Shakespeare’s final masterpiece of redemption and forgiveness, a comedy with fierceness and deep soul. Our staging is faithful to the text but involves five actors, 20 large puppets, masks, shadows, video projection, and Elizabeth Fuller’s musical score. Now available on DVD.
Text by William Shakespeare
Directed by Conrad Bishop
Music by Elizabeth Fuller
Puppets, set and lighting by Conrad Bishop
Costumes by David Romesburg
Stage management by Jeanine Gray
Cast: Anthony Shaw Abate, Jessica Bauman, Conrad Bishop, Jan Freifeld, Benjamin Stowe.
Produced by The Independent Eye in collaboration with Sonoma County Repertory Theater, Sebastopol, CA.
Premiered Sept. 18, 2009, at Sonoma County Repertory Theater, for a total of 18 performances.
—Fred Curchack, Theater Artist/Professor of Aesthetic Studies, The University of Texas at Dallas
The Independent Eye’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest is an inspired, inspiring, and deeply moving evening of theater. The puppets are extraordinary, the music is brilliant, the design is beautiful, and most of all, the acting is superb and illuminating of every nuance of Shakespeare’s immortal text. Conrad Bishop’s direction, design, and performance as Prospero are sheer genius!
—David Templeton, “Second Row Center,” KRCB-FM
Shakespeare’s The Tempest is among the Bard’s best beloved plays, a full-blown fantasy full of magic, spirits, monsters and wizards. Set on a tiny island full of miracles and wonders, The Tempest is the story of Prospero, a one-time duke marooned by his power-hungry brother on a desert island with his daughter. There, armed with only his wits and his books, Prospero becomes a powerful wizard, conjures storms and ghosts and music out of thin air.
When Prospero learns through his craft that a passing ship carries its brother among its crew, Prospero summons a mighty tempest to wreck the ship, casting its crew ashore on his island. There, aided by his spirit servant Ariel, and temporary thwarted by the island’s resident monster Caliban, Prospero launches his long-dreamed revenge; but touched by his daughter’s love of one of the castaways, he finally yields to a gentler, far more powerful form of magic, forgiveness.
The play, one of Shakespeare’s most difficult to categorize, has challenged performers from the very beginning, with its raging seas, twisted beasts, floating spirits and dancing ghosts. In the just-launched staging at Sonoma County Repertory Theater, director Conrad Bishop avoids the pitfalls by embracing the play’s mysterious trappings, acting out the story using Bishop’s own brand of magic, puppetry. With all the characters played by actors in black, wielding gorgeous, nearly-lifesize puppets, the spirit Ariel can actually fly, the monstrous Caliban can scuttle and lurch, and Prospero’s island can be made to literally pop with surprises.
The result is a visually stunning, truly transporting production, weird, to be sure, but beautiful in so many ways. The Tempest, as a vision by Bishop, employs a cast of five, including Bishop as Prospero, with Benjamin Stowe, Jan Freifeld, Jessica Bauman, and Anthony Abate. Dressed all in black, the actors wear masks, so even though they are visible as they manipulate their characters, they become almost invisible. With puppets whose faces are frozen into single expressions, it’s up to the actors to bring their characters to life, and they do so with complete physical commitment to the enterprise, pulling surprising amounts of emotion out of every hand gesture, every tilt of the puppet’s head.
Yes, it must be said, the whole puppetry element does take some getting used to at first. And at times, the actors voices seem a big muffled, projecting out from behind the puppets as they scoot and skitter across the set. That set, by the way, is one of the show’s many wonders, a swooping, soaring collision of fabric that resembles a dozen shredded ship sails all joined together, and blazoned with lines from Shakespeare’s text.
Theatre, above all, is a collaboration between the actors and the audience, with the actors supplying enough truth and dazzle to captivate the crowd, and with the audience using its imagination to fill in the gaps. That’s the true pleasure of the Rep’s magical, daring, and bold presentation of The Tempest, with Bishop’s energetic vision as the guiding force, we are invited to work magic right along with the strange and beautiful island creatures, making a brave new world in our minds and before our very eyes.
With the puppets, the arms and especially the hands become huge vehicles of emotional expression, and even the inanimate masks seem to change expression depending on their positions, the angles at which they’re held and the lighting. Many delightful and imaginative uses of shadow-screens, overdubs, and other theatrical resources; and whatever puppets can do than humans can’t, they do, and to our amazement and delight!
I feel privileged to have such thrilling, innovative, soul-touching theatre right here in our little town!
Thanks for the amazing work…dedication and mastery
Congratulations for your amazing production of the Tempest. Pure Magic! At the beginning of Act Two, I said to myself, “ Well, they’ve revealed all the puppets and used all their tricks.” Boy, was I wrong! Fresh dramatic invention continued to the final bow.
The multiple dimensions of puppets and masked puppeteers created a magickal milieu in which the fragmented worlds of Faerie and Mundania were able to interpenetrate to powerful effect. With its multiple levels of reality, “The Tempest” seems to have been written just for this unique form of presentation, which suits it perfectly.
Thank you so much for such a creative, mouth-dropping evening of theater. It was outasight!
We saw the Tempest replete with puppets and were not sure what to expect. The use of puppets was creative and exciting, and allowed for many levels of communication. We have seen The Tempest several times before and were quite surprised at how entertaining and original a production it is.
What a feast for the eye and ear.
Astonishing and powerful!
I loved everything: The artistry of the puppets, masks, costumes, lighting, projections and shadows, sound, music, performances and words. I was transported to another place and dreamed deeply last night. Such universal themes; I feel honored to be able to witness such a glorious production.
The Independent Eye’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest is an inspired, inspiring, and deeply moving evening of theater. The puppets are extraordinary, the music is brilliant, the design is beautiful, and most of all, the acting is superb and illuminating of every nuance of Shakespeare’s immortal text.
Loved the multimedia aspect of it and the fine artistry that permeated throughout. It touched an artistic center inside of me that made me want to create and explore my own artistic leanings.
Your production of The Tempest yielded me significant new views about what might be some core themes of the play.
My take on Prospero’s gigantic mid-life crisis is that he is functioning at the throat chakra, the crossroads between good and evil. Which path will he choose? The throat chakra is also the area from which speech cometh, and Prospero rages and verbalizes in the best Shakesperian manner. Great stuff, Mooncalf, great stuff!
I must say that puppet kiss to end the first half was …mmmmm!