I mentioned in my last entry that three actors play all the roles in our version of The Tempest. The breakdown of the parts are as follows:
David Sinaiko – Prospero, Alonso, Stephano
Donell Hill – Ferdinand, Caliban, Antonio
Caitlyn Louchard – Miranda, Ariel, Gonzalo, Sebastian, Trinculo
The first scene with the Boatswain we have staged as a kind of collage of voices, and Adrian and Francisco’s lines have been redistributed amongst the other lords.
Our director, Rob Melrose, is working with the concept that there are three meta-roles – Prospero, Ferdinand, and Miranda – and that the other doubled characters may be understood as fragments of their personalities and psyches or how they are perceived by another character. Other three-actor productions, such as the London Globe’s 2005 Tempest, have used a similar conceits to ground their actors (in their case, Prospero, Caliban, and Ariel instead of Prospero, Miranda, and Ferdinand). Critics like Marjorie Garber have noted that the, with the abundance of similarities between the sets of characters, that the story may be reduced to a story involving certain key figures or types.
With this understanding, the actors change characters not simply when there is a need manifested by the plot (i.e. it’s now time for the Stephano scene, so the actor playing Prospero has to turn into Stephano), but when there is a need created within the meta-character (Prospero is turning into Stephano because something in the last scene has triggered the Stephano aspect of his conscience).
To give an example: we begin the first scene between the shipwrecked lords with Alonso drinking from a bottle out of despair from the loss of his son. By the time this scene comes to a close, Alonso has drunk so much that the Stephano aspect is able to appear. Stephano and Alonso share many of the same defining traits as Prospero – they are, each in their own way, leaders and masters, but with varying levels of sophistication and mastery. In the case of Ariel and Miranda, the first instance of the change is manifested when, after Prospero lulls Miranda to sleep, he awakens the latent Ariel personality within her almost by means of a kind hypnosis. In some instances, we need to get a little creative with the narrative. Sebastian and Gonzalo cannot be onstage at the same time, so the Sebastian aspect only awakes when Gonzalo is asleep.
It may appear from my account that we are taking quite a bit of liberty with the text. True enough, our production is not as strict as a more “traditional” interpretation (whatever that means), but I feel that a lot of the logic we have created for the transition between characters is more for the benefit of the actors than the audience. When they are able to make sense of why they change characters, the audience can make sense of the transitions as well. Once again, we are not trying to force a new narrative down the audience’s throats that warps The Tempest, we are telling the story of the play.
The actors have all taken great pains to significantly differentiate the characters through their voice and physicality and those choices, with the aid of certain costume choices (glasses for Ferdinand, sunglasses for Antonio, etc.), but, with the same three actors playing all the roles, it is impossible to dupe the audience into believing that the characters are entirely distinct. Shakespeare was undoubtedly conscious of these similarities when he wrote the play, and if those similarities are expressed so clearly with three actors, we would be doing ourselves a disservice by trying to mask it.
-Bennett Fisher, Dramaturg
Cutting Ball Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest opens November 5 at the Exit on Taylor in San Francisco. More info at www.cuttingball.com