Tag Archive | "HITFest"

The Tempest Storms Through East Hampton’s Summer Season

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IMG_0068

By Mara Certic

As August approaches at Mulford Farm, so do spirits, shipwrecks and storms. The Hamptons International Theater Festival will bring 12 outdoor performances of “The Tempest” to the East Hampton Village site.

“It’s a Herculean task to do this,” said artistic director Josh Perl. “But we’re all really passionate about Shakespeare.”

Mr. Perl chose “The Tempest” for several different reasons. Mainly, he said, because of its accessibility to children. Traditionally deemed a tragicomedy, “The Tempest” distinguishes itself from Shakespearean tragedies in distinct ways, the most obvious of which is that nobody dies.

The entire play takes place on a fictional island. It begins with a storm, which the audience later finds out had been started by a spirit, Ariel, at the behest of Prospero—the former duke of Milan whose brother had left him and his daughter Miranda for dead on a raft at sea many years before.

The great tempest strikes a ship carrying his brother, Antonio and his family, as Prospero hopes to make things right and enact his revenge. As with Shakespearean comedies, confusion and misunderstandings ensue throughout the play.

The only challenge of staging the play outdoors, according to Mr. Perl, is the opening thunderstorm during the daytime. But he decided to remedy that problem and another at the same time.

“In choosing ‘The Tempest’ I thought how can we make this show more accessible to kids?” Mr. Perl said during a phone interview on Friday. “How come everything seems so serious?” he asked himself about other stagings of the play.

Mr. Perl decided to interest his younger audience was to include children in his cast. “So we’re partnering up with CMEE,” he said of the Children’s Museum of the East End. The children will open the show; each will get a piece of a costume (a pirate patch or tattoo, perhaps) and will speak a few lines before the spirits help them create the opening storm.

“We have a really professional show,” Mr. Perl said, adding that having the children’s participation is “just perfect.”

“We’re getting kids to do what they’re good at and that is the spirit of Shakespeare,” he said.

In order to lighten the mood of the play and continue to entertain children, Mr. Perl also decided to use songs, playfulness and puckishness, he said. “I had thought that I wanted to have the spirits be very flamboyant, almost like drag queens,” he said. “They’re singing, they’re on stage a lot reacting to what’s happening,” he said, adding that at one point the spirits sing “On the island, the magic island, the spirits awake tonight” to the tune of the 1961 Tokens hit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

Mr. Perl then decided that gender-reversal might have other positive effects, and so he decided to explore that. “There’s really only one female role in “The Tempest,” which is just unfair,” he said.

“I really wanted a female Prospero. We live in an age where there are women CEOs and women in charge of all sorts of things,” he added, noting that with the exception of Queen Elizabeth I, this was hardly the case in Shakespearean England.

So Prospero became Prospera, Antonio turned into Antonia, and faithful counselor Gonzalo had a sex change too. “I just noticed how the play’s gender politics center has shifted from being about this noble, magician authority figure into being more about a woman who may have deserved to be driven out of the dukedom because of her focus on magic,” he said.

“Apart from having to change the occasional pronoun though, there’s nothing that’s textually different,” said Mr. Perl.

“It’s a really nice dimension and it’s working really well,” said Molly McKenna, who grew up in Sag Harbor and still has a base here. Ms. McKenna, who has worked with Mr. Perl for years, had not thought that there would be a part for her. “I was just going to be cheering him on,” she said.

“And then he suggested that I play the role of Gonzalo, usually played by a man.”

“It makes complete sense,” said Ms. McKenna. “She is a very caring and sincere person who is a counselor to the King of Naples. It makes sense that she’s a woman. She aided and abetted Prospero’s escape.”

The non-profit theater company is paying all 18 members of the cast, Mr. Perl said. And the set designers, stagehands, lighting designers, assistants, directors, and so on.

“Everyone gets paid, but no one gets paid enough,” said Mr. Perl, who has had to fundraise in order to put on this show. “We had to house four actors out here for eight weeks. We were lucky that friends were nice to us.”

Some money has been raised, but more is required. For more information or to donate, visit hitfest.org/the-tempest. Mulford Farm is located at 10 James Lane in East Hampton.

