The Gordon College Theatre department has opened house for The Tempest, the first show of the 2022-2023 season. Students and alumni returned to Gordon as early as August 15th to prepare for the production. This Shakespearean classic, written in 1610, premiered in the Margaret Jenson Theater in Barrington on September 9th and will close on the 17th.
The Tempest is directed by theatre professor Norm Jones and choreographed by Grace Willet ’24. The production has a sizable cast, made up of Chloe Agyare ’24, Susannah Burch ’24, Anna Fenton ’23, Kiana Lewis ’23, Gail Maxwell ’24, Drew Scott ’25, Maevis Small ’24, Hannah Spangler ’23, Emily Whitfield ’26, Grace Willett ’24, Drew Cleveland ’17, Abigail Erdelatz ’18, and Carl Kraines ’18. Bianca Russo ‘25 is working as stage manager. Numerous others played key roles behind the scenes in bringing the production to life with lighting, props, costumes, sound, and sets.
Upon entering the Blackbox, passing through a curtain of vines, the audience is transported into the play’s magical island setting, adorned with rocks, foliage, and a sand-painted floor. The story follows Prospero (Drew Cleveland), a magician with nature-bending powers. Formerly the Duke of Milan, Prospero is stripped of his position and left on an island to die. At the sight of a sail on the horizon, Prospero sends a tempest to shipwreck his enemies and draw them to shore. The reckoning begins as his enemies find themselves lost on a fantastic island where nothing is as it seems, the island being no less ordinary than Prospero himself.
As with other plays produced at Gordon, the cast and crew emanate a tangible sense of closeness and community. Russo discussed her “passion for helping others produce art … I love being part of the organization so that artists don’t have to think about it. [Norm] can just direct and be creative with a lot of people supporting him and these actors can just be actors knowing that everything’s being taken care of.”
Unlike other plays at Gordon, The Tempest is a collaboration between current students and alumni, a longtime dream of Jones’s. Drew Cleveland and Abigail Erdelatz, were two of the alumni approached by Jones and encouraged to audition. Cleveland described Jones as a close friend and gratefully accepted the opportunity to engage with Shakespeare’s work alongside current students. The Tempest was Cleveland and Erdelatz’s first time returning to act at Gordon with current students after graduating, as both continue to act in theater productions in the Boston area.
According to Erdelatz, Norm chose a Shakespeare play due to its universal appeal and large cast, allowing more room to incorporate alumni. She shared that even if she hadn’t been cast, “it still would have been worth it to audition again and be back at Gordon and see Norm. … My favorite part about it was he had me read for roles he never would have cast me as a student.”
Many cast members expressed being pushed beyond their comfort zones with their characters. For instance, Susannah Burch, who plays the role of Prospero’s sister Antonia, admitted “I’ve never played a villain before.” Likewise, Erdelatz expressed the fun of being cast as the jester Trincula, despite playing primarily serious roles during her time as a Gordon student. Under Jones’ direction, though, it is clear that the cast feels comfortable in their roles despite being stretched as actors.
Cleveland discussed the importance of perspective within the production process. Alumni were able to provide perspective beyond an educational setting, offering advice from their professional experiences. This contributed to a greater sense of collaborative effort and camaraderie. Cleveland noted the “utility of the skills we learn outside” of a theater setting. When discussing his character, Cleveland emphasized Prospero’s humanity as integral to the character and to the play’s ability to connect with audience members. Despite the supernatural elements in the play, Cleveland described Prospero as “just as human as the audience watching it … At the heart of it is a character who is contending with his own fallenness like the rest of us … forced to deal with complex realities that challenge him as a human.”
While audience members might worry that Shakespeare as inaccessible, both Erdelatz and Cleveland affirmed The Tempest’s continued resonance found within the characters as well as the play’s larger themes. Cleveland discussed how The Tempest “in a classical sense has a redemptive end … [It is] important and relevant to an audience because it does provide a sense of catharsis, in that here are these ordinary people in extraordinary situations … whether they are able to overcome the situation or not is something that the audience can find an access point to … Whether they achieve catharsis, redemption or not.”
Performances run until 17th in the Margaret Jenson Theater of Barrington. Tickets are available online at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/series/34944 or at the door as available.