The Tempest at UMF

Students from multiple classes attended the recent UMF production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which provided material for a lot of good student writing about the play, including Delaney Klein’s review published in the Farmington Flyer. The online journal Knack, published by UMF students in the arts, also included multiple articles on the production, including interviews with the director, composer, and make-up designer, which includes a detailed look at the process of putting on Caliban’s make-up.

We’ve collected below several posts written by students in Honors 277 (Analyze This!!!!!!), touching on different elements of the production.

On the Opening Scene of The Tempest

by Samuel Bennett

In his introduction to The Tempest, David Lindley notes how many performances interpret the shipwreck in the first scene differently: “the subsequent stage history of the opening scene is characterized by oscillation between elaboration and simplification, realism and stylization” (17). I felt the performance at UMF combined these two approaches in a way that was effective and contributed to the play.

The scene began with a symbolic depiction of the storm, with Ariel leading several spirits to drive the waves. This recalled Ariel’s later statement that he would “divide and burn in many places” (127) – the spirits all seemed to be coordinated with his motions and moved as one, suggesting they were extensions of Ariel. The show’s rendition of “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” added to this effect – Ariel played music and gestured like a conductor while disembodied voices sang the lyrics. This established Ariel’s multifaceted, malleable nature by disconnecting his voice from his actions and having the lyrics be sung in different voices and intonations, suggesting there were multiple spirits that Ariel either directed or manifested as. I thought this was an interesting representation of an idea given in the text, and I was disappointed when Ariel’s other songs only used one voice.

Additionally, I thought the costuming and choreography of the spirits was effective – they wore white sheets and moved in wave-like motions, which both established them as embodiments of natural forces and represented the actual waves of the sea, giving the audience a sense of the stormy waters. Furthermore, my father (who I invited to the show) interpreted them as representing waves, whereas I saw them as the blowing wind. This ambiguity was likely intentional – Ariel is associated with both the sea and the wind; their costumes recalled both white rapids and the air; and their motions could easily be viewed as those of both waves and gusts of wind. The use of dance to represent the storm reminded me of the symbolic representations of the scene Lindley describes, which had “a huge puppet snake wind across the stage” (20). However, the actual dialogue and action of the opening scene was performed literally. I thought the actors depicted the storm effectively with the limited resources at their disposal – like the 1951 Mermaid Theatre production, “everybody acted high seas and hurricanes, and not a word was lost” (19). It was clear from the sounds of thunder, the flashes of light, and the frantic, panicked voices and motions of the actors that a storm was going on around them. The scene seemed chaotic and tumultuous because of how the performers played their parts and how audio-visual clues were used. I particularly liked how the gallery of the ship was represented by tying a rope to a pillar in the balcony – this set was obviously designed around the auditorium’s actual layout, but the balcony, with its railing and mast-like pillars, really did look like a ship, and tying the rope to the “mast” was enough for me to read it as such. This reminded me of Barthes’s idea of mythology – the balcony could resemble either a balcony or a ship, so simply tying a rope to the pillar produced a distinctly nautical image strong enough for me to view it as the latter without any other props or set pieces. All in all, I enjoyed The Tempest. It was fun to watch, and since I knew the complicated history of the play and its staging, I was able to get more out of it by seeing how the show was performed and how it impacted the presentation as a whole.

The Portrayal of Caliban

By Erika Burns

I thoroughly enjoyed UMF’s production of The Tempest. I wasn’t sure what to expect because there is so much open for interpretation. The use of lighting and sheets billowing in the wind of the storm provided an interesting and authentic portrayal of the shipwreck. The simple use of the upper balcony for the boatswain to climb down the rope also helped to create an image of an actual ship. I was very impressed by the storm scene as a whole.

