Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Contributed by Jeff Thomakos, Artistic Director & Director of The Tempest

Well it is Mid-March and already things are well underway for Water Works this summer. In fact, we have been working and planning since late last year. The first thing to decide was what the Shakespeare show would be. Hamlet was tossed around. So was Cyrano de Bergerac (not written by Shakespeare, I know, but it would still be great to do, don't you think?). In the end, we decided to go with our most requested show, The Tempest.

I have big plans for this show. The seeds of which started two years ago when we decided to add a family Commedia show to our summer repertoire. Commedia requires masks and I was on the hunt for a local mask maker who would be up to the task. After weeks of fruitless searching, Ed mentioned that he had a mask sitting in his office from a really talented lady named Nina Barlow. (Nina, it turns out, donated some masks for our 2002 art auction fundraiser and Ed bought one). I gave her a call and she turned out to be inspiring. Do you remember the awesomely realistic and bloody severed head of Macbeth? Yeah, that was her.

Ever since then, I have been determined to do a show that would highlight her work and The Tempest seemed like a perfect fit.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Prospero, the Duke of Milan, and his infant daughter are put out to sea in a small boat and left for dead by his usurping brother, Antonio. As luck would have it, however, they end up as castaways on an enchanted island inhabited by monsters and supernatural beings. Prospero, who also is a wizard of enormous power, ends up becoming ruler of the island. Many years later when a ship whose passengers include Prospero's evil brother and several of his fellow conspirators happens to pass by the island on the way home from a royal wedding, Prospero uses his magic to send a storm to sink the ship and bring the conspirators to the island where he can exact his revenge. Does he get his revenge? Is the boat really sunk? Does he get back home? Come see it and find out.

Monsters? Supernatural beings? Enchanted Island? Yes. Yes. AND YES! Ariel, Prospero's chief spirit, according to the script is a master of disguise. She (yes, she will be a "she" in our production) takes the form of a water nymph, a forest nymph, a harpy, and can turn invisible. There are also devils, mystical dogs, cannibalistic monsters, magical farmers (yep, magical farmers), and actual gods and demi-gods. In case you haven't figured it out yet, this is unlike any other play Shakespeare wrote. Even Midsummer Night's Dream doesn't contain this many magic spells and supernatural creatures.

Yes, masks seemed like the perfect way to bring all of this to life. Nina's work is spectacular and we've been giddily planning, prepping, and designing the wonderful faces you will see this summer. I have the show half cast at this point and have sent the actors that are already signed on to Nina's house to have their faces set in plaster so that their masks can be custom built.

The big question, though, is where do the masks fall in the scheme of things in our production? Are they costumes? Yes. Props? Yes. Some masks will require microphones, so that will put them under sound. Some masks will have LED lights built into them, so that is a lighting issue. Some masks may even be used to create sound. I have never worked a show in which collaboration and coordination was so vital to the production's success. But my team is, as usual, composed of an extraordinary list of great local talent which really helps me keep my hair from going white.

Of course, masks are just one part of the equation this summer. There's also the music, the set, some great new initiatives and programs, the awesome cast, the Daylight Family Show (which will be The Commedia Aladdin by Lane Riosley, in keeping with our magic theme this year), and, then there's what we're hoping to do in the trees…

Stay tuned and believe in magic.