On February 15th, 2013 I attended New World Shakespeare Company’s production of The Tempest. Upon entering the theatre I was filled with excitement, as I have a love for both store front theaters and Shakespeare. The theater was tiny, the stage was modest, and the audience was small, but an electric feeling hung in the air as everyone waited in anticipation of the new production. The house lights went down, a shockingly modern post-apocalyptic sound track began, and the lights came up to reveal a startling display of interpretive dance. This began what was, unfortunately, a very confusing performance.
New World Shakespeare Company aims to take Shakespearean works and bring them into a modern dialect, making them more accessible to audiences, while also connecting them to local causes. This production was aimed at bringing The Tempest to life in a new and modern way, creating a discussion around ecology, and benefiting HEAL Utah (Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah). Although I appreciated the vision for this production, I was disheartened with the execution. Several elements, such as, modern dance, costuming, and line delivery, negatively impacted the audience’s ability to understand the action unfolding onstage.
The use of modern dance was interesting, but was only incorporated at random intervals in the show and not successfully used as a tool to support the story. The lack of a set demanded superbly chosen costumes in order to clarify the action of the play and bring the world of the play to life. However, the division between islanders, spirits, and survivors of the shipwreck was muddled. This was troublesome in a production with numerous characters that are quickly introduced and incorporated in a meddlesome plot. Perhaps the largest cause for confusion in the production was line delivery. Many of the actors stumbled over words, rushed through lines, and seemed as though their focus was on accurately reciting the script. This was disappointing because the beauty and humor of Shakespeare’s words were lost without actors to channel their meaning and share the story behind those words with the audience.
At the conclusion of the show, several other audience members seemed confused, even unsure of if the production had ended and hesitant to applaud. I overheard an audience member behind me mention that he should have read the play prior to coming tonight so that he would be able to understand what was happening. Needless to say, the audience should not need to read the script prior to entering the theater in order to enjoy the performance. I was generally dissatisfied upon leaving the theater, as I felt that the show had been staged without enough preparation and clarity of concept. Unfortunately, New World Shakespeare Company’s new take on The Tempest took away from the heart of the show and merely pushed the audience even further from the Bard’s wise words.