New York City famously offers Shakespeare in the Park every summer, so why shouldn’t Santa Barbara have Shakespeare on the Beach? For those of us who can’t get enough of the bard, the logic here is faultless, and the appeal of the idea multiplies rapidly when you factor in the involvement of UpStage Left (USL), the company that’s producing this “let’s hope it becomes a new tradition” production of The Tempest. UpStage Left takes the top talent from our area high schools, mixes them with some recent grads who are back from college, and turns the whole thing up into what they are hash tagging as a #HOTMAGICSUMMER. So far, one USL show has already gone up — the uproarious version of Aristophanes’s Lysistrata codirected by Emma and Cheri Steinkellner and produced in Godric Grove at Elings Park. Now it’s big sister’s turn at the helm, and with Kit Steinkellner directing, this theatrical ship is heading for heavy dramatic weather.
You know it’s a cliché that Shakespeare was ahead of his time, but there’s a reason for that. In The Tempest, Steinkellner feels, he’s most ahead of the curve when it comes to describing power plays. “The struggle for power and status,” she remarked, “that’s the formula for practically every great cable show currently on air, from Orange Is the New Black to Veep.” Who has the power? These days it seems that that is the question.
Apart from the power struggles, there are many other things about The Tempest that Steinkellner loves, from the great poetry to “some beautiful, amazing moments of intense reaction, like when Miranda sees other human beings for the first time, or when Ferdinand sees that his father, Alonso, is still alive after the shipwreck.” She refers to these moments as the play’s “human magic,” as distinguished from the supernatural magic of Prospero. Of course there is plenty of that in the play, as well. In fact, one thing that came out in the rehearsals for this production was that Jordan Lemmond, who will play Prospero, is a stage magician.
“I like to use everything that comes at me through the rehearsal process,” Steinkellner explained, and as a result, the show will include several illusions that Lemmond has been practicing.
With a minimum of props and no set except the sea and the sand, “blocking must tell the story.” The object, according to the director, is to arrive at something that is at once visually spectacular and emotionally resonant. “It’s a play about justifying the unjustifiable,” said Steinkellner, “and that’s got to come through at every level.”
Choreographer Jessica Hambright, another familiar figure from many Santa Barbara shows, will assist in designing the movement, which Steinkellner describes with gusto. “Caliban will be played by Malcolm McCarthy, and he’s discovered a way of moving that he and Jess call ‘the atrophied ape.’ Ariel, we decided, should move between seconds, like some kind of quantum-physics phenomenon.”
At 70 minutes, this pared-down production should fly by, and with the curtain scheduled for 6 p.m., it’s sure to be a stunning tableau, as the actors will perform in front of the sea and the sunset. Spectators are requested to purchase their tickets in advance through the company’s website. They also recommend that the audience bring their own low beach chairs or towels and plan to position the towel rows down front and the beach chairs behind. Check it out, enjoy the sensation of sand between your toes as the sun goes down, and look forward to many more nights of Shakespeare on the Beach.
UpStage Left presents The Tempest at East Beach, August 20-23, at 6 p.m. Visit upstageleft-tempest.bpt.me for tickets and info.