PARSIPPANY — Magic is central to plot and key to the world depicted in William Shakespeare’s romantic fantasy The Tempest, being presented by East Stroudsburg University’s theatre department April 24-28.
At the opening of the play, Prospera, the rightful Duchess of Milan, conjures up a powerful storm to bring the usurping Duchess of Milan and other nobles to a magic-filled island which she controls, placing her in a position to extract revenge on the castaways for past wrongs.
“For me, the magic is connected to an educated person’s ability to control the forces-and, in this case, spirits of nature,” explained Stephanie Daventry French, professor of theatre and director of the production. “Prospera’s control is tenuous. Eventually nature’s wildness will burst the boundaries and erupt. This is the challenge Prospera is facing as the play opens.”
For the production French chose to make some non-traditional casting choices. “I felt it was more important to cast to the strengths of the casting pool,” she noted. “I cast a person in a role regardless of character’s original gender because I felt the actor had something strong and unique to inhabit that character.”
Abigail Smith, a 2017 graduate of Parsippany High School, is part of the production’s cast and crew.
Dianara Vazquez, a senior majoring in theatre from Bethlehem, Pa., knew immediately that she wanted to play Caliban. “When I first read the play, I wanted to play him because the role seemed like so much fun,” she said. “I’m drawn to quirky, weird characters and the acting challenges they pose.”
“Dianara had an immediate connection with the earthy quality of the character,” French said. “She has the movement ability to play the character close to the ground as I envisioned him.”
For Sarah Thatcher, a senior theatre major from Pen Argyl, Pa., who plays Prospera, it was chance to perform Shakespeare, rather than a particular role, that excited her. “From the English department’s Shakespeare class and the theatre department’s Advanced Acting class, I learned to understand what is being said in the play and how to break it down to basics and play the intentions and actions in the scene.
“Prospera’s main goal is to get her daughter into her rightful place,” Thatcher added. “To make that happen, Prospera needs to come to terms with the past, let it go, and move on. Only then can she get to where she wants to be.”
In addition to exploring “the text in performance where you discover the myriad of possibilities of the characters and situations,” French explained that the actors are working with ESU theatre alumna Tara Coyle, the production’s choreographer, to develop the appropriate movement for their characters. “Tara is an amazing dancer/mover who loves and understands Shakespeare with an infectious passion,” she said.
Because The Tempest includes a scene based on a masque – a Renaissance court entertainment which included music, dance, and elaborate sets and costumes – French recruited Brian Hodge, director of ESU bands, to compose music for that scene and to create an original score for the production.
Hodge, on a Yamaha X86 keyboard, and percussionist Abigail Smith, a sophomore majoring in hotel, restaurant and tourism management from Parsippany, N.J., will be performing his original music live at each performance.
“The music needs to be reflective of the aesthetic and vision on the stage, like a film score,” Hodge stated. For some characters he created a leitmotif – a musical theme tied to that character – which can be played in varied ways depending on the mood of the scene. The score also includes many sound effects like thunder, mosquitos and thorns.
To accompany Shakespeare’s lyrics, Hodge composed music reflecting the English madrigal style of the period and referencing the works of composers William Byrd and Henry Purcell.
“Sometimes the music is dissonant, sometimes it sounds like a rock concert, and sometimes it’s lyrical,” Hodge explained. “The score is evolving as we get deeper into the rehearsal process and add more technical elements like costumes and lights, to use a full range of sound to develop the texture of the show.”
“Creating the magic moments in the play has been a fun challenge that demands creativity from our full design team,” French noted. The team includes: Yoshinori Tanokura, associate professor of theatre, scenic, costume and make up design; Christopher Domanski, associate professor of theatre, lighting design and technical direction; Kevin Hsiao, a freshman theatre major from Montrose, Pa.; and Andre Austin, a junior art+design major from Philadelphia, Pa., projections design.
French added, “The original puppets designed and fabricated are cleverly solving some of the production’s scenic challenges.” The puppets were designed by students in Product Design I class, taught by James Weiler, adjunct professor of art+design.
“The Tempest begins with a world under tight control that is released for flights of magical fantasy,” French said. Beneath the magic, however, “the play is about betrayal, and the ways we limit ourselves and hurt those we love when we are in pain. More importantly it is about what we need to do to move to forgiveness and set ourselves free. It is a beautiful journey and the powerful, very human themes are revealed through supernatural comedy.”
Curtain times for The Tempest are 7:30 p.m. on April 24-27 (Wednesday – Saturday) and 2 p.m. on April 28 (Sunday). Two American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters will be performing the dialogue alongside the actors at the April 26 performance. All performances are in the Smith-McFarland Theatre of ESU’s Fine and Performing Arts Center, Normal and Marguerite streets, East Stroudsburg.
There also will be a special, low-stimulation performance of the play for a select audience. If this performance is of interest to individuals or groups, please email email@example.com for more information.
General admission is $12; senior citizens, faculty and staff (with ID) are $10; students (with ID) are $7 and youth are $5.
Tickets are available online in advance at esu.edu/theatretickets (credit cards only online). Remaining tickets are available at the box office starting one hour before curtain on performance dates (cash and checks only at the box office).
For other information or reservations, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 570-422-3483.
East Stroudsburg University, one of the 14 institutions in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, opened in 1893 as East Stroudsburg Normal School. Today, ESU is a comprehensive university in northeastern Pennsylvania offering 55 undergraduate programs, 22 master’s programs and one doctoral program. More than 6,800 students are enrolled for the high quality, affordable, and accessible education ESU provides. Nearly 30,000 ESU alumni live in Pennsylvania.