Modernized 'Tempest' blows away a classic's norms

Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by Mathew McGraw
GCU News Bureau 

It truly is a dark and stormy night at Ethington Theatre for "The Tempest." 

The production of "The Tempest" brings a few unfamiliar elements to the Ethington Stage.

The production, which begins on a ship and then is set on a remote island after a shipwreck, tells the story of the sorcerer Prospero and his quest for revenge on his brother Antonio for taking his Dukedom of Milan. It is a tale that highlights a variety of different themes, from tragic to comic to romantic.

But one of famed playwright William Shakespeare's last pieces also gave the Theatre Department an opportunity to try out some new things on stage.

“This is a set that is very different than anything we’ve done,” said Claude Pensis, Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Production and director of the production. “It is kind of this monolithic tower in the middle and it’s all black. Even the floor is this black plastic because on top of it we add water.”

Gustavo Flores plays the role of Prospero in the production.

The stage will showcase a dark, mysterious environment and will showcase performers acting on water and using it to help tell the story.

“It’s a little scary, but it’s been really cool,” said senior Lizzie Schneider, who plays the role of Ariel (the role will be shared with Caitlin Stahl on select performances). “I like it because it gives a whole new dynamic to the stage.

“It’s another element that took some getting used to, but it was one of those things that once we had the water -- because we were told for weeks, ‘Yes, there’s going to be water on stage’ -- it was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ Now we get to feel this out and see how we can use it. It’s not just an aspect of the set; it’s a prop now.”

In addition to the water on the stage, Pensis says the show's lighting designer, COFAP graduate turned GCU employee Brad Cozby, will utilize an uncommon method as well.

"The Tempest" is considered one of William Shakespeare's final solo plays.

“We have 46 to 50 bare light bulbs that hang, and we’re using that for lightning but we’re also using it for some of the magic stuff that happens,” Pensis said. “There’s something called pixel mapping that you can do with our light board, which means you can run these (lights) at a rapid sequence, but it’s such a complex sequence you don’t see it -- ‘Oh, it’s starting here and it’s going there.’

“It is pretty mysterious and pretty spectacular at the same time.”

The visuals aren’t the only things that make this production unique. Pensis said the performances “take a great deal of concentration and a great deal of work.”

Senior Gustavo Flores, who plays the lead role, Prospero, not only is tasked with properly interpreting and performing Shakespeare, but doing so for what Pensis describes as 60% of the show’s dialogue.

"The Tempest" contains elements of tragedy, comedy and romance.

“Playing the lead is always a big deal,” Flores said. “They pressed me with this big character, and I get to work with all these fantastic actors as well."

Despite the amount of effort that went into memorizing his lines and capturing Pensis’ vision for the character, the role will have a special place in his heart.

“Definitely one thing that makes it special is that it will be my last role on the GCU stage,” Flores said. “And the fact that it was one of Shakespeare’s final works, so that’s another thing -- it’s his final thing and my final thing on the stage.”

The production also showcases a modernized take on the classic that's more than 400 years old. But  senior Alexandra Empey, who plays Miranda (the role will be shared with Hallie Unruh on select performances), said it is a story that can be enjoyed no matter the time frame.

“It is Shakespeare and I actually had a strong aversion to taking Shakespeare out of its original time period for a long time,” Empey said. “But I think that’s been one of the coolest things to see, is how we’ve taken this piece and have been able to morph it into something that works in today’s world and today’s audiences.”

Ethington's production modernizes Shakespeare's classic story.

Her thoughts about what audiences will experience:

“Seeing this production would not only be a great educational experience, hearing the language and learning it and trying to understand it, but it has such a great theme and tones. I think it’s very important to look at classical pieces like this and see how they are still relevant and the themes that they discuss are still relevant.”


What: “The Tempest,” by William Shakespeare.

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 16

Where: Ethington Theatre

Tickets: $12 admission. Discounted tickets for senior citizens, military personnel, GCU and GCE employees, GCU alumni, children 12 years old and younger, and GCU students.

Information: 602-639-8800 or [email protected]

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]


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