Ask Philippa: The Tempest edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

Power and authority, betrayal, injustice, what it means to be a parent, what it means to love and to relinquish: These are some of the themes threading through Shakespeare’s late masterpiece, The Tempest. Come see our All the Bay’s a Stage production, directed by Rebecca Novick and starring three of our Cal Shakes favorites as well as four new additions to our theater family. We welcome you to share your thoughts, just as we’ve been honored to share our stage.

I’d be delighted to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for this touring production of The Tempest, which will culminate in six public performances at the Oakland Museum of California. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Ask Philippa! Please leave your questions in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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Dr. Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

The Tempest runs Fri-Sun from Nov. 13-22 at the Oakland Museum of California. To buy $20 tickets to these intimate public performances click here; or, call the Box Office at 510.548.9666.

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Listen to an Original Song from our Upcoming Tour of The Tempest

 

A student at Laney College works on writing an original song for The Tempest.

Building on the success of last year’s All the Bay’s a stage tour of Twelfth Night, we’re increasing the impact of this year’s tour of The Tempest, even further, by inviting community partners to collaborate. Over the summer, students from the jazz and theater programs at Oakland’s Laney College worked with tour director Rebecca Novick and composer Olive Mitra to write music and lyrics for an original song that will be performed during our production of The Tempest.

Here is a sample of the song, which has a working title of “Untamed and True,” performed a cappella. Enjoy!

Untamed and True Laney Cal Shakes Collaboration

Cal Shakes’ All the Bay’s a Stage program is funded by donations from community members like you. Seats for the public performances of The Tempest at OMCA, which will take place on Fridays at 7pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 4pm from November 13-22, are extremely limited. Beginning September 1st, donors of $250 or more to this project can reserve two complimentary seats to one of the OMCA performances (while supplies last). To make a donation and reserve your seat for the Cal Shakes tour of The Tempest, click here or contact our Director of Development, Megan Barton at mbarton@calshakes.org.

 

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Where, and Who, Are the Mothers In Shakespeare?

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly muses on maternal absences in Romeo & Juliet and other Shakespeare plays—an update on this blog she wrote last summer.

Nurse, Mother, Juliet 2009

Catherine Castellanos (Nurse), Julie Eccles (Lady Capulet), and Sarah Nealis (Juliet) in our 2009 production of R&J; photo by Kevin Berne.

In Renaissance times the mother was the family member principally involved with her children’s education and upbringing. Yet in Renaissance drama older women were rarely represented on stage in what would obviously be one of their more sympathetic roles: that of the loving and nurturing mother. This lack is partly explained by the fact that women were not allowed to perform on the English stage: All of the female roles were played by young boys before their voices broke, so that a younger character part was obviously a better physical and vocal match. The lack of mothers in Shakespeare is notorious:  We have the three sisters in King Lear, Marina in Pericles, Miranda in The Tempest, Portia and Jessica in The Merchant of Venice, Beatrice and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, Ophelia in Hamlet, Desdemona in Othello, Isabella in Measure for Measure, and Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It, all of whom are deprived of mothers. Moreover, almost all of the older women Shakespeare does represent on stage offer negative images of motherhood: Volumnia in Coriolanus and Gertrude in Hamlet, and then Lady Macbeth as well, who says that she would have been a terrible mother if she had had the chance to be one. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet of course has a mother, but not one who will protect her: Lady Capulet, anywhere from age 26 to her mid-thirties (Juliet could have been born first or, perhaps, after a long line of children), is thoroughly subjected to her husband’s will. We can infer that Lady Capulet is significantly younger than her husband (who talks of his younger days: “tis gone, tis gone, tis gone…”), and a fairly distant mother. Her relationship to Juliet, and to the whole subject of marriage, seems perfunctory, accentuated, for example, in the stiff rhyming couplets in which she describes the bookish “joys” of an upcoming marriage:

This precious book of love, this unbound lover,
To beautify him only lacks a cover.
So shall you share all that he doth possess,
By having him, making yourself no less.

For a surrogate mother, Juliet has the garrulous old Nurse, possessor of four teeth in her head and purveyor of bawdy jokes.

