October 27, 2008
Tempest #7 — Where Do We Start?

[Next posting Monday, Nov. 10; I’m not going to be in any shape to write anything the day before the election.]

Had a good meeting this past week to rebudget, plan further fundraising, and schedule the first workshops beginning Nov. 15. Finished reading Cymbeline and Hamlet, plus writing an outline for staging 3:3.

Meantime, we continue building & costuming the puppets for January’s Rash Acts. For your visual enjoyment, here are some of the puppets for one of the show’s five sketches, “Alice in Wonder,” which has nothing whatever to do with The Tempest except, well, yes maybe it does.
We tell it via an adult woman who finds her Alice doll as she’s packing to move; and as with our concept of Prospero, she makes her underground journey through manipulation of this doll, encountering the other puppet characters. How does this surreal dream world impact on the living person? And what’s her relation to her “baggage,” the flotsam and jetsam that’s sloshed up on her little transitory island of isolation?
So back to The Tempest. The invitations are going out to actors to be part of the workshops. Since I’ll be writing here about what happens in the workshops, it might be useful to post here what we’re telling the actors to expect. Here it is:

Thanks much for your interest in being part of the Tempest workshops. Here’s further information, and if you have more questions, call me at 707-824-4307 or email eye@independenteye.org.

We’ll meet twice monthly for 3-hour workshops intended to develop skills and experiment with concepts in preparation for our September ’09 staging of Shakespeare’s The Tempest with Sonoma County Repertory.

Workshops will continue through May, so overall you’ll be expecting about thirteen sessions.

With some variations, each workshop will involve three elements: (1) work on voice and Shakespearean delivery; (2) puppetry and movement technique; (3) improvisational exploration of character and scenic dynamics inĀ The Tempest.

I’ll be leading the workshops in collaboration with my partner Elizabeth Fuller. You can scan our dossiers here.

For these workshops, no money changes hands. Your involvement contributes to the concept and quality of the eventual production. In recompense, we feel you’ll gain skills as an artist. The work has specific application to puppetry and to Shakespeare, but its value extends well beyond those applications.

It’s expected that insofar as possible you attend every workshop and arrive promptly. There’ll likely be many time conflicts; absences are ok as long as (a) you let me know in advance and (b) they’re not frequent.

(And there’s no stigma whatever attached to your dropping out along the way, so long as you let me know.)

In January, we’ll cast actors for the September production, aiming for a cast of five. It’s not required that you commit to this, and obviously we can’t use everyone, but we do expect to cast entirely from the workshop. We hope that all participants will continue with the workshops through May.

We’ve used this type of pre-production work for many shows, to great effect. Our “improvisations,” unlike performance improv (Theatresports, etc.) are exploratory, focused solely on finding those moments, images, or character quirks that can illumine a scene. As a director, I do very detailed pre-planning, then use these workshops to shake up my notions to the max. My obligation is to make your creative work immensely valuable to the eventual feast.

Please read The Tempest even if you already know it fairly well. There won’t be a test, but I’ll be talking on the assumption that you’re familiar with it.

If at all possible, read through our web-log on The Tempest, begun seven weeks ago and continuing weekly throughout this span. It may give you a general sense of the direction we think we’re heading.

For the first session, think about experiences you’ve had in being betrayed or deeply wounded, in desiring or perpetrating revenge, or in finding your way to forgiveness. This is not a therapy session, so you’re perfectly free to withhold anything you don’t want to share with a bunch of people. But one segment of the workshop will involve exploring our personal linkages to Prospero’s condition: that’s where it all begins.

Wear loose-fitting clothing you can move in easily, footwear likewise that’s light and flexible. The floor is carpeted, so you could go barefoot, but feet can get cold on the floor. We have space heaters and a portable air conditioner in the studio, depending on the weather, but you might want to bring another layer of clothing in case it’s too chilly. We’ll offer tea and water.

Bring calendars so that you offer info about your time availability. Tentatively these will be on Saturday or Sunday afternoons, and it’s essential that we have it at regular times; but we’ll take a survey to see what’s actually most convenient for the greatest number of people.

The Tempest will premiere Sept. 11 or 18 at Sonoma County Rep and run five weeks. It will possibly be remounted for a school tour in the spring, and a DVD will be produced for general distribution. It’s a collaboration between The Rep and The Independent Eye, directed & designed by Conrad Bishop, music by Elizabeth Fuller, text by Shakespeare (with very slight editing).

We expect that people will see this as a radical revisioning of the play. But it’s not an adaptation, and it’s not concept slapped on over the text: to me it’s vital that every image & every interpretation be totally grounded in the text, intensifying the text.

As presently conceived (11 months out), the puppets are three-fourths life-size, with the actor’s real hand as the puppet’s hand, within a 12x8x8 ft. aluminum-frame cube creating Shakespeare’s magical island with the fluid vocabulary of puppetry, shadows, rear-projected video, and an original score of music and sampled audio.

Prospero is a human actor who also animates a puppet Prospero — his own alienated vision of himself, literalizing the inner struggle that’s the play’s central conflict. He’s a puppet master in absolute control, with a precise scenario to right the world. Yet he’s no benign, avuncular presence: his antagonist is himself, and the tempest he’s raised rages within him — a near-mad, deeply wounded victim who struggles to keep his rationality, to reject vengeance and choose life.
Shakespeare’s story addresses themes of power, imperialism, culture clash, torture, enslavement. It embraces forgiveness, redemption, freedom. For me, it speaks to the heart of our world today.

All workshops are at The Independent Eye’s studio, 502 Pleasant Hill Road, 1.25 miles from the center of Sebastopol. Directions are below. Please note the information on parking.

Next time, more about staging and characters.
Conrad B.