By Katie Cline
Any Shakespearean play is a massive undertaking, but “The Tempest,” with its revenge plots, large cast and copious magic, may be one of the most complicated shows to put on. None of this has deterred JSU’s drama department as it prepares for opening night on February 16, though.
“Every show is big; every show is important; every show requires an immense amount of work, especially from the director,” said Mike Boynton, the show’s director and an associate professor of drama. “I’m the keeper of the play. Everything has to be run by me, and if I’m going to tell people what to do and how to do it, then I better know what I’m saying.”
Boynton began preparing for “The Tempest” in April 2016 immediately after the season’s productions were selected.
“I had to spend months of intensive work developing the concept and making sure that it was both big and fantastical, yet also practical—something that was still huge and amazing but something that we could still barely pull off if we, like, bled ourselves. And that’s a delicate balance to find,” Boynton explained.
Boynton’s concept for JSU’s production focuses on the relationship between Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, and his teenage daughter, Miranda.
“I wanted to do something fresh, and by ‘fresh’ I mean I wanted to go back to the original. I wanted to go back to the folio and really do homage to the text,” Boynton said. “Anything I developed for this show had to justified by textual interpretation. So, in some ways it was like going back to square one. This is a much more textually based production.”
The production has become a campus-wide affair, involving students and faculty from the English, art and music departments in addition to drama personnel.
“There’s a million ways you can do any Shakespeare play,” said Boynton, “but ‘The Tempest,’ especially, is so malleable to directorial interpretation. The hardest and most exhilarating part has been trying to make it as big and grandiose as possible and bringing in the community. I didn’t want this to be a normal drama production. I wanted to bring in the other departments—English and art and music. I wanted to recruit students from all over campus. I wanted to recruit high school students so they could get their feet wet with Shakespeare. I wanted to do visits to schools. I really wanted to throw a wide net and get as many shapes and sizes of people involved as possible and really make this a massive campus outreach and community outreach endeavor. It’s good for the university; it’s good for the department, and it’s good for the play itself.”
Dr. Pitt Harding, a JSU English professor, plays Prospero, the play’s protagonist. Dr. Carmine DiBiase, another English professor and the head dramaturg for the production, developed the script using original text from the 1623 First Folio edition of the
play. Dr. James Woodward, a professor of music, composed original music for the show. Faculty in the art department designed Prospero’s magic runes.
“It’s exciting,” Harding said. “I can’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing. It’s really fun. Mike [Boynton] is always a pleasure to work with. I always learn a lot when I’m working with him. He’s so well-trained and knowledgeable. I would act in anything Mike was directing.”
“The Tempest” isn’t Harding’s first experience with Shakespeare. Besides teaching it, he’s acted in several other Shakespeare productions, including “The Taming of the Shrew,” The Winter’s Tale” (Autolycus), “As You Like It” (Orlando) and “Much Ado About Nothing” (Benedick). Harding has even performed in “The Tempest” once before.
“I played Prospero a long time ago when I was young—too young really,” Harding chuckled. “So it’s a great opportunity to be able to do it again when I’m closer to the right age.”
To incorporate the community further, cast and crew members visited local schools, and there will be a special performance for high school students on the morning of Friday, February 17. The show, according to Boynton and drama department head Randy Blades, is nearly sold out. The dramaturgical team also prepared a study guide for students containing short articles on the play’s themes and what students can expect from JSU’s production.
“We’re trying to give them a good introduction,” Blades said. “For most of them, they’ll read Shakespeare in lit class, but they haven’t yet had the chance to see it live. So it’s part of our mission in reaching out to the community to do this show for them.”
But turning Blades’ and Boyton’s dreams for the show into reality hasn’t been simple. Even though Boynton has been preparing for the production since last April, the design and technical crews were focused on the fall production of “These Shining Lives” until October. The cast has only been solidified since late November.
“Time [has been the biggest challenge],” said Blades, who is also the producer and sound designer for the show. “We started this in the fall, working on designs and planning for it, but the rehearsal period is short and the time we have to actually build it is short.”
(ABOVE LEFT: Ansley Gayton, sophomore, works on a costume in the costume shop. CENTER: Technical Director Nick Hoenshell looks on as students work on set pieces in the scene shop. RIGHT: Paint charge Marcy Hester, senior, puts on a mask before working on the set.)
Some actors, though, disagree.
“The hardest part for me, personally, has been the language and trying not to be afraid of Shakespeare since this is my first Shakespearean show,” said Brooke Elam, a sophomore who plays Miranda. “But Mike never fails to teach my something, whether he realizes it or not. I think, specifically for this show, he’s taught me to trust my instincts a little more, and the other actors have taught me to trust them, since some of them carry me at one point!”
“The language has been incredibly difficult,” agreed Aaron Williams, a junior performance major who plays Miranda’s love interest, Prince Ferdinand. “We spent basically all of Christmas break figuring out what we were saying. And then the pace is hard to get used to. And figuring out who you’re speaking to. And the blocking. And you have to make sure you understand your beat changes. So keeping it all together has been the biggest challenge.”
Williams’ favorite part of the show, though, is the comedy.
“I really love the comedic moments in this show,” Williams said. “That’s been so fun. There are three different styles of comedy: three guys are all about slapstick comedy; a few other characters have the witty, intellectual banter, and then you have my group with Miranda and Prospero that’s basically a romantic comedy.”
And since most of the play revolves around Ferdinand and Miranda falling in love, the two actors—and friends—have had to adjust to their new roles as onstage lovers.
“It is and isn’t hard to pretend to be in love,” Williams said. “The hard part is that before the play, Brooke and I had never spoken, and she’s obviously not my girlfriend. So, I have to take the love I feel and translate it to Ferdinand. It’s like substituting in that way.”
Elam agrees. “It’s been a fun experience,” she said. “It’s been a little awkward at times, but I wouldn’t say it’s hard. I’ve just thought about my boyfriend a lot and how I would react if he were saying some of the things Ferdinand says. But it’s also helped that Aaron and I are both easy going and that we’re fast friends.”
Despite the extra work and stress, Boynton is excited for audiences to audiences to see the show.
“I hope this becomes a big, exciting campus event,” Boynton said. “I’m hoping that the administration and the students and the faculty and staff all turn out, because it’s for them. Shakespeare’s so good at capturing the human experience that reading Shakespeare and seeing Shakespeare more makes you a better person. It makes you have a deeper understanding of human behavior and a deeper appreciation and compassion for humanity. Good plays do that, and that’s something humanity always needs, especially today.”
“The Tempest” also stars Brianna Garrett as Ariel, Ebony Antoine as Queen Alonsa, Savannah Jones as Caliban, Dakota Yarbrough as Trinculo and Kevin Jannot as Stephano and features JSU students and alumni as well as local high school students. The production will be filmed by JSU’s film department and judged by a representative from the Kennedy Center American Collegiate Theater Festival for its 2018 competition.
“The Tempest” runs February 16-18 at 7:00 p.m. and February 19 at 2:00 p.m. in Carlton Ward Theater. Tickets are $10.
All photos courtesy of JSU Drama Department.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.jsu.edu/drama/boxoffice
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