Prospero and Miranda, 2012

Michael Winters (Prospero) and Emily Kitchens (Miranda) in our 2012 production of THE TEMPEST; photo by Kevin Berne.

Why does Shakespeare exploit this idea of the older woman as an unsympathetic figure (except for those few rare mothers who, like Hermione in The Winter’s Tale and Thaisa in Pericles, are effectively buried alive, losing their children either forever or for most of the play)? We might hypothesize about the playwright’s own life—married, as he was, to a woman eight years older than himself who reached middle age well before he did. We know that William Shakespeare spent most of his married life living in London, while Anne Hathaway lived in Stratford with their children. We also know that Shakespeare’s plays were written in an extremely patriarchal period. But we can also see how useful a mother might be to a girl as, at a very young age, she comes face-to-face with the complexities of love and life. And this is where there emerges a structural and thematic reason for the absence of mothers in Shakespeare. Aside from helping to solve the difficulty of finding boys who could play the parts of mature women, this lack allowed Shakespeare to create an important dramatic pretext: By taking away the mother (either, as in Romeo and Juliet, as a figure of real guidance, or, as in many of his plays, as a presence on stage at all) Shakespeare creates a gap in the young female characters’ lives, compelling them to develop that extraordinary independence and character that makes them so attractive. It is Juliet, after all, who changes Romeo, urging him onward to transform himself from an idle young man “in love with love” to a passionate and committed lover.

Shana Cooper’s production of Romeo & Juliet plays July 3-28 at the stunning outdoor Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, CA.

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The Tempest Grove Talk

Listen to a podcast of a pre-performance The Tempest Grove Talk, presented by Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Podcast produced by Will McCandless. The Tempest runs through June 24, 2012.

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The Inspiration for THE TEMPEST

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly reveals real-world inspiration for one of Shakespeare’s final plays.

The Tempest has an unclear setting: We know simply that it takes place somewhere in the Mediterranean, since Alonso and Antonio are on their way back from Tunis (where Alonso’s daughter has been reluctantly married off) to Naples. The Tempest is also one of the few Shakespeare plays not to have a clear literary source. It is thought to have been inspired by Shakespeare’s reading of a real-life event described by a voyager: On July 24, 1609 a fleet of nine English vessels was nearing the end of a supply voyage to the new colony of the Bermudas when it ran into “a cruel tempest,” presumably a hurricane. The vessels in the fleet couldn’t keep together, and two fared particularly badly. One of them, The Sea Venture, carrying the fleet’s Admiral, ran ashore.

The Sea Venture

"The Sea Venture in a Heavy Sea in 1609," painting by Christopher Grimes

How could they have survived such peril? Ariel conveys the amazement that Shakespeare probably felt in reading of the safe delivery of the sailors to the shore: “Not a hair perish’d,” he says to Prospero in wonderment. Exhausted by battling the tempest and suffering the effects of food deprivation, the sailors huddled on the battered ship in corners or, indeed, as one sailor put it, “wheresoever they chanced first to sit or lie.”[i]  This sailor’s account was most likely the basis for Ariel’s report to Prospero:

The mariners all under hatches stow’d;

Who, with a charm join’d to their suffer’d labour,

I have left asleep…

Moreover, Ariel herself (for whom there is no literary precedent) was probably inspired by what the sailors saw after the wreck of the Sea venture. The Virginia Company Secretary William Strachey, one of the survivors, reports seeing in the aftermath:

An apparition of a little round light, like a faint star, trembling and streaming along with a sparkling blaze,…shooting sometimes from shroud to shroud, tempting to settle as it were on any of the four shrouds:…half the night it kept with us, running sometimes along the mainyard to the very end, and then returning. [ii]

As you’ll read in my program article, what Strachey saw was a phenomenon called “St. Elmo’s Fire”—the luminous plasma created by an electric field emanating from a volcanic eruption or a storm. Ariel describes himself to Prospero, flitting around the shipwreck, “flam[ing] amazement,” “burn[ing] in many places: on the top mast,/The yards and bowsprit….” To the cramped streets of London, Shakespeare brought these images of a sparsely-populated island, a place whose existence had only recently been made known to Europe at all. Not unlike Prospero—whose art contracts the vagaries of life into his magically-controlled universe—Shakespeare contracted the far reaches of the known world to the perimeter of his dramatic stage, using the stage itself to infuse this world with its own far-reaching mysteries.