“The Tempest” will run Wednesdays through Sundays from August 6 through August 24. Showtime is 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students, and free to children under 10. Tickets are $17.50 for seniors at the door only.

A New Shakespeare Fest Comes to Town

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Midsummer Night's Dream

Gerard Doyle (as Theseus) and Licia James Zegar (Hermia) in rehearsals for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” max tabet photo

by Emily J. Weitz

 

When Josh Perl was first trying to pitch investors on the idea of an outdoor Shakespeare festival, he realized that, outdoors in the summertime, Shakespeare pitches himself. That is possibly most true of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” whose whimsical, magical quality lends itself perfectly to the landscape of a rolling green at dusk.

When Perl started The Naked Stage in 2000, the focus was really on play readings, which it frequently hosts at Guild Hall’s John Drew Theater. He didn’t necessarily have the goal of bringing Shakespeare to the East End.

Back then, it wouldn’t have been necessary, with the annual Hamptons Shakespeare Festival going strong in the hills of Theodore Roosevelt County Park Montauk.

But by the time Perl started planning for this summer’s production, it had been six or seven years since the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival had last performed out in Montauk. And for a man who, as an actor, had set a goal of performing in every known Shakespeare play at some point in his career, to his way of thinking it was high time the father of English Literature came back to town.

“I was at the Bridgehampton School one night,” recalls Perl, “and I was up on the second floor. I looked out the fire exit, and I saw this beautiful green field with a gentle slope, over the balconies [or fire escapes]. I just imagined Romeo and Juliet taking place there.”

A couple years ago, Perl and his business partner, Peter Zablotsky, created HITFest (Hamptons Independent Theatre Festival) as a DBA of the East End Naked Stage Theatre Company.

“The Naked Stage could be thought of as the parent organization,” says Perl.

When he spoke to Zablotsky about the idea of bringing Shakespeare back to the Hamptons at the Bridgehampton School, they decided to go for it.

“The school has been amazing, giving us the space to do this,” says Perl who adds that the cast of professional actors, local and imported, has been responding tremendously to the script.

“Gerard Doyle, who teaches at Ross, [School] rarely does any acting anymore,” says Perl. “He plays Theseus, and has a huge amount of lines. He’s such a professional. The woman who plays Titania and Hippolyta so excellently is Clodagh Bowyer. Here you have this gorgeous raven-haired beauty falling in love with a donkey!”

The cast has been rehearsing in the evenings, and since they’re still on-book, rehearsals have had to take place inside. But Perl is sure that once the process is brought out in the open, it will be transformative.

“There’s something so beautifully whimsical about this play,” says Perl. “When the lovers run away to the woods to escape parental authority, that’s the kind of thing that happens every day here, with kids running away to the beach.”

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was actually the first play Perl ever acted in in his professional career, when he played Demetrius at a festival in Vermont.

“The plays with magic in them always appealed to me most,” he says. “And this, with Puck and Titania and the fairies, it’s just a great time.”

Another aspect of seeing Shakespeare outdoors that Perl believes is integral to his mission is its accessibility to children.

“When I first proposed the idea,” says Perl, “I heard so many stories about people to whom that Shakespeare Festival was a touchstone of the summer. I have small children, and I am constantly thinking about what choices we give our children.”

In a world of iPads and the Internet, he notes, it becomes a real question what stories our kids hear.

“How do we pass on culture to them?” asks Perl. “These rich stories of gods and lovers and funny people putting on a play … How do we share that? It’s this. It’s Shakespeare in the summer. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to bring your kids to theater. This is about giving young people appealing choices that give the best of what culture has to offer. And to me, Shakespeare is the peak.”

Since 2008, Perl and Zablotsky have formed a nonprofit, built a black box theatre in the Bridgehampton Community House, and begun an outdoor Shakespeare Festival.

“Theaters have been having a hard time of it,” says Perl, “but we have been expanding, growing, and paying salaries. And I can say confidently that this is the first performance of an annual Summer Shakespeare Festival.”

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs August 2 to 19, Thursdays to Sundays at 7 p.m. behind Bridgehampton School, 2685 Montauk Highway. Tickets are $20. Call 525-2995 or visit hitfest.org to reserve.

 

Gerard Doyle (as Theseus) and Licia James Zegar (Hermia) in rehearsals for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” max tabet photo