Finding the Core of My Tempest
This summer, I am directing a cast of fifteen teenagers in a production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest at the New London Barn Playhouse in New Hampshire. It’s only the second project I will have directed, and it has consumed me. I am editing and cutting the text, and it’s the first time that task falls completely to me. Don’t get me wrong, I know how to do the research, but never have I had free reign of a text the way I do now. It’s empowering. It’s invigorating. It’s absolutely horrifying. How can I ever hope to cut the words of the ever present Bard?
Relentlessly, that’s how. I cut the text with no qualms about whom I may offend in the audience. (No cursing, though. It is for younger audiences, after all.)
Never have I had free reign of a text the way I do now. It’s empowering. It’s invigorating. It’s absolutely horrifying. How can I ever hope to cut the words of the ever present Bard?
In addition to editing the text, I am also tasked with the sound design of the piece. During undergrad I worked primarily as a sound designer, so this was the first thing I did. I am dedicating my production to Daniel Johnston, David Bowie, Queen, and Amanda Palmer, four artists whose sonic work keeps me coming back to them again and again. Music has the power to transcend this ominous thing we call the march of time. I have already decided that the songs between transitions will be sung by Ariel, Caliban, and Prospero. The songs I am using range from the obscure to the world-renowned, as I want to introduce the teenagers I am directing to the wide array of music that has shaped my life.
I am now asking you, dear reader, who you think should have more “power” in my little Tempest. Argue with me, please!
Is it Ariel, the quivering slave who knows their freedom is coming? A person who is putting in their time for the “crime” of being trapped in a tree by the “evil” spirit Sycorax? Ariel, a fairy with the wild desire to be free once again because they know what it’s like to be the wind and the sea? A thing made completely of wanderlust and furious passions. Should their voice be the one that quells the storms within my heart and soul? If Ariel has the most power, it would perhaps mean that anything in this world is possible, and that the good will get their desserts while the bad get their deserts.
Is it Caliban, the character who had freedom, delicious liberty, but had it robbed from them by an external force? Trapped by a wizard whose powers are almighty and whose morality is unbending. Caliban, a creature born of mud and clay and water and earth, but whose existence depends on their furrowed brow and downcast eyes? Should Caliban’s fire be the rage that drives The Tempest forward, or should he sneak in the shadows, waiting for his time to use his flint stones on the woods that were once his home? With Caliban as the focal point, it would color the storm black and red, making the whole thing a glorious exhibition of revenge and chaos. Is this what the Beardy Bard intended?
Is it Prospero, the artiste? The character that does everything in their great power to ensure the survival of their only daughter, their Miranda? The person that will leave no stone unturned until their child’s future happiness is secured? A wizard beyond compare who has been wronged, but who also knows how to do wrong onto others in this great, vast, beautiful world? I am already casting Prospero as a woman, of that I am certain, and I have thought through all the implications of that choice. With that in mind, would having Prospero’s voice be the loudest imply that it is only the strong women who shall inherit the earth?
Is it perhaps Miranda, the caged lark? A person of such quivering vigor that has been trapped on the island for so long that any other life seems to be but a fleeting memory, a dream within a dream within a dream set afloat across the sea, trying to make an impact on you and me? Should she yell and snap at her possessive parent that longs for the days of the past to shape the days of the future? Or should she be quiet and pliant and plain? Or should Miranda be played by a boy? Should the wedding at the end of this year’s maelstrom be the gayest spectacle anyone has ever seen, with fireworks and streamers and corsets for everyone?
Or, dearest readers, do you think there is some other character’s voice that you find particularly resonant this year? I’m not cutting a single character, so there is a lot of doubling, but I would love to hear any arguments on behalf of any names I have neglected in this post.