September 10, 2009
Tempest #47—Prospero’s Inner Life

Eight days before opening. Working through the show, sometimes going back to run a full act, then lots of time spent on little stuff. Tedious, frustrating moments, and then suddenly things come alive.

Monday we loaded into the theatre, did a lot of refurbishment on hangings, refocus of lights, etc., and have now had two rehearsals in the theatre. It looks very, very good on that stage, though form some angles there are sight-line problems and lighting instruments to rehang because they’re angling into the audience’s eyes. And we have to cope with an intermittent air conditioning whoosh, not really bad unless it decides to start huffing as Caliban says “The isle is full of noises.”

Personally exhausted, but trying to pace myself. This morning I worked at home, gluing hats onto the nobles and reengineering one that wouldn’t fit. Then to the theatre, working about a third of the way through revising lighting cues, rehearsing Prospero for an hour, and stopping by the costumer’s house to pick up a piece of felt for the back of Stephano’s hat. Evening rehearsal, and now sitting down to write this frail excuse of a blog entry. Tomorrow more or less the same.

Some parts going well, some very rocky, but steady progress forward. Very limited rehearsal time, and it’s always a difficult choice whether to work in large swathes, so the actors get a feel for the whole span of it, or to stop and fix every pothole. Eventually all he potholes need to get filled

In this sort of production, I sometimes feel we should sell special tickets to the backstage action. All the actors except myself are playing three to five characters and sometimes changing puppets very rapidly, and these puppets aren’t designed for quick changes: you pull off the head, extract your hand from the fingerless glove, readjust it so you can get your hand into it quickly next time, hang the costume on a rack by its loop and stick the head on a stake above it, then worm your way into the next one. Meantime another actor stands by to put a sword belt around the puppeteer, then move a prop across backstage before the projector starts up, or grab one of the Ariels to appear for two lines in shadow. And then rush out and play your love scene.


Finding a peculiar thing with Prospero. An actor is often faced with creating his own back-story for a character, and I’ve written in this blog about my own constructed history of Prospero, his absent wife, his reasons for immersion in magic, his encounter with Caliban, etc. These aren’t facts that will be conveyed to an audience, but they allow me to make choices that feel unified and motivated, and I think that inner coherence will be sensed.

But there’s another kind of backgrounding I’m discovering in rehearsal—equally coherent but totally irrational. That is, it’s not part of a realistic story-line, but very much a part of his inner emotional life. On that plane of experience, Caliban is his son, engendered with Sycorax, the dark female who’s supplanted his now-dead wife. And Caliban is the extension of his own lust for his daughter Miranda, or for any female; and Prospero’s chaining of Caliban is in a sense his own self-castration.

And, well, I could go on with this imaginative absurdity. As I said, this has no rational basis in the text, and I’d be rather appalled if the audience picked that up as part of the story. But I’m talking here about emotional coherence. What I feel, for example, when I rail so vehemently about Sycorax, who (in realistic plot terms) I’ve only known by Ariel’s report; and yet I speak of her as if I’ve known her intimately. What I feel when I repeatedly insist on my good will toward Caliban, my sense of his betrayal and my bottomless rage—the one character who receives only my provisional forgiveness. A mere parole violator or sad degenerate doesn’t rate that kind of obsession.

And I’m finding that, more and more, I’m locating Ariel within my head, the energy rising from my crown chakra, seeking release. Gielgud played Prospero four times, and in all productions never looked at Ariel, his idea being that this would make Ariel merely a fellow actor rather than a magical being. I’m finding the same, but for a different reason. For me, Ariel is the power and the freedom I seek, an unchained, polymorphous Elemental, who is indeed freed from me at the end, as I surrender my power.

“Do you love me, master, no?” “Truly.” “Well.” Difficult lines, and I’ve gone various ways with them. But more and more I think they’re a key. Ariel is St. Paul’s epiphany. He’s my life obsession with theatre. He’s the blaze in the new mother’s first sight of her child. He’s the fierce adrenalin in the Navy pilot’s surge off the carrier’s catapult. He’s the most ecstatic moment in your life. And when you release him, you’ll never, ever have him again. You’ll never taste it, feel it, smell it again. You’ll go back to Milan, read your daughter’s occasional letters, and meet with the Planning Commission to work out problems with the aging sewage system.

So for me as actor, these strange fantasy plots, while they make no rational or scholarly sense, help to inform the moment, to link moment to moment. Likely they produce resonances that may mystify the audience, and as in a love affair, mystification is a tricky business. Yet a love affair without a trace of the mystic/mythic is hardly worth the effort.


Well, next week I’ll take good photos of all the puppets—we have a better digital camera coming, if it ever gets here—and probably do some more bitching & moaning about sleepless nights. But after 50 years of the weeks leading up to opening night, I think I begin to understand the woman who, in an interview for our Nativity audio-doc, spoke of her moment in giving birth when she thought, no, I am getting up off this bed and going home. And then realizing, no, this is going to happen.

And it will.

Peace & joy—