I was most looking forward to seeing the depiction of Caliban in the UMF production. The Tempest casts him as an almost inhuman character, so far removed from society and enslaved that he has no regard for human social interaction or even human movement. Characters often refer to him as a monster so repulsive they do not even consider him to be a human. I didn’t think that UMF would come even remotely close to portraying him accurately, but I was quickly proven wrong. Caliban’s movement and dress made him seem very primitive. Putting him in a loincloth is the easiest way to convey a primitive look, but there were many added effects to enhance his look. Caliban’s make-up included hairy wart-like patches and animal print paint placed randomly on his forearm and leg. All of this – in addition to his facial make-up and greasy, tousled hair – created a caveman-like image. One foot literally had a monster’s foot attached instead of a human foot, which literally turned him into the monster that the play makes him out to be. Caliban’s movement is also distorted and not human. He was hunched over for the entire play, often resorting to moving around on all fours  to “walk” across the stage. For slight movement, Caliban’s right arm was always drooped, which created a hunched back and made him look more like an animal.

Caliban’s depiction was also enhanced by his interactions with other cast members. When he kissed the feet of Stephano, Stephano dissolved into laughter. He was mocking Caliban for being so desperate to serve him that he was willing to kiss his feet. The fact that Caliban did it again added to his desperation and, therefore, added to his mockery. It was clear to the audience that Caliban was never anything more than a servant and an odd creature to look at. Stephano recoiled every time Caliban drew near and he watched him in awe as he drank so desperately. Moments like these are not portrayed in the written play. Subtle nuances and movements cannot be accurately represented and aren’t written down as strict instructions for the actors to follow. Movement is left open to interpretation, and I think that the UMF production of The Tempest did a good job of showing Caliban’s lack of human characteristics (or at the most, very primitive ones). Doing this from all aspects was crucial in creating the desired effect. From Caliban’s make-up to his movement to his interactions with other actors, there was truly an animalistic air about him and the way others viewed him in the play.

The Portrayal of Ariel and Caliban

By Emily Cote

Ariel, being my favorite character in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest is the figure I’d like to focus on. One of Shakespeare’s talents is creating characters for theater that can be interpreted in many different ways – ghosts, spirits, gods, and fairies are present among his works and their presence on stage have been portrayed differently over the years. Ariel is a character of similar complexity, and an interesting point David Lindley voiced was that: “Caliban is not only a slave and political rebel, but is also defined by his relationship to Ariel. How this relationship is characterised by critics and represented on stage has vital consequences for any interpretation of the play. The transformations in the two roles, indeed, have taken interestingly intertwined paths.” (58)

In UMF’s representation of The Tempest, there was an emphasis on making Caliban a sympathetic character from his apparent physical disfigurement, blatant from makeup and costuming (I liked his gruesome-looking foot) while Ariel was made impressively graceful – everything from the lithe in his step to his flowing lines gave him an air that separated him and Caliban. Some critics of other Tempest performances have speculated that Ariel should be portrayed as a figure from Heaven, while Caliban should be seen as a creature from Hell. Despite his “monstrous” appearance, I did not get the sense that Caliban was evil, but simply pathetic and primitive – he dislikes his master for a good reason, as the prejudice is apparent in the treatment of both Ariel and Caliban by Prospero. Caliban’s loincloth was also a good touch, but his dress evoked a “caveman” feeling rather than a “demon” one. Ariel, however, was given a god-like appearance, especially due to the fact he was included in the beginning of the play with his muses/spirits (the chorus). It has been long debated whether or not he should be seen in the beginning, because some say it takes away from the plot as Ariel is quickly revealed to be a slave to Prospero; however, I liked that UMF included him, as it added to the drama of the storm (it seemed he was commanding the muses, making him more god-like).

Posture and self-awareness are huge keys in acting that really influence how Caliban and Ariel appear. The actor that portrayed Caliban avoided eye contact and made himself seem beneath whoever he was talking to. Ariel, on the other hand, didn’t seem so much a slave but rather a helping hand who was indebted to a savior – this is especially apparent because Ariel appears much more humble and eager than Caliban. While I don’t necessarily believe the UMF cast portrayed Caliban and Ariel to be foils of good and evil, I do think they emphasized the difference between cultured and primitive, and between graceful/godlike and crude/enslaved. Even had we seen them simply dressed side-by-side without the context of the plot we would have made the distinction that one was elegant (Ariel’s costume was simple but did the part well – he had gossamer-looking frills that implied grace, though I would have liked to have seen wings) and one was a monster or outcast. Though Ariel’s costume didn’t really give away that he was a spirit, his implied magic comes alive when he instructs the music and chorus like a symphony conductor – easily my favorite interpretation of his power and grace.



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