The Tempest: A Discussion


Last week Woroni caught up with Caitlin Overton and Felicity (Flick) Anderson – the director and dramaturg of NUTS’ upcoming play ‘The Tempest’ – to ask them a few questions about the upcoming production. The performance will be held at the Black Mountain Peninsula on 12 – 15th of October.

Why The Tempest?

F: The Tempest is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. Last year Caitlin and I were just discussing ‘plays we wanted to direct one day’ and we began discussing experimenting with plays staged outdoors. I think I just suggested doing The Tempest outside, and Caitlin jumped on board and we started throwing around ideas. I knew N.U.T.S were taking director applications for 2016 and we applied on a whim. N.U.T.S took a chance on us, and now something that was a ‘it would be so cool if’ is now a reality!


C: I’ve always been fascinated by the potential to reinvent Shakespeare for modern audiences, however, The Tempest is a particularly exciting challenge. The Tempest likely represents Shakespeare’s final celebration of the capacity for language to control and mystify as the magic power of words, that inspire one moment and disparage the next, keep this play – as the title hints – in a constant state of flux! The Tempest pushes the limits of theatrical convention, as characters flit rapidly between emotions; cavorting spirits appearing to blur the boundary between the real and imagined, waking and dreaming. No amount of SFX can ultimately compare to the magic of a few words, passed between curious new actors, 400 years since their writing, conjured in the faint sunset on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. What is magical and ephemeral is embodied by the raw and corporeal, and as such, Shakespeare’s fleeting farewell lives on in permanence.


The performance is outside, how do you tackle this extra element?


F: Lots and lots of preparation, OH&S considerations, and endless site visits trudging around in gumboots.


C: With the help and dedication of a wonderful executive team, led by Producer Kat Carrington, who has cross-checked everything from rain contingencies and the likelihood of blue-green algae outbreaks, to show interruptions by angry wildlife.


As a director, how did you go about uniting the cast?


C: It was honestly a daunting task uniting an oddball band of castaways scattered on different parts of the island for most of the play – but it has been a dream from start to finish. I think it’s important to confront head-on any preconceptions your cast may have regarding the ‘typical’ mode of a Shakespearean actor – you know the sort: melodic voice, flailing gestures of the arms and lots of muttering to skulls – and to establish early in rehearsals a greater scope for negotiation with the text, and an eager openness for any new interpretation the cast members bring. I believe this put us in good stead to create a re-telling that is both vital and unpredictable – as all good theatre should be.


Can we expect a traditional portrayal of The Tempest?


C: Short story – no. Long story – we have opted for a modernised staging of the play that hopes to complement the natural beauty of the site, while highlighting the fragility of our outdoor setting on an unusual stage that features both sand and shallow water. In the play disparate worlds collide, alliances are broken as quickly as they are formed, and perceptions shift mercurially. As the light moves from dusk to nightfall, we hope to blur the edges of the audience’s reality as both characters and audience, reconciling past hate and finding joy in the gloom, leave the island changed. We have experimented with surround sound in the outdoors and engaged in shadow play beyond the aureole of the lights, in order to recreate the iconic storm of the play’s first scenes, let loose disembodied spirits, and conjure frightening illusions. The energy and enthusiasm brought by the whole cast is important, but in particular, the unlikely pairing of the extraordinarily talented Georgia-Cate and Samuel in their portrayal of Caliban, has also allowed us to interrogate both the colonial and gendered aspects of the play with a new vigor.


Why do you think theatre is important?

C: I think theatre represents the expression of a basic human need to mimic, to project stories onto ourselves and others, and to create meaning through narrative. Theatre brings people together, in a collaborative meeting of storyteller and listener, as both play witness to an electric exchange that is never quite the same in each re-telling. From the child mapping farfetched tales in the playground to their grandfather telling long-winded anecdotes at dinner, theatre matters – in essence – because we can’t help it.

F: Theatre is a medium that is too often overlooked as modern life allows us to live life through screens of various shapes and sizes. I don’t deny accessibility to art has increased in capacity since technology, but there’s something magical about being able to appreciate a story performed live. Unlike screen acting, theatre has intense rehearsals – not to replicate the delivery of lines but to build and explore relationships. This means, if you’ve got a dedicated cast and director, things like dialogue come secondary to the organic reliving of the story with each show. No show will be the same as the next, and with this, the audience has this experience of watching something never seen before, and never to be seen again. If that’s not magic I don’t know what is.


Is this your first production as director and dramaturg? How did you find your experience?

F:  This was my first chance to act as a dramaturg, despite being interested in the role as a concept for a while (but purely by accident!) Originally we were co-directing, but a family emergency prompted a necessary interstate move and so it was originally a way to keep me involved as I could only be on location up until rehearsals started, and then at the very end. Being a part of the conceptualisation of such an experimental and raw show was constantly humbling as I worked alongside the incredible Caitlin Overton. Being able to focus on the context of Shakespeare and ideas for the show, and letting someone you know is incredibly talented change those imaginings into a tangible show, are both very exciting! I think trust was a huge part of me feeling safe leaving my ‘baby’, and of Caitlin feeling like she had that support when suddenly faced with heading the project solo.


C: This was my third directing venture, but the first time trying my hand at a Shakespearean play in its entirety – so I was naturally petrified. Honestly, I cannot overstate how wonderful it has been to have not only the benefit of Flick’s unending talent and natural curiosity, but her generous support while working on this project, both as Co-Director and now Dramaturg.


What would you like the audience to take away front the performance?


F: I think all too often Shakespeare is pushed aside and underestimated when people are presented with his texts and performances in school settings. I really feel like this production was the product of Caitlin and I’s love of everything Shakespeare’s work is at the core, and everything it has the potential to become. Too often the higher language, or unfamiliar settings, can intimidate those who have certain ideas about the playwright, but one thing that brings me back to Shakespeare time and time again is the people and the stories. When you bring theatre right back to its core, it’s a storytelling mechanism. If people can walk away from this performance having enjoyed a story, then I think we’ve done our job.


Why should we go and watch?

F: If you love Shakespeare, the cast and crew of The Tempest have created a refreshing and compelling take on a classic Shakespeare piece. If you hate Shakespeare, the cast and crew of The Tempest just might change your mind. The outside setting, the honesty and integrity of the acting, and the direction of this play makes it one not to miss.

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