MCT Proposal - The Tempest
Updated: Nov 14, 2022
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Proposed by director Arlee Olson
Prospero uses magic to conjure a storm and torment the survivors of a shipwreck, including the King of Naples and Prospero’s treacherous brother, Antonio. Prospero’s slave, Caliban, plots to rid himself of his master, but is thwarted by Prospero’s spirit-servant Ariel. The King’s young son Ferdinand, thought to be dead, falls in love with Prospero’s daughter Miranda. Their celebrations are cut short when Prospero confronts his brother and reveals his identity as the usurped Duke of Milan. The families are reunited and all conflict is resolved. Prospero grants Ariel his freedom and prepares to leave the island.
The Tempest One of Shakespeare’s later plays, and difficult to pigeonhole, The Tempest is:
– a fantasy about magic and spirits,
– a survival story about being shipwrecked on an uncharted island,
– A drama about a dysfunctional family, and political intrigue,
– A comedy that ridicules all of the above.
Before I lose your attention because “it’s Shakespeare again”, let me talk about why The Tempest is relevant, and why The Tempest is exciting.
The Tempest is a tale of colonization. Prospero and his daughter Miranda have been marooned for years on an island peopled by spirits, and a single islander, Caliban, who they quickly, and irrationally, enslaved. Caliban is usually portrayed as a monster. I see him differently. He is an individual with a different culture, and a different language, but only a monster in the eyes of the other characters, a sad victim of their narrowmindedness. Not unlike the way many of our own contemporaries see the “other” as someone to use, exploit, marginalize – indeed, dehumanize. I would like to show Caliban as attractive, with some single physical difference from the other actors. Maybe he is very tall, or maybe the difference is simply hair, make-up, or costume.
The island is populated by spirits. Ariel is the spirit Prospero interacts with most. I see Ariel as spirit – neither male nor female – or more accurately, both male and female. I would like to cast two Ariels: one male presenting, one female presenting, to play the one part at the same time. I envision two graceful humans with similar body types moving sometimes together, sometimes separately, but always as the same unique spirit. Some lines would be said in unison, some would be spoken individually. There is scriptural support for this approach when Ariel says, “Sometime I divide and burn in many places. . . then meet and join.” This would also make Ariel’s sometime schizophrenic seeming personality make more sense. Sometimes they are angry and upset about their bondage to Prospero, and sometimes they delight in the mischief he makes them create. Those two different views could be presented by the two different sides of the Ariel personality.
A production of The Tempest demands music, and dance. I would like to use a troop of spirits as an ensemble to sing and dance around the island to a recorded track. This would be an opportunity to expand the cast with dancers – and to welcome youth and teenagers into the ensemble. Because Shakespeare was writing about a fantastical version of the New World, during the “age of exploration”, I would like to celebrate Latin Rhythms for the island spirits. There are four opportunities for the dance ensemble:
• The storm and shipwreck that opens the show,
• the banquet served to the shipwrecked courtiers,
• the wedding of Miranda and Ferdinand,
• and I also see an opportunity for spirits to mess with Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban while singing "What Do We Do With a Drunken Sailor."
The action takes place on several different parts of the island: In front of Prospero’s cave, at the seaside after the wreck, and various places where characters are wandering lost. I see a physical cave, with a platform on top, from which characters can watch the action below, and logs and rocks to serve as seats, and levels. Most of the set changes would be accomplished with projections, and the spirits would be involved in making the “magic” of the scene changes happen.
The magic is one of the most fun, yet most troubling aspects of the script. Prospero is the magician who cannot be redeemed until he renounces magic. A modern audience will surely ask: what’s wrong with magic? Magic is fun, sparkly, entertaining. We love Dr. Strange, Harry Potter, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Historically, women accused of witchcraft usually just had a more intimate understanding of healing and herbs. There were no deals with the devil going on.
Looking at Prospero’s relationship to his island, however, reveals something more sinister than glittery conjuring, or the wise shaman. Prospero isn’t understanding and working with the spirits of nature, he is bending them to his will. He is making Ariel and all the spirits of the island act against their nature.
We humans are doing something very similar now – exploiting the power inherent in fossil fuels to serve our comfort with no regard to the ecosystem as a whole. We are deforesting the Amazon, and dumping toxins into the rivers and ocean in order to achieve momentary comfort.
I will keep all the fun and sparkly excitement of Prospero’s magic, enhancing it with lighting and music, but I will use projections and dance to show that whenever he does something that appears beautiful, somewhere else on the island, something suffers.
I also see this as an opportunity for reaching out to the Sustainability Coalition, and the Spring Creek Project for advertising tie-in.
Stephano and Trinculo, the drunken butler and steward, are like so many people today – blithely, dare I say drunkenly, carrying on, despite the harm being done to our planet and our fellow humans. Stephano and Trinculo can’t see the harm perpetrated by those in power. They only seek power for themselves, and they would happily demonize a fellow human being, if it could move them a step up that ladder. Of course, they are funny. My vision will retain all that ridiculous, drunken humor, but in the end, hopefully make the audience realize that while it might be fun to laugh along with the bully, it’s too easy to hurt, maybe even traumatize someone for no good reason at all.
Costumes: I would not be using authentic Elizabethan costuming, but rather sticking with the fantasy aesthetic. I see the spirits in thin, fluttery, sparkly costumes draped over leotard and tights. The Europeans would wear clothing consistent with their character with suggestions of historical in lacing, corsetry, floppy shirts, etc.