During a summer of lackluster attendance for many "blockbuster" movies, an Oberlin production of The Tempest packed the Little Theater with sell-out crowds. Co-produced by the Black River Theater Company and the MAD Factory, the performance gave new twists to Shakespeare's play, making it entertaining and accessible to a broad audience of college students, local residents, and children.
The production, which was funded by the Office of the President, was a collaboration between the town and the college. Students, graduates, and townspeople filled the cast and crew. Paul Moser, who directed the production, designed the set, and adapted the script, is an assistant professor of theater as well as a founding member of the Black River Theater Company. He intended this to be a production for the entire town, to "serve the needs of Lorain County and make it family friendly."
The Tempest is one of the most-performed Shakespearean plays. The story revolves around deposed Duke of Milan Prospero, a powerful sorcerer, who is trapped on a magical island with only his daughter, Miranda, and his books. With plenty of art, magic, revenge, and love, The Tempest presents performers many opportunities for drama and comedy.
In his director's notes, Moser says, "The overall 'concept' of this project is simple, 'to please.'" How could Moser produce Shakespeare to please summer residents in present-day Lorain County?
First, Moser cut about one-third of the play. He said that due to the level of anachronisms, the text "makes the audience members feel inadequate if they don't have a Ph.D. to understand it." Rearranging scenes, changing some words, and cuts were only part of the plan to make the play accessible. "
I thought it would be fun to give Prospero's 'Art' the palette of American popular entertainment, borrowing from vaudeville, Carnival, and the like--thus shipwrecking the Neapolitans of the 17th century onto a magical isle of the 20th," Moser said. The production included puppetry and clown magic to make magic believable, understandable, and enjoyable to a modern audience.
To perform the revised script and magic acts, Moser included college students and town residents, many of whom were involved in the MAD Factory, along with professionals. Glenn Colerider, who played the lead, Prospero, is a regular of the Cleveland theater scene, working frequently with the Ensemble Theatre and perfoming at the Cleveland Play House, Cleveland Theatre Company, and Cain Park. Geoffrey Taylor, who played Gonzalo, is a professional actor who appeared as the Stage Manager in the 1993 Oberlin Community Production of Our Town. He has also directed and acted in numerous plays for the Morningside Players, a New York City troupe.
The cast was rounded out with college students Eric Cowley, Monica Flory, Sophocles Papavasilopoulos, Joey Rizzolo, Brian Salter, Abigail Scott, Corey Stoll, Patrick Tully, and town residents Marguerite Crite, Adrienne Miller, and Christina Young. David Bishop served as the assistant stage manager.
The audience reacted enthusiastically to the performance. Of the 12 performances, 11 filled the Little Theater. According to Moser, "During that last weekend, we sent away 30 to 100 people per show."
The idea of making it accessible succeeded; it made The Tempest a hit. For those who missed it, Moser and the Black River Theater Company wish to continue summer productions every year.
--by Mark Graham '97
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