The Tempest begins previews at our stunning outdoor Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, CA, on Thursday, May 31, opens Saturday, June  2, and continues until Sunday, June 24.

[i] This account was given by Silas Samuel Jordan, whose job it was to keep a daily log of events on the ship.

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From Romance to Revenge

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly on Prospero’s and other’s journeys in The Tempest

The Tempest is a “Romance” play, best illustrated in relationship to King Lear, written six years before in 1605. Lear is a tragedy that leaves its audiences in a diminished Britain amidst the wasteland of loss, with only Lear’s brief reunion with his beloved Cordelia to comfort us—and even that reunion is made bittersweet, since both are dead by the time the curtain falls. The Tempest affords a more elegant wrap-up. Its fairytale structure—the power of Prospero’s magic; the mysterious setting somewhere in the Mediterranean; and the satisfaction of final redemption and of a wedding to close things—allows Shakespeare to tie up the play’s loose ends and to make what many have seen as his farewell to London and the stage (although he did write The Two Noble Kinsmen after this, as well as contributing to a few other plays).

Michael Winters is Prospero

Michael Winters plays Prospero in our 2012 production of THE TEMPEST; photo by Kevin Berne.

The Tempest highlights several prominent themes and conventions. It is one of Shakespeare’s most spectacular plays, with its apparitions (Ariel/Harpy); its storm and shipwreck to begin the play; and the dance, the vanishing banquet, the songs, as elements of scenic display. The Tempest is also underscored by journeying: There is the interrupted journey made by Milan’s Duke Antonio and Naples’ King Alonso, which brings them to the island; the journey that Prospero has made from Milan to the island; the journey that Shakespeare the dramatist has often been said to be making as he gives us an artist (playmaking as a form of magic?) who, by the play’s end, says goodbye to his art; and the journey from activity to age, signaled by Prospero’s transformation from an artificer at the height of his powers to one wearied by his art.

What is the relationship between art and nature? We experience nature through our bodies, but perhaps it is through art that nature is more truly understood. Nowhere is this juxtaposition between art and nature more intensely felt—and perhaps more challenging—than in the relationship between Prospero, master of the island via his mind and magical practice, and Caliban, who claims ownership of the island via his birth and breeding. “This island’s mine, by Sycorax, my mother,/Which thou take’st from me,” Caliban tells Prospero, “For I am all the subjects that you have,/Which first was mine own king.” Yet while Caliban declares ownership via his birth, Prospero sees this self-appointed “king” as a perverse wretch, an “abhorred slave” whose proclivities have abused the laws of “nature.” Who has more claim to authenticity? Caliban with his unchecked appetites, or Prospero with his history of Dukedom, his rage, and the sophisticated arts that he uses to check and arouse Nature’s tides? “This rough magic I here abjure,” Prospero says near the close of the play. “I’ll break my staff,/Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,/And deeper than did ever plummet sound,/I’ll drown my book.” Why does he ultimately disclaim ownership and authority on the island? The Tempest teases us with this question.

The Tempest begins previews at our stunning outdoor Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, CA, on Thursday, May 31, opens Saturday, June  2, and continues until Sunday, June 24.

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Where Are the Mothers in Shakespeare?

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly muses on maternal absences in The Tempest and other Shakespeare plays.

Pericles photo by Kevin Berne

A rare Shakespeare mother and child reunion: L-R, Sarah Nealis (Marina), Delia MacDougall (Thaisa), Ron Campbell (Cleon), and Christopher Kelly (Pericles) in PERICLES (2008); photo by Kevin Berne.

