A Tempest in a Box, with Instructions
Prospero’s Puppets is a 30-minute adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest that uses puppets, objects and media devices, a playscript with visual cues, and an action score designed for ease-of-performance by small, gently-rehearsed groups. All the elements are assembled as a “kit” and are included in a box suggesting a huge book, out of which the performance is “unpacked” live.
The piece is devised and adapted by Michael R. Caplan. The graphic presentation of the script, drawing on Michael’s extensive background in page design and typography, suggests emotional, rhythmic and tonal cues for the performers. The movements and actions are simple, direct and evocative, employing stylistic modalities like choric gesture and presentational performance art – bringing to bear Michael’s experience in experimental theatre, contemporary dance and community-based events.
The puppets are created by Nell Coleman, puppet- and costume-maker for, among others, Toronto’s renowned Little Red Theatre Company, esteemed choreographer James Kudelka, and Poculi Ludique Societas, the Medieval & Renaissance Players of Toronto, in addition to having run her own costume company and founded a strolling puppet troupe. Contributing artists include Order of Canada recipient, choreographer David Earle, assisting with the movement score. Performers are drawn from the local communities, schools and organizations that book the production, with rehearsals directed by House of ShAkE.
Long considered Shakespeare’s farewell to the theatre, The Tempest is a meditation on the shifting line between art and life, magic and reality. The story is colourfully and energetically told, relying especially on the metatheatrical aspects of this most metatheatrical of plays. For example, the puppets that represent the characters who become the magician’s “puppets” in the story are handed off from their original puppeteers, who continue to speak for them, to the performer playing Prospero, who now manipulates their every move.
Puppets are placed in front of changing backgrounds on tablet screens, making it clear that the virtuous shipwrecked characters perceive their island exile as lush and fertile, while the villains experience it as barren and inhospitable. Certain sections are presented completely on video, particularly the one meant to be most completely illusionary in the play, the Masque of the Goddesses that Prospero conjures for his daughter’s wedding. (In some of these pre-recorded segments, guest appearances by well-known personalities lend extra appeal for audiences and potential bookers.)
And Prospero’s book of spells, which he relies on for everything, is itself represented by the box out of which the show emerges in performance.
These components together form a solid armature for staging an intimate production requiring few additional materials, one that can be efficiently prepared and rehearsed, reliably performed by those with varying skill levels, and presented in all kinds of different contexts and venues. It is especially suitable for middle school students, but enchanting for audiences of all ages.
Prospero’s Puppets aims to capture, in an innovative and accessible format, the conjunction of elemental powers and playful ideas that bring this beloved tragicomedy to life.