“The Tempest,” William Shakespeare’s magical, romantic play about the sorcerer Prospero and his daughter Miranda, who are stranded on an island and encounter love, betrayal and attempted murder, will be presented in the style of a 1938 radio drama – much like Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” – by Rogers State University Theatre in April.
In addition to the staged productions on April 17-19 and 24-26 at the historic Will Rogers Auditorium on the RSU campus in Claremore, the play will be presented live on RSU Radio FM 91.3 on April 23, echoing the radio drama on stage. Performances will begin promptly at 7:07 p.m.
“Although at first blush, this appears to be a highly unique and unorthodox way to present ‘The Tempest,’ the focus on language makes it a very Elizabethan production in many ways,” said Dr. Gregory J. Thompson, the play’s director and head of the RSU Department of English and Humanities. “Many scholars believe it was Shakespeare’s last play, and we will be presenting it during the year of his 444th birthday.”
Thompson also serves as chairman of the “Shakespeare, Elizabeth and the Early Modern World” for the Popular Cultural Association.
The play will feature RSU student actors portraying fictional stage actors at radio station KVON in Decorah, Iowa. During the live radio production, the decaying KVON studio hampers the production, relationships between the actors begin to fray and their egos threaten to wreck the show, Thompson says. Only the aging actor playing Prospero can hold the show together.
Magic and spectacle fill “The Tempest” like few other Shakespeare plays, Thompson said. “After all, as Prospero reminds us, ‘we are such stuff as dreams are made on…'”
Unlike Shakespeare’s other plays, “The Tempest” does not have a clearly known literary precursor, Thompson says. The likely inspirations for the magical island setting of the play are suspected to have been derived from travelogues and sailors’ diaries contemporary to the Elizabethan/Jacobian world.
According to Thompson, the play is one of four written by Shakespeare in the Romance genre. “The Romances, not to be confused with romantic comedies, are highly-stylized dramas replete with musical entertainment that were popular among the aristocracy of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,” he says. “For Shakespeare, these spectacle-filled fantasies focused on the reunion and renewal of families and frequently centered on fathers who are corrected and cajoled by their daughters.”
Shakespeare’s romances also belong to a genre known as “masque,” Thompson said. “Masques were courtly entertainment, in this case the court of James I of England. Under James I, they were extremely theatrical events with elaborate sets, costumes and special effects. In the RSU production of ‘The Tempest,’ language and sound will supplant the visual spectacle of the royal masque to a certain degree.”
The relationship between the aging father/duke/magician Prospero and his “family,” including daughter Miranda, and servants Ariel and Caliban, is what intrigues Thompson about the play. “The driving force behind the play is Prospero’s realization that letting go of these family members is an important part of maturation and life,” he said.
Tickets for “The Tempest” will be available at the door and are $5 for adults and $3 for senior citizens. Admission is free for all RSU students, faculty and staff members. For more information, contact the RSU theatre program at (918) 343-7521.