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Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Tempest by William Shakespeare, performed by the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN

The TempestThe Tempest by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare's last plays. Prospero, exiled Duke of Milan, lives on a island with his spirit Ariel, his slave Caliban, and his daughter Miranda. He has the ability to control everyone on the island by use of his staff and his books. A ship carrying Prospero's brother Antonio, his other brother Sebastian, Alonso, King of Naples, Ferdinand, Alonso's son, Trinculo and Stephano, the king's servants, and Gonzalo, a kindly courrtier, is shipwrecked on the island, with a storm caused by Prospero himself. Ferdinand is separated from the group, then meets and falls in love with Miranda. Prospero gives Ferdinand several tests to prove his love to Mirands. Meanwhile, Trinculo and Stephano encounter Caliban, get him drunk, and persuade him to serve Stephano as his new master. Prospero eventually joins Ferdinand and Miranda in marriage, and forgives the wrongs all of the others have done. Prospero then asks the audience to release him so he can go to Naples.

This is one of Shakespeare's most lyrical plays. Some have suggested that Prospero is actually Shakespeare himself, saying goodbye to the theater. (He wrote Henry VIII and collaborated on The Two Noble Kinsmen, so we know that's not true.) It has some classic lines, such as, "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep." and "O brave new world, which has such creatures in't." (This is where Aldous Huxley got the title for his novel, Brave New World.) It's also been suggested that the island is actually a reference to America. This was written in 1610-11, so some of the reports from the Jamestown colony in what is now Virginia would have fascinated the audience. Another culture reference is Ariel, which is the name Disney gave to The Little Mermaid in 1989.

The production was by the the Shakespeare for Young Actors and Designers program of the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN. This program is for students in grade school through high school. They had 3 weeks to put the performance together. Some worked on acting, some on design, both of costumes and set dressing. The basic set was that used for Hamlet.

The play was condensed to fit in a 90 minute time frame, with no intermission. Since mostly girls had signed up for the program, most of the parts were played by girls. Given that in Shakespeare's time, all of the parts were played by men, this is an interesting role reversal. The actors did well. There were so many actors this year, some roles were played by 2 or 3 different people. (If I leave names out, it is only for space limitations.) Special commendations to the following:

Lauren Callahan and Emma Dalen as Prospero. They switched off in the middle of the play, and got back together at the end.
Raelynn Peter as Miranda. In the play, Miranda is 15. She's probably about that age, so it worked out perfectly.
Anna Scholz-Carlson as Ferdinand. She was able to play the part convincingly.
Emma Bucknam, Olivia Templeton, and Emma Wilson as Ariel. They played Ariel as a group of 3.
Violet Richardson and Eva Scholz-Carlson as Caliban. They switched off in the middle of the play.
Emma Wilson as Iris, Haley Donnal as Ceres, and Qiana Norris as Juno. They had relatively brief parts in this play, but they did well.
Stephanie Shaw as Alonso, Emily Schwermer as Sebastian, Jordon Prochnow as Antonio, Alayna Merchlewitz as Gonzalo, and Emma Wilson as Adrian. Extra commendation to Emma Wilson for taking on 3 roles.
Jackson Mixon as Trinculo and Jake Carlson as Stephano. The only 2 boys in the cast, they provided the comic relief.
Haley Donnal as the Boatswain and Qiana Norris as Master of the Ship. Again, small roles, but effective.

The program was started 4 years ago by Andrew Carlson, who plays Hamlet this year, as well as Dr Caius in Merry Wives of Windsor. He serves now as one of the instructors. This year, the lead instructor and director of the play is Tarah Flanagan, who plays Mrs. Ford in Merry Wives of Windsor. It is a tribute to her dedication and effectiveness that she makes time for this while taking on her other roles in the play. I would also like to recognize all of the other cast members who assisted in the instruction. They are Greg Ivan Smith, Gale Childs Daly, Michael Fitzpatrick, Christopher Gerson, John Maltese, Jenni McCarthy, Robert Montgomery, Sigrid Sutter, and Brian White. They helped make this play excellent.

For the designers, Lauren Smith was the primary instructor, assisted by Megan Morey and Jenn Oswald. They exhibited their work in the lobby of the theater. It was interesting to see the designs they came up with, then to see how they translated into real life. Special notice to Lauren Smith, who is also the education coordinator for the Festival, and has a lot of other duties. Again, the quality of the production is a testament to their dedication.

All in all, a great performance. I look forward in the coming years to seeing many of these actors and designers on the Main Stage at the Festival.

For more information on the Great River Shakespeare Festival, including the Shakespeare for Young Actors and Designers programs, visit

For more information on Winona, MN, visit

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