Adapting “The Tempest”

If you’re looking to see Shakespeare like you’ve never seen it before, look no further than Homestead High School’s production of The Tempest.

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Mirando (Derrick Karas) holds Ferdinand (Sophia Nelson) on the lyra

HHS’s The Tempest is the definition of collaboration. Adapted by Amelia Figg-Franzoi, one of the key distinguishing factors in this re-imagination of Shakespeare’s The Tempest is the movement, which features aerial dance choreography by Andrea Burkholder.  Figg-Franzoi says they started with a two week workshop process of dance and movement work.  “During those two weeks it wa my responsibility to cast the show, for at the end of the second week we were going to perform The Tempest in the Unrehearsed Shakespeare style.”   A member of Chicago’s Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company and Artistic Director of Theatre RedChristopher Elst came in to teach the cast this technique.  The cast of 26 freshmen through seniors performed William Shakespeare’s text in it’s entirety the second week of the workshop.

Figg-Franzoi said she did this for two reason, “I wanted them to learn the Unrehearsed Technique which I learned very briefly in undergrad, and I wanted them to work with the full text of The Tempest.  In my version, I’ve cut the script down quite a bit, The character Prospero went from speaking over 200 times to a little under 100.”  She says she cut parts where movement could take over the storyline instead of words.  The opening scene was cut down from 6 pages of lines to 1.  The story instead is told through dance and the aerial silks.  “It’s really beautiful,” Figg-Franzoi smiles.  Stage Manager, Frances Mackinnon also weighed in, “By either replacing or supplementing a scene with dance, the story becomes much more visual and much more accessible. I feel as though the audience will have a greater understanding of the story because the dance and movement allow them to connect with the story in a sensory way.”

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The Royal Party

She doesn’t claim this is the correct way to perform William Shakespeare’s last masterpiece, nor that she’s getting it right with her adaptation.  “It’s a give and take,” Figg-Franzoi spoke, “Any Shakespeare play is about his words and performing the text.  In my many cuttings of the script, my husband, a Shakespeare snob, would sigh and groan when he read some scenes for I had cut out his favorite lines or images conjured from the text.”  She appeased him by added back some of Prospera’s monologues.

The editing and collaboration didn’t stop there, the cast is two weeks from opening and they’ve been handed three different scripts throughout the process.  Cuts were made during rehearsals and in one case a scene was added back in.  The cast and crew of The Tempest went to see a live showing of England’s Royal Shakespeare’s Company 2016 version of The Tempest.  During intermission the actors who made up the Royal party exclaimed to their director, “We’re funny!”  Maisie Allen who plays Queen Alonsa stated, “watching RSC’s Tempest opened our eyes to how we could deliver our lines in a funny matter. Before I had no idea this was a funny scene but after hearing those extra lines I realize we’re hilarious.”  Junior Renee Schwarz said in watching “RSC’s The Tempest, it changed the way I looked at my character. I noticed that Sebastian wasn’t just this conniving character that plots to murder her sister. I realized that her and Antonia, in the midst of the aftermath of being shipwrecked, are actually comedic reliefs.”  After watching that production the members of the Royal party better understood their characters and asked to add more lines in, Figg-Franzoi obliged.  Schwarz goes on to explain, “The main reason for wanting to add lines back into our scene was because it would develop our characters more and give us more to play and work with. For example, my favorite line that we added back is Sebastian’s response to Antonia’s question: “Which of she or Adrian for a good wager first begins to crow?” I reply by saying “The Old Cock” (Gonzalo), and Antonia responds to me by betting on “The cockerel” (Adrian) for who will speak first.”  This is the language of Shakespeare we came to see, so Figg-Franzoi acknowledges that the cast knew better and added the lines back.

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The three actors who play Ariel, the spirit

Dancing and movement was another collaboration.  Figg-Franzoi would ask groups of people to go and choreograph or block something.  Without batting an eye, they would go off and create.  Freshmen David Blatz was new to thing sort of work, stating, “I was so surprised with what people could choreograph with such short amounts of time.”  Many of Shakespeare’s cast had to learn the Aerial silks for this production: the clowns Stephano and Trinculo, the Lovers Mirando and Ferdinand and the ensemble members. The hardest working aerial character is actually Ariel (played by Khoi Do, Bella Gabor and Emily Harley), a fierce sprite who does Prospero’s bidding. The mysterious forces of the island to which Prospero has been banished— where an unsettling kind of magic lives — are well represented by the aerialists. The onstage rigging, which features aerial silks and ring, effectively represents the pull between the magic in the air and humans on land.

The cast of characters is a mix of both good- and evil-doers. Mirando (Derrick Karas), son of sorcerer Prospera (Silma Berrada), has never before seen a woman other than his mother until a shipwreck brings foreigners to their island. He promptly falls in love with the equally naïve Ferdinand (Sophia Nelson), Princess of Naples. Meanwhile, a power struggle ensues between Prospera and her sister, Duke of Milan Antonia (Miranda Grisa) and Queen of Naples Alonsa (Maisie Allen), which gets at the root of why Prospera is on the island in the first place: She was deposed years ago when Antonia took over as Duke of Milan, and brought 3-year-old Mirando to the island with her.

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Trinculo and Stephano, the clowns in “The Tempest”

In true Shakespearean fashion, the plot of The Tempest follows parallel storylines. In another line, Caliban (Bella Cicero and Aila Khan) — a groveling, deformed island native serving as Prospera’s slave — plan with Queen Alonsa’s servants, Stephano (Lily Higgins) and Trinculo (Claire Looker) to kill Prospera and take over the island.

The cast is aided by Nicole Platz’s sound design, Kate Do and Abby Giesen’s props design, Charlie Rennicke’s projection design and all of Stage Crew’s effort to hang tattered sails, creating a lost and desolate look for the island.

Come see the hard work these students have put in to create the world of The Tempest for you.  The play runs one weekend, April 28th and April 29th at 7pm and April 30th at 1pm.  Adult tickets are $8 and students are $7.

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