Friday, August 15, 2014

The Many Incarnations of "The Tempest"

(L to R) Posner and Teller’s The Tempest, Forbidden Planet, London’s Royal Opera House’s The Tempest and Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna
Considered Shakespeare’s final full-length play that he wrote alone, The Tempest—like many of his other plays—has seen numerous adaptations of its story. In Aaron Posner and Teller’s adaptation, audiences find themselves transported to a Dust Bowl-era traveling tent show. Live magic and illusions by Teller, quirky and haunting music by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan and choreography by Matt Kent of the dance troupe Pilobolus have given audiences a new and unexpected take on Shakespeare’s tale of sorcery, young love and shipwrecks.

Adaptations of Shakespeare’s The Tempest popped up as early as the mid-17th century. In fact, John Dryden and William Davenant’s The Tempest, or the Enchanted Island became the favored version of the play (over Shakespeare’s) for most of the Restoration era. But, Shakespeare’s original text gained popularity again in the 18th century and, since then, artists have turned to the play for inspiration.

Today, stage revivals range from traditional to experimental, and artists across different media have translated The Tempest’s story into film, dance, opera and even circus. 

Some Notable Productions and Adaptations of The Tempest

Forbidden Planet, a 1956 science fiction film, puts a futuristic and psychological spin on Shakespeare’s classic. It tells the story of Professor Morbius and his young daughter, Altaira, both stranded on the imaginary planet of Altair IV. When Altaira falls in love with a spaceship captain from Earth, the lovers find themselves up against a mysterious creature set on keeping them apart.

Aimé Césaire’s 1969 play, Une Tempête, tells The Tempest’s story from a postcolonial viewpoint. While much of the plot is the same, Prospero is cast as a white slave owner and Caliban and Ariel as black and biracial slaves, respectively. Caliban, who ruled the island before Prospero’s arrival, retaliates against his enslavement; Ariel takes a more passive, nonviolent approach. In the end, Prospero frees Ariel, but Caliban remains a slave.  

Forbidden Planet theatrical poster.
A published version of Césaire’s play.
Helen Mirren as Prospera

In 1979, filmmaker Derek Jarman released his take on The Tempest. The film, which drastically cut the original text, featured Jarman’s quirky and often provocative visual aesthetic and starred Heathcote Williams as Prospero. Christopher Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books (1991), which starred John Gielgud, also focused on stimulating its audience visually, using dance, animation, opera and a large cast.

Director Yukio Ninagawa directed a 1988 production of The Tempest and introduced a non-Western theatrical sensibility. In the production, Prospero played the role of director of a Japanese Noh play. 

An opera adaptation, with music by English composer Thomas Adès and a libretto by playwright Meredith Oakes, debuted at London’s Royal Opera House in 2004.

Playwright, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa—who happened to be commissioned by SCR for the play Doctor Cerberus, produced in 2010—transplants characters from The Tempest to present-day New York in his adaptation Rough Magic. In the adaptation, Caliban seeks help from a group of unlikely New Yorkers to help him defeat Prospero, who stops at nothing to regain his stolen book of spells.

In 2010, Julie Taymor, known for helming ambitious stage and film productions (including the Broadway production of Disney’s The Lion King), changed the character of Prospero to a woman, Prospera, and cast Helen Mirren in the role. This, however, is not the first time a woman has stepped in to play the role: In 2000, Vanessa Redgrave played the role of Prospero at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

The Cirque du Soleil touring show, Amaluna, is loosely based on Shakespeare’s play and is set on an island where a goddess, Prospera, rules.

Check out this video of Aaron Posner and Teller talking about their adaptation of The Tempest:

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Bloggers of Neverland—Week Three

Performances for the Summer Players’ Peter Pan continue through this weekend—Aug. 15-17. Learn more about what went down leading up to opening night as our bloggers—Maddy and Jamie—share their tech week experience—from cast bonding to the secrets of the Peter Pan hair and makeup.

The Peter Pan Experience: Tech Week
by Maddy Nickless

Peter Pan has been a good teaching experience for us and tech week has been amazing for me. Eight-hour tech rehearsals—where all the elements of the play are fine-tuned—has shown me how much work goes into creating such big production. Day one was mainly about working with the lights, costumes, hair and makeup; day two “hold,” was a very common word, as we worked through the show; day three was our first full run-through after the dinner break; and day four, we learned bows and ran the show with no stops.

