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Arts & Culture

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made On: The Tempest Storms Into Idaho Shakespeare Festival Amphitheater

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Idaho Shakespeare Festival
(Left, top to bottom) Domonique Champion, Sara Bruner, Joe Wegner

No one, particularly the creative team at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, could have forecast the devastation of the pandemic, and how it dimmed the lights on most of the world’s stages. That said, the forecast calls for a wallop of a storm when Shakespeare’s The Tempest blows into ISF’s amphitheater, beginning August 12.

“Obviously, all of our lenses have changed,” said Sara Bruner, ISF Associate Artistic Director and director of this latest production of The Tempest. “Our lives have changed. Our minds have changed. Our hearts have changed.”

Just before the lights come up on the production, Bruner and two from her company of players visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about how The Tempest may offer the ideal long-range outlook for these tumultuous times.

“They’re bringing themselves to this play, and they have all that self-application at the ready, themselves. And as always, we're just trying to meet them halfway. We're making what we make. We want them to bring themselves. And I believe the magic happens somewhere in the middle.”
Sara Bruner

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News; good morning. I'm George Prentice. The Tempest. “Such stuff as dreams are made on.” The Idaho Shakespeare Festival presents The Tempest. Performances begin August 12th. Opening night is August 14th. And lucky us, we have two of the company of players and the production’s amazing director with us, Domonique Champion is Ferdinand. Joe Wegner is Ariel. And what can I say… other than I'm thrilled to spend any amount of time with Sara Bruner: Associate Artistic Director and the director of this new production of The Tempest. Good morning to you all.

Sara… The Tempest. Can you talk a little bit about the lens of 2021, and how you are approaching this particular production?

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Idaho Shakespeare Festival
Sara Bruner, director of The Tempest

SARA BRUNER: Yeah, absolutely. We did not have The Tempest slated originally as part of our season; but in the… what we like to call “really long intermission” that we were just having in the theater, we tried to think about a show that we would be excited about telling. Particularly I'm really interested in what stories we’re telling… when we're telling them… and why. And The Tempest came to the forefront immediately for Charlie [Fee]. And I was really, really excited about it. Obviously, all of our lenses have changed. Our lives have changed. Our minds have changed. Our hearts have changed. So as a group of artists, we're just different human beings… in the room together working through the text. So, in some ways, the lens inherently is different because of everything that we've all gone through in a solitary way…coming back together again to tell a story. The Tempest is a play about isolation. It's a play about a man, his daughter and two nonhuman beings who are on an island and they only have one another. And it's a dead-end street. And the only way for them to move forward is for them to confront the former world that they were part of. Seek healing. Bring the community together and create a meaningful future. Now, I think all of that is always worth telling, but I think particularly right now, it's a story worth telling

PRENTICE: Joe Wegner… who we remember as Grumio in Taming of the Shrew. Joe is Ariel, a spirit who works in Prospero's service. So where is Ariel's power, though?

JOE WEGNER: Where is his power? Well… I'm not really even sure if I'm applying a pronoun to the spirit…the non-human… but they are a spirit that was confined by a witch in a cloven for many years and then was freed by Prospero, and is now in service to him to help him complete his tasks, his journey through this play. But Ariel, I feel like, he has a connection with Prospero. That is a give-and-take. Ariel learns from Prospero just as much as Prospero from him.

PRENTICE: Can you assume that audiences might relate more to Ariel, more than ever before?

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Idaho Shakespeare Festival
Joe Wegner is Ariel in The Tempest

WEGNER: Especially with the parallels of coming out of this long…. I mean, we're still really not all the way out…but this long isolation of the pandemic. And then to be thrust into this kind of new lens of how we're seeing the world. And it's just… it's funny and ironic that it's a spirit…and it's actually not human… in some in an entity… that's learning and re-learning human emotions, and how to relate with people. I personally can definitely relate to that.

