The Tempest With A Twist

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

The SUNY New Paltz Theater Department is gearing up for its production of Shakespeare’s classic tale “The Tempest.”

“The Tempest,” a classic Shakespearian romantic comedy, is directed by Associate Professor Nancy Saklad, who specializes in coaching both voice and acting. Previously she has directed “Much Ado About Nothing” at Boston’s Public Theatre, “How I Learned To Drive” at Durham Center Stage and “Other People’s Money” at Seacoast Repertory Theatre.

The production’s set and costume inspirations have a slight steam-punk feel, one component of the show that does not follow traditional tone. Saklad said that she and the production’s set designer, Associate Chair of the Theater Department, Ken Goldstein, collaborated on the look of the set.

The inspiration for a two-dimensional image of a ship made of ice came from Pinterest and the set was remodeled accordingly after a ship lodged underwater.

“One of the biggest differences from our production of ‘The Tempest’ and others is all the gender swapping we have done,” Brittany Martel, a third-year theater performance major, said.

Martel, who will be playing the role of Ariel,  said that nearly all characters in “The Tempest” except for Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, are traditionally male.

However, in the upcoming production, Prospera, Alonso, Ariel and Trinculo will all be played by women.

“With swapping four characters’ gender, the relationship dynamics are a lot different,” Martel said.

This is not the first time these gender swaps have been made for a production of “The Tempest.”

Saklad said she made the switch primarily because she knew she wanted Assistant Professor of Theater Connie Rotunda to play the role of Prospera, altered from the traditionally male Prospero.

Saklad said she was pleased with how the decision has affected the play and now “can’t see a man” in Prospera’s shoes.

Rotunda is also the movement director for the production. She said she felt that having a woman instead of a man as the lead, altering one of the show’s central relationships from father-daughter to mother-daughter creates a “different atmosphere” and “brings about a different sense of emotion.”

Rotuna also said she thinks casting a woman in the lead role of this production shows “the power females can have.”

Prospera’s character is a former dutchess of Milan who now studies magic arts.

In preparation for her role, Rotunda said she started by asking herself  how she would feel if she were actually in Prospera’s shoes and realized the play was really about her rediscovery.

“It’s open to interpretation because it’s a fantasy,” she said. “I began linking the text to my sense of imagination. What would it be like to be banished? What would it be like as a woman to go from a Victorian society to a place where there is no culture?”

Playing a lead character is not a new experience for Martel, but acting as a spirit is, which contributed to her process and exploration of a new character.

Martel said there is a challenge in understanding the views of the world through a spirit’s eye, and admits that her character does not have human emotions.

She said her character work has included an exploration of how she expresses herself.

“I’ve been working very hard on the language and making sure I understand it all,” Martel said. “If I as the actor understand all of it, I can make it easier for the audience to understand as well.”

Although she has a strong background in speech training, Saklad said the unique language within the production proved to be a challenge.

Because the actors were using non-contemporary speak, Saklad said it was necessary for the cast to make sure their speech was clear enough for the audience to understand them easily.

Despite the challenges of the production, cast members are excited to perform.

“I hope that the student body will take interest in seeing the production,” Martel said. “I can’t wait to hear feedback from them.”

Performances will run in McKenna Theatre from Thursday Nov. 14 to Saturday, Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. and another series of performances from Thursday, Nov. 21 to Saturday, Nov. 23 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 24 at 2 p.m.