The Indians
The dinner breaks give us all time to bond even more as a cast. We share random stories about things that come up. Backstage in the wings, there was a day where the mic lady let us listen to any of the actors. I decided to listen to Kira Woodland (Liza). She and Ben Susskind (Twin 1) started talking and it was one of the most hysterical things that I’ve experienced during Peter Pan.

In the dressing rooms, it’s all about bonding. The Indians got their makeup and hair assignments on day one, and everyone in the dressing rooms helped each other. I believe tech week has helped this cast become more than a make-believe family.

This week has been a game-changing experience for me, as I realize all that goes into putting a professional production together.  Working on scenes—like traveling from the Darling house into Neverland then into the pirates’ ship—has been a very fun transition to learn.  I am so grateful that music director Erin McNally and director Hisa Takakuwa let me have this wonderful experience.

The Darlings.
I decided to interview a few of the other cast members during the rehearsal process about their experience with Peter Pan:

Maddy: What was the most challenging thing for you so far?
Kelsey Bray (Nibs): Trying to figure out how a pre-pubescent boy acts, dances, walks, talks, and lives.
Blake Laszlo (Smee): The comedy with Hook, is so specific because you have to hit it perfectly.

Maddy: What is the most important thing you have taken away from the Peter Pan story?
Allison Baayoun (Lean Wolf; Crocodile): Not to take yourself so seriously as an adult.
Emme O’Toole (Little Loud Oak; Jane): Even if you physically grow old, emotionally you can still be a child; play, have fun, even if its through your view on life

Maddy: What are you looking forward to the most?
Nika Aydin (Michael Darling): Wearing my footie pajamas and wig. It’s the same one I wore recently when I played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol last year.
Rachel Charny (Tiger Lily): To perform in front of little kids and see how they react to it because it was a big part of my childhood.

Maddy: Are you excited or nervous to perform in front of a big audience?
Lauren Lyons (Ostrich; Peter Pan’s Shadow): Very joyful, because its fun to experience seeing to audience see the show for the first time.
Chris Huntley (Peter Pan): Both, but more excited.

Backstage: The Hair and Makeup of Peter Pan
video by Jamie Ostmann

Go backstage with blogger Jamie as she shows you the secrets to the hair and makeup of Peter Pan.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Who’s Who and What’s What in "The Tempest"

Magic, Music, Movement and More in Creative Adaptation

Nate Dendy (Ariel), Tom Nelis (Prospero), Charlotte Graham (Miranda). Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey

This imaginative adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic sets the play in a world evocative of a traveling tent show of the 1930s—and comes to life with the magic of Teller, well-known as the silent partner in the Penn & Teller duo—the haunting ballads of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan and the singular choreography of the Pilobolus dance company.

The Tempest begins with a raging storm that capsizes the ship of Alonso, King of Naples, on the royal party’s return from the marriage of Alonso’s daughter to the King of Tunis. The storm separates the ship’s passengers and they wash up on the shore of a mysterious island, confused yet unharmed.
This tempest is not a mere act of nature, but instead a bit of sorcery at the hand of Prospero, who lives on the island with his young daughter, Miranda.

Horrified by the wreckage, Miranda asks her father why he would cast such a spell and Prospero tells her the story of betrayal that brought father and daughter to the deserted island. Prospero was once Duke of Milan, but his brother, Antonio, grew jealous of Prospero’s power and teamed up with Alonso to overthrow him. Not wanting to murder Prospero, Antonio and Alonso threw the duke and the infant Miranda into a rundown boat and pushed them out to sea. Luck, along with some supplies given to them by a kind noblewoman named Gonzala, sustained father and daughter until they washed up on the island. Now, after 12 long years, fate has given Prospero the perfect opportunity to seek his revenge: the ship carrying all of his enemies—including the treacherous Antonio, now Duke of Milan.

Ariel is an island spirit indebted to Prospero and helped capsize the ship. Prospero asks Ariel to next use his powers of invisibility in order to manipulate the ship’s stranded passengers. In exchange for Ariel’s service, Prospero promises to set the spirit free after the revenge plot is complete. Ariel’s first task is to lure Ferdinand, Alonso’s son, to Miranda. Ariel does this and Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love at first sight.

