The Shakespearean Show Must Float On

Photo by Jake Wade.
Photo by Jake Wade.
Photo by Jake Wade.

If smooth seas truly make for poor sailors, the cast and crew of the Theater Department’s production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” have earned their weight in skill, Theater Department Chair Jack Wade said.

After wading through a three-foot deep flood that ran rampant through the pit of McKenna Theatre on Sunday, Nov. 10, professors, actors and techies alike have a newfound respect for the space in which their mainstage production is scheduled to open this Thursday.

“We were in the first major dress rehearsal with full costumes, lighting and set and there was suddenly an enormous amount of water coming out of one of the stage entrance hallways,” Wade said. “We pulled a trapdoor onstage and found about three and a half feet of water coming from an electrical outlet beneath the stage.”

The department contacted University Buildings and Grounds who were able to pump the water out from beneath the stage after clearing the area of all stock scenery being stored in the pit, all of which was too damaged by the flood to be salvaged, including a turntable used in previous productions as “The Producers” and “Fat Ram” and several platform pieces.

Cast and crew evacuated the premises Sunday afternoon and commenced their first dress rehearsal that evening in the smaller Parker Theatre in full costume with basic lighting and scenic cues.

A concerted effort of a total of 40 individuals and three hours worth of hauling a literal ton of watered-down scenic elements beginning Monday morning made for a restored stage by 8 p.m. that night.

“The thing that’s important to understand is the magnitude of the issue and the quickness of the response,” Assistant Professor of Theater and Set Designer for “The Tempest,” Ken Goldstein, said. “Something we hope the students walk away from this with is that if you work together, you can do far more than you imagine. Standing ankle deep in sludge, working hard, we were all still laughing and making the best of the situation with everyone’s spirit and energy, and that’s the reason we were able to do such a safe and efficient job.”

What was superficially an “exciting” opportunity for the actors to perform in a smaller, more intimate setting was anything but for the production’s crew, particularly Master Electrician and fourth-year technical theater major with a concentration in lighting, AJ Jacobs.

“We’d been working nonstop between building and painting the set and doing all the electrical work for the past three months and we thought we were gonna have to move the show to Parker, ready to open for gala in three days,” he said. “We would’ve had to completely redesign the show for a smaller space and we wouldn’t have been able to sleep.”

According to Jacobs, this space-threatening flood teaches the valuable lesson of adaptation in the theatrical business, along with the notion that every venue is precious.

By the same token, Wade said, this situation taught the department not to take their strongly supported productions for granted, because “having it pulled out from under our feet and then having it back again really taught us that we’re fortunate to have it.”

“The Tempest,” scheduled to open on Thursday, Nov. 14 with performances running until Sunday, Nov. 24, will float on in the original and fully restored McKenna Theatre as if no wind had ever redirected the sails.

“The fact that we only lost one rehearsal in this is a minor miracle,” Goldstein said. “The hope is nobody notices what happened and that when people hear about it, they won’t believe it. This isn’t going to be the show that’s ruined by the flood.”