On the heels of rave reviews from The Chicago Sun-Times, we are thrilled for IVY members to join us at the Chicago Shakespeare Festival’s The Tempest.
Set on a magical island somewhere between Italy and Tunis, The Tempest reveals how Prospero, an exiled magician and the rightful Duke of Milan, takes his revenge on the people who usurped him. The play was first performed in 1611 and still captivates audiences with its commentary on revenge, love, forgiveness, and magic. This new production features music by legendary singer-songwriter Tom Waits (and Kathleen Brennan) and choreography by Pilobolus’ Matt Kent.
IVY Magazine sat down with Director Aaron Posner, who co-directed and adapted the play with Teller of Penn and Teller, to discuss The Bard’s enchanting classic.
IVY: The Tempest was written in the early 1600, over 400 years ago. Why has it survived this long as a cultural text? What was the approach to make this production relevant and accessible to a 21st century audience in Chicago Shakespeare Festival’s The Tempest?
Well, it is a populist production in many ways. Teller and I care a great deal about Shakespeare being for everyone. So if your 10 year-old niece can’t come and enjoy it and follow the story and have a great time, we have failed to some degree. Shakespeare scholars have loved it, but it is eventually not for them. Teller fans, magic fans, Tom Waits fans, Pilobolus fans, hell, even Aaron Posner fans… we want anyone who loves a good story well told to be able to fully engage.
IVY: There is a lot of magic in Shakespeare’s plays, Chicago Shakespeare Festival’s The Tempest being one of his most popular examples. What is magic, according to Shakespeare?
In our production of Shakespeare, magic means magic tricks—events that fool the senses and make you see or believe something is happening that is (by normal standards) impossible. We use it our production to put the audience in the same shoes as many of the characters… the victims of Prospero’s magic are being amazed, astounded, dazzled, befuddled, and eventually driven somewhat insane by magic shows. We are trying to do more or less the same thing to our audiences…
IVY: Magic in The Tempest can be at times romantic, scary, vengeful, hypnotic, wondrous, mysterious, and illuminating. What was it like creating the illusions in this production of Chicago Shakespeare Festival’s The Tempest?
A joy, a challenge. Magic is pass/fail. A magic trick doesn’t “sort of” work—it either does or it doesn’t. And all these tricks are complex and time consuming, often, because audiences are pretty sophisticated. There is a reason not everyone does The Tempest this way. It is intensive and complex… and really fun.
IVY: What were some of the challenges in creating illusions based on directions or descriptions from the text?
We had no desire for this to be a magic show… or even a really cool play with magic shoved in. Every trick, every illusion or occurrence had to illuminate the text, drive the story forward, enrich the characters… in short do what anything is supposed to do in a great play or story. By the way, the same exact thing was true of music we added, and the movement, too…
IVY: What new insights into the play does this production illuminate?
It puts magic where it belongs—at that middle. It works very hard to tell the story clearly and passionately in a way that nearly everyone can enjoy. And it respects the brilliant language, the complex characters and the fascinating drama that Shakespeare created.
IVY: What is your favorite line from the play?
Oh, there are a bunch. “This is a most majestic vision, and harmonious charmingly,” “Oh, brave new world, that has such people in it” and “We are such stuff as dreams are made on” are just three of many. Trust me—and I don’t want to go out on too far on a limb here—but this Shakespeare fella could really write.
To learn more about IVY Theater Night at The Tempest or to reserve tickets, visit IVY.com.
AARON POSNER (Director) makes his Chicago Shakespeare Theater debut in Chicago Shakespeare Festival’s The Tempest. Mr. Posner is a Helen Hayes and Barrymore Award-winning director and playwright. He is a founder and former artistic director of Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre and an associate artist at both the Folger Theatre and Milwaukee Repertory Theater. His adaptations include: My Name Is Asher Lev, which ran for ten months off Broadway (Outer Circle Critics Award for Best New Off-Broadway play and the John Gassner Award) and Chaim Potok’s. His Chekhov-inspired Stupid Fucking Bird debuted at Woolly Mammoth and won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Resident Play and the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding Play or Musical, as well as receiving productions and awards from around the country. His second Chekhov adaptation, Life Sucks, premiered last season at Theatre J. The Gift of Nothing, Mr. Posner’s musical for young audiences, received a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Play and Musical Adaptation for its production at the Kennedy Center. Raised in Eugene, Oregon, and now living near Washington, DC, Mr. Posner graduated from Northwestern University and is an Eisenhower Fellow.
IVY is a social university dedicated to inspiring connection, collaboration, and growth. To learn more, visit IVY.com.