The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater will present a unique new production of William Shakespeare’s classic play,The Tempest, performed with actors and marionettes, on February 8, 9, 14, 15, and 16 at 8:00 p.m. at the Marie and Edward Matthews ’53 Acting Studio at 185 Nassau Street. The production is directed by theater program faculty member Tracy Bersley and is the senior project of theater student Lily Akerman, who will be featured in the production, with marionettes created by senior visual arts student Samantha Ritter.

The Tempest , believed by many scholars to be the last play Shakespeare wrote, opens with the titular storm conjured by the magician Prospero, exiled with his daughter Miranda to an island far from his home in Milan. The exotic island is also inhabited by Caliban, offspring of a witch and enslaved by Prospero, and a spirit-servant, Ariel. Shipwrecked on the island by the storm are the king of Naples, his son Ferdinand, and Antonio, who usurped Prospero’s position as Duke of Milan. Romance, conflict, intrigue, and a murderous plot ensue as two worlds collide.

The genesis of the production goes back to a puppetry workshop presented by Ritter. She participated in a Princeton Atelier workshop presented by Wakka Wakka Productions, known for pushing the boundaries of theater using object manipulation, puppets, masks and original music. After the experience, Ritter wanted to explore puppetry further and traveled to Prague in the summer of 2011. She received funding for her trip from the Lewis Center’s Alex Adam ‘07 Award, which honors the memory of a former Lewis Center student by supporting summer arts projects of Princeton students. On her return she presented a workshop on what she learned in Prague to fellow students, who then participated later that year in a “performance puppetry slam” in Baltimore.

“My area of interest in the visual arts is sculpture, and I was incredibly inspired by the work of Wakka Wakka,”notes Ritter, a computer science major pursuing a certificate in visual arts. “It was not a big leap to look at how a three-dimensional object can take on character and personality, particularly when animated.”

Akerman, a comparative literature major pursuing certificates in theater and creative writing, attended Ritter’s puppetry workshop and knew she wanted to take on a Shakespeare production for her senior thesis project. She decided on The Tempest, seeking to interpret the role of Caliban, usually played by a male actor, who plots to murder his master. She thought the play would lend itself well to incorporating her new love of puppetry.

“The character of Caliban interests me because he is so grotesque and yet at the same time human, and I’ve always sympathized with him,” explains Akerman.   “It is a challenge for me to embody this character, not least because he is a different gender and has a physical form that’s very different from my own.”

Akerman has also taken dance courses through the Lewis Center and last year wrote the lyrics for a short opera with a student composer, which was produced as part of the Princeton One-Act Opera Project.

The two seniors approached faculty member Tracy Bersley, who directed the Lewis Center’s production of the musicalPippin last spring, setting the story of a medieval prince in a post-Vietnam War veterans’ psychiatric hospital. Bersley saw great possibilities in viewing The Tempest’s characters from the Old World as marionettes, pulled by the strings of social convention, and the island dwellers as actors, free and unfettered by the ties of society.  The production will also emphasize the thematic thread of Miranda’s coming of age and Prospero’s realization that he needs to give her the opportunity to go back to civilization, even if it means giving up the freedom he has experienced on the island.

“I am very excited about this production and very impressed by the two young women who are at the heart of this project,” notes Bersley. “We intend to make the most of this juxtaposition of puppets and actors to tell this wonderful story, and of this idea of the strings and conventions that constrain us.”

Bersley is familiar to Princeton audiences having directed, in addition to Pippin, a number of other Theater Program productions including The Winter’s Tale, A Streetcar Named Desire, and House of Blue Leaves, and as a director of productions at McCarter Theatre where she completed a directing residency in 1999-2000, collaborating with such artists as Sam Shepard, David Mamet, and Emily Mann. She has directed and choreographed for numerous other universities and theater companies such as New York University, The Juilliard School, the Public Theatre, The Acting Company, PS 122, and Lincoln Center in productions ranging from new adaptations to Shakespeare to opera.

In addition to Akerman, the all-student cast, who will each play a role as an actor and manipulate one or more of the puppets, includes: John Somers Fairchild ‘15, Maeli Goren ‘15, and Tadesh Inagaki ‘14. Ritter designed and built all the marionettes for the production. Professional designers include sets by Jeff van Velsor, costumes by Sydney Moresca, and lighting by Miriam Crowe. Katherine Clifton ’15 serves as stage manager.

Tickets for The Tempest are $12 general admission, $10 for students and seniors, and are available through Princeton University Ticketing by calling 609.258.9220 or on-line , or at the Frist Campus Center Ticket Office.

The Lewis Center’s Program in Theater annually presents a major, professionally produced play in the fall, as well as a number of student senior thesis productions throughout the year.

Presented By

  • Program in Theater