As I write this, we are in tech weekend. This is a time where the technical staff layers in costumes, curtains, back drops, scrims, lighting, music, special effects, and sound cues.
The environment of Virginia Stage Company The Tempest’s magical island is coming to life in front of our eyes, with director Patrick Mullins and his artistic team – charged with designing the lighting, costumes, and sound – manifest their vision in physical form Witnessing the projections, hearing the thunder, watching the live band learn rifts and lean into tempo changes is beautiful. The costumes begin to merge with the person who dons them as they transform into someone powerful, or wicked, or magical.
It’s about Norfolk.
Virginia Stage Company’s Public Works division – which is tasked with putting on The Tempest -seeks to engage the people of Hampton Roads by making them creators of theater rather than spectators. Working with community partner is a big part of the mission and in this production we have four groups interspersed into the play.
Teens With a Purpose has created a prologue of modern poetry to introduce the play. In Shakespeare’s day, most of his plays began with a prologue to introduce the plot to the audience. Atumpan Edutainment brings energetic and exciting African dance and drums to the stage. Local puppeteers are on stage helping with some of the large puppets. And the Philippine Cultural Center School of Creative and Performing Arts performs a traditional dance in stunning costumes. Plus Paperhand PuppetIntervention is involved with our giant puppets.
(You know what else makes it about Norfolk? A tempest is a storm. Welp, we know a thing or two about flooding, waves and big storms, don’t we Norfolk?)
Inclusion and Diversity
Public Works reaches out into the community to bring theater to senior citizens, the underprivileged and other underserved groups. But they also make the community a part of theater as well. This particular adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest has two visual impaired and two deaf actors. Audience members with disabilities will feel included with captioning and an American Sign Language interpreter as well as Audio Description for visually impaired attendees.
I have the honor of assisting one of our visually impaired actresses, Princess. Princess attends the Virginia School for the Blind in Staunton and was telling me her favorite class is Independent Living Skills where she is learning how to use kitchen appliances. She has done other theater productions and is outgoing and so happy to be at rehearsal.
If you haven’t seen a Shakespeare play, you may be thinking this will be old-fashioned and dry, filled with white men. Not so. This cast is a wonderful mix of genders, ages, and races. In our production, some roles traditionally played by men are played by women. “I’ve never seen a Shakespeare show with this many diversity” expressed Rayna Johnson from Norfolk State University (who plays Miranda). One character is diverse just in and of herself. Ariel is a spirit bound to serve the magician Prospera, who rescued her from the tree in which she was imprisoned by the witch who previously inhabited the island. In our production, Ariel is played by a group instead of one actress. This spirit, who can cast spells, is more than one soul, she is the embodiment of all variations of humans — an assortment of races and genders.
Family friendly & fun to watch
Mullins’ vision for Shakespeare is anything but old and stuffy. Attend and you will be surprised by this highly visual, music-filled variation with puppetry, dance, lighting, projections and special effects. The script has been truncated and re-arranged for easy consumption. Not to mention, our hometown friend, Jake Hull, who has composed music for VSC before, is back from Portland to lead his band on stage. Their expressive music glues together transitions between scenes and sets the mood by underscoring many of the scenes.
The residents of the island wear natural colors and the ensemble represents the plants, flowers, and animals of the magical island. In stark contrast, the shipwrecked royal party wear black and gold. Let’s not forget about the clowns. While the wronged queen of Milan and the King — who thinks his son has drowned — bring seriousness to the plot, the clowns give us a giggle.
A personal view of the show
The first time I heard Mullins speak, I was moved to tears. It was 2009 and I was running the young professionals’ organization at The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. I was asked to join a brand-new young professionals’ board at The Virginia Stage Company, during which time I had been to one show at VSC since moving Norfolk in 2003. Since 2009, I have been to many productions, The Hampton Years and The Parchman Hour being my favorite.
I have been in ten shows at the Harrison Opera House and a few at other theaters around the area, but this is my first time performing on the Wells stage. I am just thrilled to be in my first production with this company. I’ve seen my friends perform with VSC and am so glad this worked out.
I joke with my theater friends that I’m often cast as a spirit. My first show in Norfolk was Faust with Virginia Opera and I was a statue of the Virgin Mary who came to life. I’ve been a ghost, the headless huntsman, and a flying Valkyrie at the opera house. Here I am again being a spirit of a sort, a fairy who manipulates a butterfly, fish, boat, silk, sun, and flame.
This rehearsal process and tech week has been wonderful. Today, I teared up because we perform a song in American Sign Language in silence and it is just so moving to know how this will impact the audience and touch their souls. I can’t wait for you to see this beautiful, complex, magical show.
Open Captioning will be offered on Fri Aug 30 at 7:30PM Sat Aug 31 at 3PM Sun Sep 1 at 2PM
ASL Interpretation will be offered on Sat Aug 31 at 3PM
Audio Description will be offered on Sat Aug 31 3PM