni and identical twins Ryan and Austin Jacobs.
The brothers have been through everything together. Growing up in Houston, Texas, the two were home schooled until they were accepted to Webster University. They both have a mutual love for theatre and performed as the same character for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ annual Shakespeare in the Park in Forest Park.
“We spent every day together, essentially,” Ryan Jacobs said. “We know each other so well.”
The Jacobs brothers’ first theater experience was a camp in Houston their mother enrolled them in as a way to get the twins out of the house and out of the hospitals where they spent a lot of time in order to take care of their grandmothers.
Theater became a hobby for the twins and both decided, independently, to pursue it. The two took on voice and acting classes and began applying for college programs. Ryan Jacobs said he and his brother never expected to go to school together. That is, until Webster accepted both twins.
“Webster accepted both of us in the same program which was very unusual,” Ryan Jacobs said. “It’s hard if you have two people with the exact same type.”
The twins graduated from Webster in May 2016. Austin Jacobs said it was a bittersweet experience, but he was grateful for the classes and the people he met along the way.
“I saw it as the end of the beginning,” Austin Jacobs said.
The last time the twins acted together before joining the Shakespeare Festival was in high school. Ryan Jacobs last worked with the festival in a production of Antony and Cleopatra in summer 2015. Both auditioned for the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream separately, being careful with that process since they were twins. They would not audition on the same day, would wear different clothes and read for different characters.
The director of the production, Rick Dildine, brought the brothers into a room and had them read for the character at the same time. Dildine told them to remember that they were both playing the same character and not two separate roles. Slightly confused how to approach that, they were in a studio at Webster until 3 a.m. working on the audition. They auditioned the next day, not thinking anything would come of it. A month later, they received calls from Dildine telling them they would both be playing the character of Puck.
Austin Jacobs said both of them are different actors from each other and the biggest challenge was taking those differences and trying to create a similar character.
“We work really well together,” Austin Jacobs said. “It’s been really gratifying and really challenging. We’ve had to create a consistent performance with two very different people.”
Ryan Jacobs said the role takes a lot of stamina, calling it a marathon. They have had to work through the humid weather and since they are playing the same character, they had to have a similar mindset in collaboration.
“We have to make sure that we agree on almost every choice that’s made in the show because it has to be as close to a seamless performance as we can get,” Ryan Jacobs said.
Both would love to continue working with each other in the future. For Austin Jacobs, he would be interested in performing in A Comedy of Errors and Blood Brothers, which is about twins separated at birth.
“We’re really hoping to create a niche for ourselves as well as pursuing separate careers,” Austin Jacobs said. “It’s a unique thing we have.”
Both performed in STAGES St. Louis’ production of The Drowsy Chaperone from July 22-August 21, where they played the role of the gangsters in the show who are also brothers, another role suited for a pair of twins. They both plan on moving to New York City to pursue other endeavors.
“It’s been really cool to see each other’s performances and give each other feedback in a way that we both feel comfortable with,” Austin Jacobs said. “It’s been a really great support network.”