“Where’s our fourth goddess?” called Dr. Phyllis Seawright as she assembled a scene from words on a page to the living stage. The actors on stage assemble on an invisible ship, and await the order to conjure up a storm, wreck the ship, and begin the show.
Seawright’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest is in the tempestuous swing of rehearsals. Junior Katherine Parker returns as assistant director, bringing with her experience directing The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and Much Ado About Nothing, another Shakespeare classic.
Shakespeare’s final play is a love story set on a tropical island following a disastrous shipwreck, and explores the depths of betrayal and the power of redemption.
“This is Shakespeare’s most mature play,” said Parker, “It’s intelligent, it pulls together all of his themes, and it culminates all of his previous plays.”
Among this production’s reiterations of family and romance, betrayal and revenge, are perspectives into colonial and feminist subtexts. When Seawright read the play as an undergraduate, she said it “didn’t quite click.” The idea of Prospero enslaving the native Caliban and suppressing his daughter, Miranda, whom Seawright calls, “one of Shakespeare’s strongest female characters,” was unheard of at the time. But after a recent trip to Roanoke, North Carolina, Seawright realized Shakespeare penned the play at the dawn of European exploration into the western hemisphere. This production of The Tempest hopes to take those previously unheard of themes into account.
The ensemble cast of students showcases various degrees of theatrical experience. For some this show is the latest addition to a resume packed with credits, while for others it is their first step into the limelight. Regardless, Seawright will forge them together, blending all their unique abilities into a contemporary rendition of a classic play.
Cole Benoit, freshman, plays Caliban, the savage man-beast with magical powers. While he’s got three years’ worth of show choir under his belt, this is his first play. “I’ve never done anything like this before!” he laughed.
“The Tempest is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays,” said sophomore Cami Phillips, who plays the Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage. “The comedy of it, the mixing up of who’s who. Even the romance of it is funny!” While learning the verbatim of the lines is challenging even for this veteran, who brings with her credits for 12 other productions since she was a child, Phillips notes there is a rhythm to the lines that is easy to follow. She said Seawright’s vision for the show is interesting, “It’s very classical Shakespeare with breaking out into music.”
Featuring original music composed and performed by singer-songwriter Claire Holley with original choreography by Sarah Thames, The Tempest is presented by the Communication Department, the English Department, and the George & Alicia Pittman Shakespeare Festival Fund. Performances will be held in Swor Auditorium Feb. 27 through Feb. 29 at 7 p.m. (with a 10 a.m. matinee on Feb. 28) and on March 1 at 2:30 p.m. Student tickets will be sold for $7 and adult tickets for $10.