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“Infectious and Inviting” Anniversary Celebration: The Tempest

At the start of 2021, WA’s theatre goers were asked to play a hand in programming Black Swan State Theatre Company’s 30th anniversary production.

Through an online poll, audiences selected the one show from Shakespeare’s body of work which they wanted to see… and they selected The Tempest.

“The Tempest, written in 1611, is considered to be Shakespeare’s final masterpiece. It is set on a desert island inhabited by the flawed yet powerful magician Prospero, his virtuous daughter Miranda, a wild man and a magical sprite, Ariel.”

With the storm on its way, I spoke with cast members Teresa Jakovich and Charlotte Otton, to hear what’s brewing in the rehearsal room.

Cast of BSSTC’s The Tempest

Our conversations kicks off with discussion around Director Matt Edgerton’s untraditional take on the show, which sees the gender of both performer’s characters switched.

“My character is Stefano and has been renamed Stephanie. He is a big boisterous, drunk man and getting to play the female version of that has given me a lot of freedom in a play that I didn’t think I’d be allowed that.” says Charlotte.

Teresa explains how the change of her character’s gender switches interpretation of the character’s motivations.

“My character is Sebastian [now Sebastia] he originally was brother to King Alonzo, he’s supposedly ambitious and wanting to take his position. Being a sister hasn’t shifted it too much, but it means she’s a bit cynical, she usually doesn’t get the opportunity for position but on the island she now does.”

Director Matt Edgerton and Associate Director Libby Klysz of BSSTC’s The Tempest

Being three weeks into rehearsals, at the time of our chat, I ask how the process has been so far. Charlotte says rehearsals have focused on the high levels of movement in the show. “We’ve been prepping our bodies for long strenuous days and now it’s at the exciting part where it all comes together. There’s a lot built into the play that is so inviting and infectious.”

Teresa describes the movement as another unique feature of this piece. “It’s a very different process, especially for Shakespeare. It’s usually pretty traditional, where you get your roles and you just work the thing through and block it. Whereas with this we started with movement work and that will be part of the whole show.”

When I ask about any other unexpected twists, they divulge that “the lines between audience and stage will be blurred”. Teresa further explains audience members will step beyond their normal roles as spectators.   

“It’s a celebration of us sharing the piece together, rather than sitting in a dark room, lights go down and it’s ‘our’ show and then the lights go up and you leave. There’s more connection with this.”

Will O’Mahony and Charlotte Otton in BSSTC’s The Tempest

So, are Charlotte and Teresa pleased with the people’s choice of The Tempest?

“Absolutely happy with this choice! I had not actually read the tempest before this; it was his last one and I didn’t get around to it.” says Charlotte.

Teresa says she wasn’t expecting this choice. “I was actually surprised because it’s definitely not an ‘unknown’ play but it’s definitely not one of the four great tragedies, it’s not one of the bold comedies, it’s multi-genre. It’s a play that people relate to.”

As a teacher of Shakespeare’s plays, Teresa has great insight into what makes his works still resonate with people today.

“I teach a lot of Shakespeare and have around Australia for a really long time, this question comes up all the time about relevance and why his work is still there. It’s such a hard one to answer.

“I would say, Shakespeare did something at the time and he changed the game, the same way the Beetles changed music. He changed the way we see character, he let us inside the mind and inside all of the personal thoughts. I think it’s the personal thoughts which make it so special about regrets, love, jealousy and all of those that we just relate to.”

Charlotte points out how prominent Shakespeare is in our day-to-day lives. “A lot of his sayings and words are so embedded in our culture. He articulates humanity in such a beautiful, interesting and poetic way that is rarely written like today.”

Cast of BSSTC’s The Tempest

The Tempest is showing back where it all started for Black Swan at UWA’s Octagon Theatre, from Nov 20 to Dec 11. For more information and tickets, please click the button below.