Acting class blends Shakespeare and modern prison life in “The Tempest”

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Chain-linked doorways. A dozen women clothed in monotonous grey uniforms. Handcuffs scattered. Two security guards, in bullet-proof vests, arm the exits. The Advanced Acting class’s modern take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which debuted on March 8, seems like the very opposite of a Shakespeare play.

The Tempest is set in a women’s prison. On a remote island, Prospero (junior Gracie Ellis) and his daughter Miranda (senior Anna Campbell) watch as Prospero uses magic to create a storm that envelops an incoming ship containing many royal nobles. Eventually, the nobles arrive on the island with intent to kill Prospero for upset he has caused with his witchcraft.

“It’s is a fusion of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and modern day prison incarceration. I play Caliban, who is the gollum of the island, someone who has lived on the island for a long time,” senior Elka Sorensen said. “And who has to face all these European people coming to the island, who are cultured and educated.”

Opening night was a success, and it was amazing for the actors to finally feed off of an audience’s energy, senior Olivia Adams said, who plays Trinculo.

“I think our performances were 10 times better with the audience, and we realized a lot of new things about the show,” senior Maya Guzdar said, who plays Antonio.

Ellis said her favorite moment from opening night was her fight scene with junior Noah Patton, who plays Ferdinand.

“All of a sudden, people just laughed, and that was something we were not used to, because we’ve been practicing in front of, quite literally, one person,” Ellis said. “Feeling laughter brings out this other side of acting that’s so much more on the spot, and in the moment, and hearing that laughter, and knowing that this was going to be a good crowd, and a good night, was the best feeling ever.”

Senior Andrew Hansen said acting teacher Kim Taylor went to a Brooklyn production of The Tempest, set in a women’s prison, which is where she got the idea for the show.

“It is crazy how the lines correlate so perfectly with the prison setting, even though that is not how it was originally written,” Ellis said.

The preparation for this production had been long and tiring, but seeing it play out perfectly made it all worth it, Hansen said.

“Seeing it transform from a professional theatre production to our stage with our actor was super cool, because Kim added so many little touches,” Hansen said.

Although The Tempest required large amounts of time and focus, there was also a much larger meaning to the production, Ellis said.

“There are a lot of things that are really, really messed up about the prison system right now, and we are sacrificing out privilege, and putting on a show that addresses those issues, for the people who can’t,” Ellis said. “We want to be the beginning of a movement, even after our show ends on Saturday. We want to start something.”

The Tempest opened on March 8, and will close on March 10. The other Advanced Acting production, The Grown-Up, opened on March 9 and will close on March 11. Tickets are $8 for students, $12 for adults and $25 for reserved seats. They can be purchased at the door of the Alan Harvey Theater or online.

“Continue to support live theatre!” Adams said. “Come to all the shows this weekend.”

Read more about the Acting class’s production of The Tempest here.