PRENTICE: Domonique Champion is Ferdinand: Prince of Naples. But Domonique, Ferdinand - to a large degree - is a bit of a chess piece in Prospero's grand play,

DOMONIQUE CHAMPION: In my opinion, he is aware that he is being used in whatever the game is. When we first meet him, it’s still unbeknownst to him. But the phrase that comes to mind is: “In order for you to have something you've never had, you do something you've never done. So, when he gets made aware that, oh, there's power on this island that is above me or beyond me… but there's Miranda, who was very much the gold for him. It's OK. I will meet this challenge where it is, which goes into this discussion about choice, the choice to put yourself in these external situations for love or for a reward, which is I believe we call this “intangible knowing.” So, we called it and the willingness to fight for something that beautiful. And what's been helpful for that, is casting choices: changing King Alonso to Queen Alonso. So, putting women also on map. Ferdinando…when he meets Miranda, it's, oh, this is everything that I have been told is real, I just came from a wedding in Tunisia, letting go of my sister. So this may be my turn. Oh, OK.

PRENTICE: I think that's a really interesting theme: about how he is the future, and bound not to make mistakes of the past.

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Idaho Shakespeare Festival
Domonique Champion is Ferdinand is The Tempest

CHAMPION: Oh… that word choice. And it's funny you mention that, because we just rehearsed this final scene where I'm having to tell my mother after being reunited, I know I made this choice. I didn't think I had a mother. I was going on…I was on my own. So, the exploration of choice, and how it can affect nations, and how much it affects people well beyond your scope, is something that's honestly, I'm still wrapping my head around. But that journey that I'm beginning, is something very daunting.

PRENTICE: Sarah Bruner… isolation. Here is an opportunity for audiences. I mean, quite frankly, we've all been isolated. And yet here is this classic work that is…maybe coaxing us out a little, don't you think? I mean…this theme is so note-perfect.

BRUNER: It is. And I've done Tempest a couple of times before. It was actually my first show with the company in 1996. I played Miranda. So, you know, you age along with these plays, and you see different things… and certainly see it differently than ever, right now. But you know, this isolation made me think about Prospero really differently. And what if he isn't just this finally benevolent harmony-seeking magician, who just wants the best for his daughter? But he's someone that's actually created a world on the island that is not working. It's painful for him. It's painful for Ariel. It's painful for Caliban. And Miranda has no future. And he makes a grand gesture to create this storm. And then, moment-by-moment, he's deciding what to do next. And he's just doing his best. And all he can do is urge people in a certain direction, never knowing if it's going to work out. So, I tried to create questioning in there, because I know certainly a year-and-a-half alone, with mostly just myself -s there's some ugliness to that as well. And it's very vulnerable to reemerge from that… to face the world again… to try to do better every day. I'm thinking about this: I'm trying to do better. Am I doing better? I had time to think about it. I failed. I got that. So, I hope that people can relate in that way. And honestly, George, I'm not working this. I'm not hammering this in the play. I'm trusting that our audiences, too, are awesome…they’re bringing themselves to this play, and they have all that self-application at the ready, themselves. And as always, we're just trying to meet them halfway. We're making what we make. We want them to bring themselves. And I believe the magic happens somewhere in the middle.

PRENTICE: Gentlemen….Well, I don't know if either of you have shared a stage with Sara Brunner….

WEGNER: I did a long time ago. When was that? 2013? Sara and I were in the world premiere of A Wrinkle in Time at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. And from then we've tried to work with each other as much as possible. And that was with Taming of the Shrew as well.

CHAMPION: I have not worked with her on stage, but it's just been us sort of missing the opportunities. And she's been calling me, trying to get me over in Idaho… anywhere in any capacity. And it finally happened with this one. So… blessings.

PRENTICE: So… you know that she owns a good chunk of that stage.

LAUGHTER

BRUNER: I feel… I feel lucky, George. I mean… I love Idaho. I love this company. And I loved the opportunity to get out and meet new artists. And I'm just sort of in heaven right now, because I get to marry the best of both worlds that I've been very engaged in. And I sit in the room… and I look at the collection of artists, and I'm really proud of who we have and what we're working toward every day. Sol I feel very fortunate.

PRENTICE: Sara Bruner, Domonique Champion, Joe Wegner. And The Tempest begins performances at the amphitheater on August 12th. Indeed, “what is past is prologue.” Best of luck to all of you.

BRUNER, CHAMPION, WEGNER: Thank you so much.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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