Monday, September 24, 2012

A tech perspective on "The Tempest"

These are just some random thoughts on my experiences of helping out with the production of "The Tempest", directed by Josh McKerrow at the Laurel Mill Playhouse.

The walls of the stage were painted by Josh using actual text from the time of the play (to symbolize Prospero's books):

First, here is my take on the play.

Act I: 2 scenes.
scene 1: Ariel, unseen but commanded by the magician Prospero, creates an imaginary storm which brings King Alonso’s ship, and all its passengers, to Prospero’s island.
In this scene several characters are introduced: Antonio, Sebastian, Alonso, Gonzalo, the Boatswain and ship Captain (“Master”).
scene 2: Prospero and his daughter Miranda talk about storm and background event (his history, her history, the events leaving to their living on the island for 12 years, and facts about the ship’s passengers). Ariel and Prospero talk and Ariel’s history is given. Caliban is introduced and has a discussion with Prospero, where his background is given; Ferdinand, separated from his father King Alonso by the storm, wanders the island alone and thanks to Prospero’s magic, meets Miranda and they begin to fall in love.

After Act I ends, all the characters but Stephano and Trinculo are introduced and their motivations are (mostly) hinted at.

Act II: 2 scenes.
scene 1: The characters Gonzalo, Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio talk and Gonzalo tried to cheer up Alonso. Their personalities are introduced, with more background; Ariel causes Gonzalo and Alonso to sleep, which Sebastian and Antonio use to plot against their life;, but Ariel saves Alonso's life by waking them at the right instant; Alonso grows very suspicious of them.
scene 2: Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano and introduced; Caliban drunkenly worships Stephano; Trinculo, and Stephano plan to inherit the island.

After Act II ends, all the subplots are sketched out, all the characters are known, their personalities are introduced, and their motivations are explained.

Act III: 3 scenes.
scene 1: Ferdinand, still separated from his father King Alonso by the storm, talks with Miranda and they discuss their love.
scene 2: Ecouraged by Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano plot against Prospero’s life; Ariel causes them to fight.
scene 3: Gonzalo, Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, etc take a rest and envision a magnificent banquet; it vanished suddenly and Ariel gives a long frightening speech warning of their death unless they show sorrow for their past wrongs and promise to lead innocent lives in the future.

After Act III, we see the subplots more fully explored and be better understand Prospero’s scheme of things.

Act IV, 1 scene:
scene 1: Ariel, Prospero, Miranda, and Ferdinand have the “Masque scene”, where spirits sing and their festivities symbolize/bless the upcoming wedding between Ferdinand and Miranda. Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano further plot against Prospero, but are frightened off by strange noises of dogs and hunters.

Act V, 1 scene:
scene 1: Prospero commands Ariel to get the ship’s passengers together and bring them to her; Prospero casts a spell on them all, Alonso apologies, Prospero forgives all the ships passengers and re-unites Alonso with Ferdinand (now in love with Miranda); the Boatswain reports and the ship is safe and harbored nearby; Prospero gives up his magic and invites all to spend the night and hear the tale of his life on the island, before they depart for Naples the next day.

Epilogue: Prospero asks for the audience’s blessing and freedom with their applause.

Themes of play: power and jealosy, family relationships, forgiveness.

The atmosphere on the set was great. The people are very friendly but professional. I always found the work pleasant, even if it had been a long exhausting day at work. Here are a few shots I took during a break at a tech rehearsal.

The director, taking pictures of the cast duing a dress rehearsal:

I'm a complete novice to theater work. I might go to a play once or twice a year. As a fifth-grader I starred as the Pauper in "The Prince and the Pauper". I was unable to remember my lines and they had to close the curtain on me. I was not popular with those who had to share the stage with me! Jump ahead 40 years - a year or two ago, I asked someone who was teaching drama if I could hang around for part of a semester while I absorbed all that went on in a student production. I got in the way more than anything. That is my knowledge and experience with plays. With this production I was really surprised the enormous skill and experience that some of the actors had in this production, as well as how much work they put into the play.

Prospero (Kat McKerrow), Miranda (Shelby Hylton) and Caliban (Jeffrey Gangwisch):

Miranda hamming for the camera, the director, and Sebastian (Caity Brown):

Gonzalo (Tom Tomlinson):

Alonso (Penny Martin), Stephano (Marc Rehr) and Maya Wilcox (stage manager/set construction):

The director, Ariel (Diana Taggart), and the Boatswain (David Hill):

The director, Miranda, Prospero and Ariel share a laugh:

It's blown-out but it's also my favorite shot.

I learned a lot. I learned about what a really good director can do to a great play. Josh was excellent, both with the cast and with his knowledge of the material. I also met some terrifically talented actors.
I learned how lighting design works and how to work that particular lighting board. It actually is very easy and very hard at the same time, in a weird way. (Easy to make mistakes as well.) Learning which sliders do which is easy. But the hard part is the "muscle memory" of knowing them well enough that you can work them without mistakes even when you are very tired, the lighting is very low (essentially you are working in the dark most of the time) and how to quickly change from one lighting set-up to the next in time to make the music cues or acting cues on stage.
I also learned Shakespeare's play very well. For me, that was the main thing. To be a better writer, I feel as though I need to learned really great writer's works really well. It was a great experience.

I'll end with an amusing quote. It's not exact, because I don't remember the details or who said it or when, but something like this: An expert on Shakespeare, perhaps a professor of literature, was being interviewed about Shakespeare and said (something like) "You know, in spite of all hype, Shakespeare actually is a very good playwright." I agree:-)

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