Week 14 (Spring ’21): The Temepst in Performance

Now that we’re finished reading The Tempest, we come to the fun part: watching a performance! I’ve selected a recent (2017) performance of the play that took place at the annual Shakespeare festival at Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown. The production values could be better, but it’s a solid staging. Use the link below to log in with your Le Moyne credentials:

https://0-search-alexanderstreet-com.library.lemoyne.edu/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C3884652

Remember that closed captions can be turned off or on.

If you have any trouble with the above link, here is the homepage for Alexander Street, the digital library I’m using to get us access to Shakespeare performances. You can visit this page (also requires Le Moyne login) and search for The Tempest:

https://0-search-alexanderstreet-com.library.lemoyne.edu/

Discussion Board

Post a comment about the 2017 Stratford-upon-Avon production of The Tempest below.  Consider answering any of the following study questions:

1. How does this production deal with The Tempest‘s racially charged content?  Do they make any choices that seem intended to reinterpret this content for a modern audience?

2. Were there any moments where the production changed your understanding of the play?  Explain how.

3. Do you have comments on any other significant decision made by this production–casting, direction, editing, artistic direction, use of props, etc.?  Is there something that you would have done differently?

19 thoughts on “Week 14 (Spring ’21): The Temepst in Performance”

  1. #1. In my opinion, this production of The Tempest does a good job with the racially charged content. I find it interesting that the creators of this play chose to cast Caliban with a white man, and have him look non-human. I do not find that this messes up any interpretations in this play because Caliban still looks “different”, so the theme of western colonization is still there. I personally think that casting Caliban in a costume that makes him look non-human is a strong addition to the play. Many times, people that fell victim to colonization had different characteristics, cultures, and languages than the colonizers, it solely wasn’t just their skin color that played a role in being viewed as “lesser”. Also, I think that Caliban having sea-creature-like characteristics strengthens the theme of nature within the play!

  2. 1. How does this production deal with The Tempest‘s racially charged content? Do they make any choices that seem intended to reinterpret this content for a modern audience?

    Answer: This production chooses to deal with the Tempest’s racially charged content by presenting us with Caliban as a white man. He looks different than what we possibly would have thought he’d be presented as. I think this was a good idea and very unexpected which keeps the audience wanting to watch more. It was a good tactic to use.

  3. One thing I liked that the production did in regards to Ariel’s character, was the use of projection. I think this was a good decision because it further demonstrated the use of magic and made Ariel’s character seem more like a spirit. I liked how the production chose to go back and forth with Ariel flying or walking in mid-air and then having the actor be on stage. Sometimes I think trying to incorporate magic into plays can come across as tacky, because you can’t edit a live production like a film. This was not the case and in my opinion, the use of technology in this play made it more interesting to watch.

  4. I thought it was interesting how the production added some lines and interacted with the crowd at some points. I found that this really added to the comedy aspect of this play and helped bring to life what I was visualizing when reading this play. I also like how they chose to handle Ariel’s character, by having him be projected but also having him as an actual character on stage. I felt that this truly helped to portray the fact that Ariel is a spirit and not a human being. It also helped with parts of the play where Ariel was supposed to be invisible so that the Italians couldn’t see him. His costume helped with showing he is a spirit as well since he looked like a creature. Something else I found interesting was that they cast Gonzalo as a black man. I think this was their way of dealing with some of the racially charged content of this play for a modern audience. In doing this, they took some of the emphasis off of race and focused more on the idea of colonization and taking lands that don’t belong to you.

  5. When reading the Tempest, I imagined Ariel a lot differently than the Stanford-upon-Avon presented him, but I really enjoyed their decisions. In my head, I was picturing Ariel as less of a whimsical character and more of a human with powers, but the special effects the production used to project him behind the scenes and their costume choices made his character so much more interesting to look at and want to discover more about.

  6. #3. I really like the way they showed the storm in the beginning of the play and the background props when Prospero is speaking to Miranda. It just stuck out to me how well the props in the background really bring the scenes together. It is like a ship actually crashed there. The way they also showed Ariel worked out really well too. I wasnt expecting Ariel to look like that but it showed he wasnt human. The way they even had him walk on his tip toes also brought the whole not human thing together.

  7. The production of The Tempest did a good job of racial content. I was surprised by the way the one in charge of casting chose to cast Caliban as a white man. Making Caliban not human-like was very interesting since I wasn’t really thinking about how he was going to look like and they were able to take the idea of looking different very well. Giving Caliban a view very different from the other characters was to show how people were seen when they are from different backgrounds. By making Gonzalo have to be played by a black man was to focus on colonization rather than race.

  8. In the stage performance of The Tempest, I gained a better understanding of Ariel’s character and Prospero’s magical powers. It was confusing and difficult for me to read the dialogue and picture all of Ariel’s and Prospero’s magic. Through the reenactment, I realized that Ariel was a primary source of all of Prospero’s power and he was actually quite an important character. Without him, the plot wouldn’t have even happened, but in the written play, it’s easy to forget him because he has such brief and seemingly unimportant speaking parts. The songs being sung in the stage production also carried much more meaning when I heard them being performed by the actors. In the book, I read through them, but they seemed like filler dialogue. In the play however, I came to realize that they were crucial in moving the story along and revealing the unspoken motives and ideas of the characters who sang them.

