A piece of theater magic

Department of Theatre and Dance puts on Shakespeare's ÒThe TempestÓ

The Spectrum

As the lights begin to dim in the Rehearsal Workshop Theatre, Director Kazimierz Braun and 'Prospero' approach the table at the room's center with a model colonial ship.

The lights dim completely and focus on the center of the room. Gusts of wind are audible, and the cast cradles the ship and motions it along as if it were sailing through the audience's imagination.

Soon, what began as a seemingly ordinary dress rehearsal becomes something extraordinary when the cast escorts the audience into the Black Box Theatre - where the majority of the play takes place, and where the "The Tempest" immerses the audience in its dreamscape-like setting.

Here, the cast has exchanged the ordinary clothes that they had on during the rehearsal portion of the play for fantastical costumes and the model ship has been replaced by a massive ship deck equipped with a functioning crows nest.

The audiences' transition from the Rehearsal Workshop Theatre to the Black Box Theatre is one of the many alterations that Braun has made to "The Tempest," which was William Shakespeare's last play. The play premieres Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. and is being put on by UB's Department of Theatre and Dance.

"The Tempest" tells the tale of Prospero and his daughter, Miranda. After Prospero takes control of a mysterious island from the villainous Caliban, he uses his magic - and spirits that he commands - to conjure a storm that traps his enemies on the island in hopes of getting revenge for their past transgressions against him. But in the end, Prospero finds redemption in absolving them instead.

Production of the play has been an entirely collaborative effort within UB's departments with sound, prop and set design, lighting, make-up and other portions of the production. Braun has a multi-faceted team to help choreograph the play and coach the student actors in Shakespeare's verse. He also has multiple student directors assisting him through the production.

Casting began in November, but rehearsals didn't start until the first day of classes this semester, after which there was six weeks of rehearsals to prepare for the play's opening.

"I really like working with all the other actors," David Remple, a junior theater and media studies double major who plays Prospero said. "Each actor brings their own kind of energy into the show ... and I just love that kind of chemistry."

He went on to add that he was glad to have the opportunity to play such a monumental character and will miss playing Prospero after the show concludes.

One of the more interesting elements to the play is the use of the two theaters and the play within a play dynamic that the transition between them creates. This is because Braun wanted the play itself to be about theater and its production.

"The first 10 minutes of the show are us sitting around the table, reading the script as actors," said Ariel Judson. "And then we invite the audience into this other space where all the sudden they are transported to this other world of boats and fairies and monsters, so they could see how theatricality transforms."

Judson, a senior theater major and English minor, plays one of four Ariels - a spirit - in the play.

After Braun and Prospero bring in the ship at the play's onset, Prospero becomes more than just a character in the play; he becomes the director of the play within a play.

"[Braun's] vision is that Prospero is essentially a director," Judson said. "We have this world of magic controlled by one person, where people can suspend their disbelief for a while and truly think they are seeing spirits running around."

The changes in Prospero's importance within the play and the dynamic that using two theater spaces provides are two of Braun's biggest changes to the Shakespeare original, which will surprise some audience members.

"The Tempest" will mark Braun's last at UB before he retires next year - making this production very special for a man who has dedicated his life to teaching, producing and writing about theatre all around the world.

Braun's version of "The Tempest" is not only a celebration of Shakespeare's work and Braun's own career but also a celebration of the art of theater itself.

"[After the show's conclusion] there is a sense of loss; theater doesn't leave permanent works of art," Braun said. "Theater disappears and in this way theater mimics human life because theater dies ... [In the end] I hope there is a sense of fulfillment and enjoyment for the audience."

But Braun stressed that this is part of the beauty of plays like "The Tempest" because the audience can only experience this version of the play a few times before it is gone forever.

Those who attend his version of "The Tempest," will get a rare treat: a play directed by a world famous director with a cast and crew that brings his unique vision of Shakespeare's final play to life.

"The audience can expect comedy... awe and the magic on stage. And they can enjoy a great piece of theater and be entertained," Remple said.

"The Tempest" will play Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and is also showing Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Center for the Art's Rehearsal Workshop Theatre and Black Box Theatre.

email: arts@ubspectrum.com