Shakespeare in the Park goes to space with its seventh annual production of “The Tempest” opening June 28 and running every Thursday and Friday until Aug. 1 except Street Wheelers weekend.
“The ‘Tempest’ is the most ‘Sci-Fi’ of Shakespeare’s plays. It takes place on a magical, mystical island,” described Shakespeare in the Park artistic director Kate Connolly, adding as a result it was relatively easy to reset the play as a spaceship crashing on an unknown planet instead of a shipwreck on an unknown island.
“It was written near the end of Shakespeare’s life when everybody was fascinated by journeys to the new world so he modelled it off that, particularly the West Indies and the island of Bermuda,” Connolly continued.
“This is Shakespeare meets ‘Star Trek’,” she described.
Shakespeare in the Park veteran DJ Gellatly, who directed Shakespeare in the Park’s version of “Romeo and Juliet,” returns to direct “The Tempest.”
Shakespeare in the Park has cast traditionally male leads Prospera and Antonia as females this year, coincidentally mirroring Stratford, Ont., which is also presenting “The Tempest” featuring experienced Shakespearian actor Martha Henry playing Prospero in Stratford in London, Ontario this season.
“Instead of battling, brothers, we decided to have battling sisters. We cast Chris Kyle Peterson as Prospera and Madeline Smith as her sister Antonia. She plays an excellent villain,” Connolly said
“They even look like sisters,” she continued.
“Lot of theatre companies are casting females in more familiar male roles. There have even been female Hamlets,” she said.
Director DJ Gellatly noted turning the leads into females was a no brainer.
“The pool of talented actresses in Lethbridge is really deep. And it‘s been done before. There have been female Prosperos before including in the movie starring Hellen Mirren,” he said.
“And we turned Antonio into Antonia, so it’s really interesting because instead of having battling brothers, we have two sisters fighting,” he said.
“It’s something I think about,” said Madeline Smith, who plays Antonia, one role traditionally played by men.
“It’s interesting, during Shakespeare‘s time men always played female roles, now it has been reversed,” she continued, adding she is enjoying playing a villain.
“I’ve never played a character who is so cold and calculating. I don’t think people are used to seeing a powerful female character who isn’t benevolent,” said Smith, who played Crazy Kate in last summer‘s westernized version of “A Comedy of Errors.”
“The way I’ve envisioned her is she’s always been overshadowed by her older sister, so the only way to get the respect and attention she deserves is to get her sister out of the way. So there is a lot going on with her outside the play,” she continued, adding the other thing she is looking forward to is getting to use a phaser prop.
Smith noted the prospect of playing the being a villain was just as appealing as playing “The Tempest” in space.
“I love it. I grew up watching Star Trek. It was groundbreaking then. They had the first inter-racial kiss. It was gender- bending and who doesn’t like science fiction,” Smith laughed.
Gellatly, said setting “The Tempest” in space was another easy choice.
“ A lot of the Tempest translates easily to a futuristic theme,” he said, noting there are a lot of supernatural and fantastic themes in the play.
“So you can easily imagine it on an uninhabited planet with creatures rather than on a deserted island with lots of magic and supernatural deities,“ he said.
“My dad was a huge “Star Trek Next Generation” fan, so I grew up with science fiction,” he said.
Chris Kyle Peterson, who played Mercutio in Shakespeare in the Park’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” two years ago and who plays plotting, protective mother Prospera, is no stranger to gender bending roles, but she returned because of the prospect of working with Gellatly again, who also directed Romeo and Juliet.
“I was very excited to return because DJ was directing. I think they cast me because I’m the only actual mother in the cast,” she laughed.
“Prospera has been banished to this alien planet and has spent the last 12 years taking care of her daughter and plotting her revenge,” she summarized, adding playing Prospera as a female wasn’t difficult.
“He’s a powerful father in the original, but the dialogue isn’t gender specific, so now Prospera is a powerful mother,” she said.
“I played Mercutio as a female in “Romeo and Juliet” so I’m no stranger to gender bending.”
She is also enjoying the science fiction angle of “The Tempest.”
“I think the science fiction makes it easier to understand,” she said.
“I got to die in Romeo and Juliet, but I don’t get to die in ‘The Tempest.” It’s going to be a lot of fun,” she said.
This year’s cast includes a lot of familiar faces including U of L Students, grads and community members who were part of “A Comedy of Errors” last year and members of community theatre groups including Playgoers of Lethbridge plus a couple of high school students. It also features a couple of new faces including Alexandra Long, who plays Prospers’s daughter Miranda.
“It‘s my first time time with Shakespeare in the Park. I’ve really enjoyed connecting with some of the other people in the BFA program at thew university,” Long said, adding she is enjoying playing the sheltered Miranda.
“Miranda is Prospera’s daughter and she hasn’t had any interaction with other people. So that’s been interesting. And it’s made me value all of the human interactions I’ve had in my life,” she said.
In addition to regular shows in Galt Gardens, Shakespeare in the Park brings “The Tempest” to the Coutts Arts Centre outside of Nanton on Sunday, July 22 at 2 p.m. and they return to The Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod on Saturday, Aug. 4 at 7:30 p.m.
New this year Shakespeare in the Park performs at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens on July 11 for an evening of Shakespearean songs and scenes.
This year’s major sponsor is, again, the City of Lethbridge, which gave Shakespeare in the Park a Heart of the City grant.
“It’s a comedy, so I hope people will come and laugh and have fun,” Gellatly said.
The show lasts just over an hour. There is no charge to enjoy the show, though donations will be accepted. The Galt Gardens shows begin at 7 p.m.