Shakespeare’s The Tempest will be performed much as it would have been back in the 17th century at this year’s Bard on Bower.
While modern rules of decorum still apply (so the crowd will hopefully resist throwing rotten vegetables at actors) — guest director Benjamin Blyth is aiming for far more audience participation than most people are used to in a play that’s about 400 years old.
“The actors will be speaking and asking questions, right to the audience,” says Blyth.
For instance, when Miranda remarks, “O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here?” she could be addressing a spectator lounging under a beach umbrella in front of the Bower Ponds outdoor stage.
The cast is blowing the dust off The Tempest, which will run along with Macbeth in this year’s Prime Stock Theatre summer season. (Macbeth opens July 25, The Tempest July 31. Both will run in repertoire until Aug. 11).
“We’re treating the text as if it’s new material that’s never been performed before. For the people who don’t know the ending, it’s as if it never happened,” says Blyth, who’s artistic director of Malachite Theatres in Edmonton and in London, England.
He’s arrived to helm the Red Deer production straight off directing a touring run of Macbeth in England, with actors from both sides of the Atlantic in that production.
Blyth straddles the two countries because he married a Red Deer native who now lives in London. (His wife, actor Danielle LaRose, will be creating a period soundtrack for The Tempest, drawing on music of the hurdy-gurdy instrument that dates back to the 11th century.)
Blyth says he looks forward to directing “Shakespeare’s North American play” in Alberta.
The Tempest was inspired by a shipwreck off the coast of Bermuda in 1609. Caught in a hurricane, the ship was deliberately driven onto the reefs of Discovery Bay to prevent its foundering. Some 150 people and one dog landed safely ashore.
Scholars believe that incident — including reported splendors of this largely unknown island — sparked Shakespeare’s imagination to create a romance about Europeans who crash on the shores of a magical isle.
The Tempest is one of his later, more complex works, says Blyth. It introduces the character Caliban as a “monster,” yet treats him with compassion.
“He’s given some of the most beautiful language in the play,” added the director, who sees Caliban as an oppressed Indigenous figure.
He hopes audiences will enjoy journeying back to “when the edges of the map were not coloured in … and the New World was an unknown quantity.”
Macbeth will be directed by Victoria Wells-Smith, a former Prime Stock Theatre player now living in Toronto.
The Scottish play-that-must-not-be-named — or risk bad luck, according to theatrical lore — is one of Shakespeare’s most performed plays.
Familiar to generations of students who have studied the tragedy as part of their English curriculum, Macbeth has the elements for a spine-chilling story — including a brush with the supernatural.
General Macbeth receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day, he will be king of Scotland. He murders King Duncan and seizes the Scottish throne. But his conscience is plagued by guilt — especially as more killing must be done to cement his power.
The bloodbath pushes Macbeth and Lady Macbeth over the precipice of madness and death.
For more information about both Bard on Bower productions, please visit www.primestocktheatre.com.