On another part of the island, Alonso, Antonio, Gonzala and Alonso’s brother, Sebastian, search for the missing Ferdinand. Alonso is distraught over losing his son, but Sebastian and Antonio see Ferdinand’s absence as an opportunity to gain power. If Ferdinand is dead, Alonso’s throne would likely fall to Sebastian, since the king’s daughter is so far away. Sebastian and Antonio make a plan to murder Alonso.

On yet another part of the island, another murder plot takes shape. Caliban, Prospero’s slave, enlists Stephano and Trinculo—both passengers from the capsized ship—to help him murder Prospero in exchange for rule of the island. But the conniving threesome is never quite sober enough to put the plot into action and proves easy prey to Prospero and Ariel’s tricks.

After Ferdinand proves his loyalty to Miranda through hard labor, Prospero allows the lovers to marry. The wedding ends abruptly, however, when Prospero decides to deal with Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo once and for all. In a final trick, Prospero has Ariel tempt the drunkards with fine clothes and then conjure up wolves to chase them away.

Prospero finally decides to make amends with those who betrayed him after realizing the depth of Alonso’s despair over the loss of his son. He reunites Alonso (who begs for Prospero’s forgiveness for his corrupt deeds) with Ferdinand, thanks Gonzala for her kindness and even forgives Caliban—but remains cold to Sebastian and Antonio, who show little repentance. Prospero then agrees to retire to Milan, where he can see his daughter officially married to Ferdinand and lead a peaceful life with no more magic. Prospero keeps his promise and frees Ariel and then, in an epilogue, appeals to the audience to forgive his own trickery by applauding.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

The Bloggers of Neverland—Week Two

The pirates rehearse the Tarantella.
This week our bloggers—Kelsey, Sean and Rachel—share their perspectives of working on Peter Pan. Kelsey, a four-show Summer Players veteran writes about getting to “play” in Peter Pan, while comparing the experience to her past Summer Players roles; Sean shares with what he’s learning and most excited about in the production; and Rachel documents her week of rehearsal with a behind-the-scenes photo blog.

The Magic of Storytelling
By Kelsey Bray

When you were a child, did you ever play make believe? Were you ever the damsel in distress or Prince Charming? Did you ever build a fort to hide in when you were a child? Every person says they won't grow up, but nobody keeps that promise. People don’t know how to be a grown up and a child at the same time, but J.M. Barrie's play, Peter Pan, teaches you that special skill. Peter Pan makes everything a game and everyone is always playing make believe.

Peter Pan is a very special story to tell. During the rehearsal process, the Summer Players are all told to “play” onstage. We will transition into a new scene and when we are transitioning we are in character “building a fort” and making what we are doing fun and interesting. I never truly paid attention to this story until now and I am finally seeing the meaning behind it and the message portrays.

I have been in four Summer Players shows at SCR since fifth grade and no show is ever the same. My first Summer Players show was Cinderella and I played the dove. Cinderella was only the second musical I had ever been a part with an audience that purchased tickets. I was very quiet and I don’t think that I spoke to anyone until tech week. That show taught me how to listen. I learned so many marvelous things because I was always observing. Cinderella taught me how to find my voice and all of the older actors taught me things by just watching them work. Cinderella mainly taught me how to listen to your fellow actors onstage and always be present.

Seussical, on the other hand, was the year I got to channel my inner seven-year-old for the first time. Everything about that show was about playing, just like Peter Pan. I played Jojo in Seussical and that was one of my favorite roles to play because he seemed very two-dimensional on the outside, but he was actually a very complex character. Seussical was the first show that allowed me to dig deep when analyzing my character.

I was in Annie last summer at SCR and it was one of the most terrific experiences, because I got to play Annie. The most amazing part was having extra one on one time with director Hisa Takakuwa and musical director Erin McNally, I learned so much from them. Annie challenged me to be vulnerable and to demonstrate that side of myself onstage.

Throughout my years at SCR, I have grown so much as an actor and a person and I have learned so much. I am very excited for Peter Pan because like every other show I have been in, it challenges me in so many ways. Better yet, rather than reading about the show…come and see Peter Pan and experience the magic for yourself!

What I am Learning from Peter Pan
By Sean Kato

One thing I have noticed in rehearsal is how much fun I have. The most fun thing I did was rehearse music the first week. In putting together the play, the most important thing. I have learned is dancing because I was a novice in the sport.  Peter Pan has been full of many challenges, such as learning the dances. All of this has been great, but the best thing has been learning and working with my fellow actors. The best thing has been learning and working with my fellow actors. My favorite experience so far has been the performing environment at the Summer Players level. I am really look forward to opening night, I think it will be nerve-wracking, but fun.

