Matt Burkhartt | Staff Photographer
Lisa Harrow, who plays Prospero, performs with other cast members of The Tempest at the dress rehearsal in Bratton Theater Thursday.
This weekend, Bratton Theater’s rafters will become a shipwrecked boat, the stage will become a sand dune and Chautauquans will be swept away by a vicious storm.
Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest opens at 6 p.m. Saturday.
CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch said Shakespeare comes as a natural end to the season.
“It has always felt like the perfect culmination of this company’s work,” Benesch said. “They come in brand new to each other and they end as a company doing a Shakespeare play. That trajectory has always felt really right.”
The last full production of CTC’s season, The Tempest is also commonly recognized as Shakespeare’s last play. The tale deals with an ousted duke and his daughter, both of whom are marooned on an island. Delving into themes of the magical and the real, CTC focused on elaborate design elements to complement the content of the play.
“The acting’s going to be fantastic, the storytelling, the costumes. But the surprise of what they’re doing with the space and the set, I think, is going to be really interesting,” said CTC Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy. “We are always trying to challenge ourselves with the different material that we choose, the way that we design it — the interaction that we’re going to have with our audience.”
Constructing the set was a series of trial-and-error for the company, enabling carpenters and designers to utilize certain techniques for the first time.
“This particular production is one of our most adventurous scenically,” Benesch said. “We’re doing something we have never done in Bratton before.”
While incorporating innovations, Benesch said she recognizes the company has a certain standard to live up to, based on past years performing Shakespeare for Chautauquans.
“We have a really good track record of doing good Shakespeare here,” Benesch said. “I think that is because our ensemble base is at a very high level.”
The company balanced modern and classical elements with a set inspired by surrealist artists, Renaissance costumes and the original Elizabethan text, building Prospero and Miranda’s world as a mystical, in-period portrayal of The Tempest.
“We’re striking a balance between a very surreal landscape set-wise, and a pretty classical look as far as the costumes,” Kate Abbruzzese said, who plays Miranda.
Many theatergoers revere Shakespeare as the height of the stage, putting the pressure on the company to please Bard enthusiasts. Benesch said she thinks the production will be well received by Shakespeare purists.
“Putting all the elements together in a Shakespeare play is a very complicated and involved process,” Benesch said. “If it’s really well thought through and the language of the text is still primary, there’s a lot that you can bring to a Shakespeare play without it sinking under the weight of a conceit.”
Still, CTC does its best to approach its yearly production as another play in a packed season.
“You have to treat it like any other play because it should have the same accessibility,” Benesch said.
Director Jade King Carroll thinks of Shakespeare similarly, tackling the play as a “new piece of theater” in the rehearsal room.
“I look at it like that and it doesn’t become as overwhelming as you’re doing Shakespeare,” she said. “It’s a great end of the summer — to tell this story of
power control, forgiveness and magic.”
Actors, many of whom said the rehearsal process was highly collaborative, applauded King Carroll’s open-mindedness about the production.
“Jade is so open to so many different influences,” Abbruzzese said.
Toby Onwumere, who stars as Francisco and the Boatswain, said King Carroll is “really open and excited” about what the conservatory actors bring to the table.
“She’ll add her two cents in and then we’ll find ourselves at a different place — and oftentimes a better place — with the collaboration of the actors, the director and the designer,” he said.
Benesch has been waiting to put on The Tempest in Bratton Theater since it was built. The artistic director said she is looking forward to seeing how the space unfolds for the production as it opens.
“Our theater looks like the underside of a boat,” Benesch said. “Shakespeare is so meta-theatrical that way, the space you do it
in has so much to do with the telling of the story. I knew that the Bratton Theater was a perfect theater to tell a Tempest.”