With a booming thunder crash and the mighty roar of ocean waves, a famous Shakespeare classic, The Tempest, washed into the Orlando Shakespeare Theater last weekend. But this storm might have been little more than a gust of wind without the help of some UCF personalities.
The Tempest is the tale of the magician Prospero, the Duke of Milan, who was banished from his country and took refuge on a small island with his daughter, Miranda. When the aristocrats behind his exile, including his brother, sail by the island more than 10 years later, Prospero decides to enact his revenge by conjuring the titular tempest to wash them ashore.
Written around 1611, The Tempest was one of the last plays William Shakespeare ever wrote. First performed in the courts of kings, it has become one of the most well-known plays in the theatrical world. Now, many years and miles from where it was first produced, it is being performed for the Central Florida community at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater.
Through a partnership with the theater, UCF Knights have taken their talents both on and behind the stage of The Tempest.
Gracie Winchester, a 2014 UCF alumna, plays Miranda, the young and extremely naive daughter of Prospero. She loves being able to play a character with no inhibitions — something she can’t normally do with people in her everyday life.
“I can relate to Miranda’s wonder with people,” Winchester said. “I often find that when I open my mind to new perspectives, I learn something new and exciting from surprising sources.”
The character did come with its challenges, however. Shakespeare is known for his unique use of language, and that kind of classic verse can be challenging for any actor.
“The major challenges are discovering the verse as it was written hundreds of years ago,” Winchester said. “There are these scansion rules that illustrate which words are stressed and unstressed, where a line ends, how many syllables a word is supposed to use.”
Even longtime professional actors struggle to breathe life into the bard’s plays. Some directors avoid Shakespeare altogether out of fear that the dialogue might confuse audiences.
Winchester understood that some people might be afraid to give Shakespeare a try when they could just as easily watch Netflix or YouTube. But, in her mind, nothing can quite compare with the experience of classic theater.
“The words can bring tears to your eyes, and the themes in Shakespeare’s work are incredibly timeless and relevant,” she said. “It is special to listen to this foreign speech and realize that the feelings behind the words are exactly the same as the ones found in any modern stage production or film.”
Jim Helsinger, a Theatre UCF professor and the artistic director at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, agreed with Winchester.
“As humans, we are naturally tribal creatures looking for relationships with other humans,” he said. “And if we’re alone in front of a computer all day, we’re not really getting that.”
To him, theater is a communal experience, one that can be enjoyed by everyone — the idea that some people wouldn’t enjoy a play because of its language seems almost absurd considering the emotions of love, revenge and forgiveness are universal human experiences.
He believes that young people, especially, aren’t given enough credit these days, and that they care about more than just TV shows and movies.
“I don’t think young people are stupid, and I don’t think young people don’t enjoy language, and I don’t think that young people don’t enjoy love and romance and humor,” Helsinger said. “So rather than trying to speak to the lowest common denominator, let’s give young people some credit.”
Despite its name, the theater often shows plays that weren’t penned by the bard. But this year, Luke Evans, the theater’s communication coordinator, said they lucked out, as this production of The Tempest overlaps with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death — a death that, coincidentally, is also closely associated with the play.
Anne Hering, the Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s education director, remarked that many people have drawn similarities between Prospero and Shakespeare at the play’s opening night reception.
“It is considered one of the most autobiographical plays Shakespeare wrote,” Herring said. “One of Prospero’s last lines in the play is one where he says he will ‘return to Milan where every third thought will be [his] grave,’ which mirrors Shakespeare’s own life, as after writing The Tempest, he retired to Stratford and soon after died.”
Despite its 17th-century creation, the play is one Evan feels UCF students can relate to.
“If you like magic, romance or a good redemption story, this is the perfect play for you,” he remarked.
Deanna Ferrante is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter @deannaferrante or email her at DeannaF@centralfloridafuture.com.