In Renaissance times the mother was the family member principally involved with her children’s education and upbringing. Yet in Renaissance drama older women were rarely represented onstage in what would obviously be one of their more sympathetic roles: that of the loving and nurturing mother. This lack is partly explained by the fact that women were not allowed to perform on the English stage: All of the female roles were played by young boys before their voices broke, so that a younger character part was obviously a better physical and vocal match. The lack of mothers in Shakespeare is notorious:  We have the noticeably absent Mrs. Prospero (of whom Prospero says merely that “thy mother was a piece of virtue”); the apparently nonexistent Queen Alonso; and the devilish witch Sycorax, Caliban’s dead mother.  Consider this lack of mother-nurturers in context with the three sisters in King Lear, Imogen in Cymbeline, Marina in Pericles, Portia and Jessica in The Merchant of Venice, Beatrice and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, Ophelia in Hamlet, Desdemona in Othello, Isabella in Measure for Measure, and Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It, characters who are all deprived of mothers. Moreover, almost all of the older women Shakespeare does represent onstage offer negative images of motherhood: Volumnia in Coriolanus; Gertrude in Hamlet; and Lady Macbeth, who says that she would have been a terrible mother if she had had the chance to be one. And as for Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, we can infer that, having herself been married at age 13, she depicts a former girl-bride who learned principally to please her husband.

Why does Shakespeare exploit this idea of the older woman as largely absent figure, or an unsympathetic one if she must be present, except for those few rare mothers who, like Hermione in The Winter’s Tale and Thaisa in Pericles, are effectively buried alive, losing their children either forever or for most of the play? (Hermione in The Winter’s Tale, for example, is forced into a 16-year banishment so that her husband can undergo a process of personal moral regeneration.) We might hypothesize about the playwright’s own life, married, as he was, to a woman eight years older than himself who reached middle age well before he did. We know that William Shakespeare spent most of his married life living in London, while his wife Anne Hathaway lived in Stratford with their children. We also know that Shakespeare’s plays were written in an extremely patriarchal period. But we can also see how useful a mother might be to a girl as, at a very young age, she comes face-to-face with the complexities of love and life.

And this is where there emerges a structural and thematic reason for the absence of mothers in Shakespeare. Aside from helping to solve the difficulty of finding boys who could plausibly play the parts of mature women, this lack allowed Shakespeare to create an important dramatic pretext: By taking away the mother (either, as in Romeo and Juliet, as a figure of real guidance or, as in many of his plays, like The Tempest, as a presence onstage at all), Shakespeare creates a gap in the young female characters’ lives, compelling them to develop that extraordinary independence and character that makes them so attractive. It is the completely sheltered and yet wise Miranda, after all, who first sees inherent nobility in the King’s son, of whom she knows nothing at all except that “nothing natural/I ever saw so noble.” Prospero might shape events in the world through his magic: But it is this young girl, Miranda, who shapes her own destiny through her heart.

The Tempest begins previews at our stunning outdoor Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, CA, on Thursday, May 31, opens Saturday, June  2, and continues until Sunday, June 24.

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Ask Philippa: THE TEMPEST Edition

Philippa Kelly by Robert Friedman

Philippa Kelly by Robert Friedman

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes and production dramaturg for The Tempest, shares her thoughts on the current production, and invites your questions. The Tempest runs May 30–June 24, 2012.

The Tempest is a “Romance” play, best introduced in relationship to King Lear, written six years before it in 1605.  Lear is a tragedy that leaves its audiences in a diminished Britain amidst the wasteland of loss, with only Lear’s brief reunion with his beloved Cordelia to comfort us, and even that reunion made bittersweet because both are dead by the time the curtain falls. The Tempest affords a more elegant wrap-up: Its fairytale structure—the power of Prospero’s magic; the mysterious setting somewhere in the Mediterranean; and the satisfaction of final redemption and of a wedding to close things—allows Shakespeare to tie up the play’s loose ends and to make what many have seen as his farewell to London and the stage. As Jonathan Moscone said at the Inside Scoop, the play is full of beautiful tropes—love, romance, loss, relinquishment—and we’re asked to open our hearts unguardedly to all of them via the production’s spectacle, movement, and beautiful poetry.

Are you going to see our  production of  The Tempest? Do you have questions or comments about the production’s themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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