  9. The production overall helped me to further understand the play. Because of the unfamiliar language, it is difficult for me to tell the moods of the characters. In watching the production characters would laugh or shout at times where I wouldn’t be able to tell if something was humorous or anger-filled just by reading the text. It also helped to further explain what was going on, like when Prospero put Miranda to sleep. Just in reading the play, it seems like she falls asleep out of nowhere and we have to infer that it was Prospero’s doing whereas in the play it is obvious. The production also helped to further show the hostility between Prospero and Miranda with Caliban in the beginning that was harder to see from reading the play.

  10. I think that the choice to make Caliban a white man in the production stood out to me the most. Normally, I would consider this something that would take away from the true message of racism that was originally trying to be conveyed. However, I think that the decision to depict Caliban as a monster actually added to the play and still conveyed a very similar message. It showed him as an outcast, which is exactly how those who faced colonization were viewed. They weren’t seen as people. Casting a person of color nowadays would not give the same effect since we don’t see them the way that colonizers did. Choosing to make Caliban an actual monster shows how the people back then truly saw native settlers of the lands they sought to colonize.

  11. Honestly I was kind of shocked to see how they portrayed Caliban, I mean it makes sense for him to be all dirty and without clothes considering he was locked up by Prospero, but I did not expect them to actually portray as they did. Also I really enjoyed how they dressed and did Prospero because since he has been living on this Island and not as of high nobility anymore he had a very outgrown beard that was not kept in the greatest condition and his hair was slightly all over the place at times, and finally his clothes were just very old and worn-out robes, and it made perfect sense to make his character like that.

  12. In the performance of the play, I really liked how Ariel was portrayed as a whimsical character. Whenever Ariel was present, special effects were used to make him seem magical and light. When reading the play I imagined Ariel to be like Prospero, human form with powers. Reading the play made it seem that he could watch over people or detach his mind/sight from his human body, but the stage performance cleared this up for me. I liked thinking of him as a ghost-like figure better because it made him seem more magical.

  13. I think that the production did an amazing job with the use of special effects, such as the holograms. I thought that was an interesting way to incorporate the spirits and I was confused at first because I could see the actor portraying Ariel as well as the hologram at a few points. If I was in charge of this production, I think holograms would be the way to go; however, unless Ariel is needed on the stage I would have the hologram be projected from the wings and Ariel in the wings. This is because it is easy to get distracted from the actual events of the scene if you’re focusing on Ariel instead of his hologram and Prospero. I’ve seen special effects used in other plays before for whimsical creatures, but most of the time, the actor was hooked up to a harness for flying. The use of holograms could eliminate that and make the staging that more believable.

  14. The production of the tempest did a great job overall. You truly were able to see ariels character by all the special effects and how they used it for the magic. The dialogue ariels and prosperos magic was quite confusing at times while reading but actually being able to watch it gave me a better understanding of the play. Caliban was also portrayed a great way in the production. Showing him all poor and dirty since he is not high up in nobility anymore gives us a better explanation of him.

  15. 3.
    Even though I really don’t have a background in theater and I will probably make zero sense but, I believe that they selected GREAT people to be the main characters. I love how artistic they were with makeup and making it so dramatic. I was very engaged in watching this play because there was always something that caught my eye that I was amazed at. The tech crew on this set did an amazing job, they didn’t miss a beat and the way the actors were dressed caught me always trying to see every detail. It was great and I wouldn’t change anything!

  16. The design for this show is positively gorgeous. I loved what they did with Ariel, and Prospero’s powers. Having pictured Ariel as more human, seeing him portrayed through means of projection further solidifies that he is not really ‘of this world’. It sets him apart from the other characters and does an excellent job of portraying a spiritual being in a way that us mere mortals can comprehend.

  17. I feel like the play helped me understand the tone of scenes and situations better, because usually when you read a book or play you can tell where when something funny or sad happened sometimes, but a lot of the time it’s herd to really interpret and come to the conclusion that it’s a sad/happy scene. So seeing people laugh at a scene in the play where I thought it could’ve been more serious helped to really tie together the entire play. Also, seeing the actual characters live helped to really picture the entire story.

  18. 3. In the production, the lights, props, costumes and set were very nice, and It was clear that they spent a lot of money to make the play come to life. Overall, I really liked how they used a projection of lights for Ariel’s character, along with a character playing Ariel. This made Ariel’s character stand out and seem more realistic. They also did a good job creating the costume for Caliban, which was very beat up with ropes attached to it, to show he is Prospero’s slave. I also noticed how Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban added a lot of comedy to the play, especially when Trinculo sits on the lap of an audience member. I think that this was an interesting choice of the direction of this production. If I would have done anything different, I would have made Miranda’s character a little younger, as she was older than I pictured her to be.

  19. I thought the production handled the racially charged content of The Tempest in a very interesting way. They cast a white man to play the part of Caliban, but they made this character look rather physically inhuman. Through costuming and stage direction, the actor playing Caliban came across as barbaric, and in a way, almost ogre-like. I think that the decision to cast and direct Caliban this way is extremely effective, however. It makes the mistreatment of Caliban as an enslaved person appeal to all audiences, and it makes this mistreatment easier to understand for modern audiences. By turning the focus of the play away from slavery, it makes the message of the play more understandable for all audiences.

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