Friday, April 12, 2024

Behind the scenes magic: A preview of MTSU’s ‘The Tempest’ Production

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Featured photo by MTSU Theatre and Dance

Story by Luke Cameron

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The Middle Tennessee State University Department of Theatre and Dance is gearing up for a production of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” Feb. 22 through Feb. 25 in Tucker Theatre.

Professor David Wilkerson is directing the adaptation, and he said his production hones in on the fairies and spirits in the play.

“Since we’re focusing on the magical creatures, I want that to be the focus,” Wilkerson says.

He said he wanted to concentrate on the play’s magical creatures in order to explore humanity’s tendency to equate difference with inferiority.

“It’s so human of us to see things different from us as less than,” he said. The play also comments on man’s tendency to do things like enslave people and perpetrate violence simply because he can do them.

Antonio P. Nappo, who plays Prospero, is one of two professional, non-student actors brought in for the show. The Nashville-based actor said a week of table reading back in November laid a good foundation for the show’s success.

“It was amazingly beneficial,” Nappo said. “You never do a Shakespeare play and say, ‘I had too much table work.’”

Nappo, who has previous Shakespeare experience through Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s productions of “Macbeth,” “Twelfth Night” and “Julius Caesar,” believes his involvement in the show encompasses roles both as an actor and a mentor.

“We’re here to teach as much as to learn,” he said of himself and Natalie Rankin, who plays Gonzalo. In working on a play with young, impressionable actors, he also sees an ancillary benefit for himself. “It also helps you step your game up.”

MTSU senior Emma Bastin plays Miranda, and she found some things while delving into her character throughout the rehearsal process.

“I didn’t know how in love she is,” Bastin said.

Bastin had some apprehension about taking on a role in a Shakespeare play, but had her doubts assuaged by the meticulousness of director Wilkerson, for whom “The Tempest” is not his first Shakespearean rodeo.

“I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “It’s been a really fun experience.”

Post-graduation, Bastin intends to continue acting.

“I plan on auditioning in places around Nashville,” she said.

For now, she is basking in the twilight glow of her undergraduate theatre experience. Bastin is excited for her parents to see her in the role of Miranda, though there is one detail she has neglected to mention to her father: She kisses a girl in the play.

Shaniece Henderson and Abigail Wilkins are two of the student dancers brought in to play the fairies/spirits, led by Julia Peasall’s Ariel. Henderson is a criminal justice major with a minor in dance, and Wilkins is double majoring in dance and exercise science.

The two learned of the production’s desire to acquire their services via an email from the MTSU dance program director. “She [Jade Treadwell] emailed us saying they’re looking for dancers,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins and Henderson are glad they took on the theatre challenge, and they report that there is at least one major difference between dance and theatre performance, which they have had to adjust to.

“In dance our cues are music-based,” Wilkins said, whereas in theatre they have to focus on people’s dialogue in order to get their cues.

They also said “The Tempest” experience enabled the dancers to get to know each other better and to bond, especially during the dancers-only rehearsals. Furthermore, Henderson was taken with the gadgets and gizmos that actors have at their disposal.

“I like working with the props,” she said.

Henderson, a Nashville School of the Arts graduate, is excited for her parents (who come to all of her shows), brother and sister to come see her perform. Wilkins said her parents will be making the trip from Lenoir City to see her in the show.

“I told them I was a fungus spirit.”

In this adaptation, Nappo as Prospero brings a booming voice, sturdy frame and patriarchal command of the stage to the fore. Peasall’s lithe, soft-spoken Ariel plays like a Tinker Bell to Nappo’s Peter Pan. The duo’s juxtaposition is the cornerstone of the production and enables the audience the opportunity to clearly see, explore and traverse the issues surrounding difference, slavery, colonialism, inequality, privilege, ethics and freedom, that the characters themselves navigate.

Bastin’s Miranda and Learned’s Ferdinand bubble with a happy-go-lucky, adorable attraction for each other, and their scenes sparkle with innocence and ingenuousness. Naomi Laurent’s Caliban is a bundle of energy and takes the role in a more effeminate, less dark direction.

Dez Edwards and Arianne Joy Dayrit are hilarious in their fawning attendance of Taylor Hulse’s Alonso. Finally, Garrett Holt’s swashbuckling, inept Stephano takes the audience on a fun ride.

Ultimately, Nappo said the play centers and keeps coming back to Wilkerson’s intended focus: “The truth of the spirits.”

In addition to the previously mentioned actors, the show also includes cast members Logan Purcell, Moira Cagle, Kyra Siciliano, Maya Rachael Siciliano, Anna Conar and Rae Bracey.

Understudy actors are Tallie Richards, Libby Reasonover, Skyler Lucas, Maye Hansen and Laine “Koi” Stevens.

Megan Emison and Eddie Schauwecker are assistant directors. Joy Echols is assistant choreographer. Stage manager is Gracie Lynch, and assistant stage managers are Violet Hendricks and Sarah Cornelison.

Tristan Graves is sound engineer, Liz Morgan is assistant sound designer and Kal Walter is assistant lighting designer.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Destiny Mizell and Assistant Lifestyles Editor Shamani Salahuddin, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com. For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Instagram at MTSUSidelines or on X at @MTSUSidelines.

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