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“The Tempest” at Shakespeare Festival in St. Louis

A version of The Tempest performed at the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is a historical period drama performance of the popular Shakespearean classic. The production utilized the main stage at the forefront of the theatrical action. There was a large set piece in the background which included a large tree root growing among stone ruins. This set design created elevated platforms and additional space on stage which characters could utilize during the performance and convey certain messages through blocking. At times, the elevated platforms were used by characters making an exclamation or, on the contrary, used as a space to indicate their presence in the background of a scene (StLouisShakespeare, 2012). The shipwreck scene, which utilized the same background set piece confused the audience as there was no indication to someone unfamiliar with the play that the crew was at an entirely different location.

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This production utilized special effects during its performance. Lighting had a huge role in setting the tone of the performance. It was considerably dark in the theater, with the stage lighting taking the center. Producers used dimmed lighting that was manipulated to have an illumination effect on the stage. Scenes varied in the use of colors and brightness of light effects. At times, the lighting focus changed from revealing the whole stage to centering on an ongoing action. The background set-piece was consistently illuminated with a nightly blue phosphorescent radiant, creating a specifically eerie and magical mood for an observer. Audio effects were used in moderation throughout the play to create a supernatural atmosphere using sounds and music. They were the main effect during the shipwreck scene, indicating a violent storm since there was no set design or visual cues besides dark blue lighting to indicate otherwise. However, during that scene the effect was overcompensated, making it difficult to distinguish dialogue. Such situations are unique to the theater since audio cannot be edited in real-time, but indicate the need to have balanced effects should the production choose to use them.

The performance stays true to the original play based on the script and scene directions. However, some liberties were taken in its interpretation. Perhaps a unique aspect of this production that stands out to the audience is the use of four actresses to represent the spirit, Ariel. It is an unusual interpretation since there is no indication that Ariel was somehow split. It may be the director’s way of showing the spirit’s omnipotence and powerful presence. As a period piece, the production uses standard clothing of the Shakespearean era. There is a variation based on the social status of the character. Soldiers can be seen dressed in traditional English body armor and helmets of the 1600s.

Prospero was dressed in robes to represent his magical powers, bearing a staff that was used as a prop. The character of Caliban was dressed in short trousers and a leotard with heavy makeup to indicate his monstrous nature. The acting sought to represent each character’s inner nature. For example, Caliban moved around heavily slouching, in an ape-like manner. Meanwhile, Prospero carried himself in a calm and controlled manner, representing the character’s control over every aspect of the island. The performance made it easier to understand the emotions and intentions of various characters throughout the plot. There are various indications that the effects and actors make to aid the audience in comprehending abstract ideas.

Shakespearean plays are the most common adaptations in the Western theater, especially for low-level and amateur productions. Shakespeare has significantly impacted the art of dramaturgy. Shakespearean plays have become so commonplace that they began to influence societal values. Many perspectives and ideologies considered instinctive in Western philosophy have Shakespearean origins. The plays are more than an interesting story; it is a dramatic study of human character, psychology, government, and ethics (Garber, 2008). The role of theater in contemporary culture has become more than just entertainment; it is an unfiltered and unedited medium for social and political commentary. Many renowned productions adapt classic tales into modern culture to create a powerful voice.


Garber, M. (2008). Shakespeare and modern culture. The New York Times. Web.

StLouisShakespeare. (2012). Shakespeare’s The Tempest [Video file]. Web.

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