Behind-the-Scenes in Neverland
Photos by Rachel Charny

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Monday, July 28, 2014

The Bloggers of Neverland

Christopher Huntley, center, rehearses Peter Pan with other members of the cast.
Our Summer Players are hard at work—rehearsing five days a week—getting ready to bring the story of Peter Pan and Neverland to life. There's a lot going on behind-the-scenes with this cast of 37 kid and teen actors working through music and dance rehearsals. This week, three of our student-actor bloggers take you there as they reveal show secrets, give you an insider look into their process as performers and take you inside rehearsal. Meet all of our bloggers, here.

Acting at SCR: Our Neverland
by Christopher Huntley

Christopher Huntley, center, during rehearsal.
1 p.m. is hardly the time to start a job. Is it a job if you really love what you do? Are these 37 young actors working or playing, or perhaps both? J.M. Barrie may have had the best idea when he wrote, "I won't grow up, I don't want to wear a tie, or a serious expression, in the middle of July."

Many of these actors have been passing through SCR's iconic glass doors for years—in my case, seven—beyond them is something quite extraordinary. These sacred halls, rooms, nooks and crannies conceal our Neverland, an island of perpetual adventure and marvelous make-believe. Though we have grown up in our time at SCR, like the Lost Boys, we remain kids inside. All of us came to the theatre a few inches, maybe feet, shorter and naïve beyond our own current belief. Each day, we are reminded by our sage mentor, Hisa Takakuwa, that the heart of the story of Peter Pan is a child's ability to build and live in worlds that have imagination and make-believe.

Since I'm only 16, it isn't hard to reach back into my childhood. In fact, that is my claim to Peter. No, I'm not the usual casting choice—think about it: the most famous performances had a former female gymnast cast as Peter Pan. But I'm at a pivotal point in my life, with childhood fleeting and adulthood looming ahead. This role is a vehicle to reclaim the childhood I am leaving behind, which is truly a blessing.

Day after day, we come home with sore legs, weary voices and scrambled minds. Do we regret it? Not for a second. At SCR, we are pushed to explore and discover characters, and in turn, ourselves. I would never know how "vertical" I carry myself if it weren't for Hisa and musical genius Erin McNally. These partners-in-crime, together with their whole team, do something magical: they encourage 37 Orange County kids to push their boundaries as actors and as people. I have been incredibly lucky to have worked alongside these phenomenal directors for six summers now and to grow up in this theatre.

By the time the curtain rises on Peter Pan, our cast will have spent more than 150 hours rehearsing together. The blood, sweat and tears shed onstage everyday are apparent in each scene and song. From the initial audition to final curtain, Peter Pan has been, and will be, a journey to rival Barrie's fantasy tale itself. Come see for yourself and join us on a trip to Neverland this August, as the Summer Players present Peter Pan. 

More Than Just a Game
by Ben Susskind

Jamie Ostmann (Slightly) directs a a meeting with Lost Boys.
The cast of Peter Pan at SCR has been hard at work rehearsing the show. Besides learning the show, we each are learning about acting in general. I have learned how to add more emotion in a scene, how to build a story and how to never never lose thought of what character wants in a scene and his/her emotion towards other characters. These skills can make an actor look as if he/she lives in the show. When performing a classic like Peter Pan, every detail counts to make a show perfection. These are the kind of directions that make SCR's Summer Players shows so amazing every year.

When doing a show, you always need to be a team player by helping others. This means you need to always be at you best helping other play up the best in them. To be a successful cast member, you always need to check in with others to make sure they know what they are supposed to do. We are always learning from other cast members, and they are learning from us and that helps keep things in balance.

In our Peter Pan, we are down a more figurative route. Instead of making all the sets, and other design aspects very literal, such as Peter really flying around in the air, we are taking this show though a whole new light. We are putting a new meaning to a play as this show is basically one big game on a stage.

In our version of the show, Peter is showing the Darlings how to have fun within their own household; all they have to do is believe. When Peter "flies," he really is just jumping on the bed, but the Darlings believe he is flying. We never lose sight of the nursery, which helps to support the fact that we are just playing, building blanket forts, playing tug of war.

A Day in Rehearsal
Photos by Emme O'Toole

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Want to learn more? Come and see the show playing August 9-10, 15-16.