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"The Tempest" at Hartford Stage. (Photo by T Charles Erickson)

Production Notebook: ‘The Tempest’ at Hartford Stage

Shakespeare’s text itself inspired much of the design.

Darko Tresnjak, DIRECTION: The title of The Tempest could refer to the text itself—which is lively, torrential, convulsive and wildly contradictory from moment to moment. So the idea of making Shakespeare’s words dance in space—by covering the set and the performers’ costumes with them (above)—made sense. As the audience came in, there was a woman, played by Jane Cracovaner, asleep on the stage with tons of fabric billowing around her. When the show began, she walked downstage on a turntable and the other actors manipulated the dress, turning it into a ship (below). Above her is an aerialist who played the sailor caught in the wind. I saw Martha Graham’s Lamentation when I was just 18 years old, and the woman in that piece wore a stretch jersey dress. That was when I came up with the idea of the woman’s dress becoming a boat, and it only took me 28 years to put it on stage!

Alexander Dodge, SET DESIGN: The Tempest was performed on a single set with a few pieces that flew in and out of a big oval upstage. The text on the set and costumes is basically a sampling of lines from the first three pages of the play. We used a hand script, so every capital letter P didn’t look like every other capital letter P. The tablecloth (for the banquet table that you can’t see here), larger scenery fabric and the set itself were painted by hand. It wasn’t quite as torturous as it might seem. I had a stencil, and was lucky to have very good set painters at Hartford Stage.

“The Tempest” at Hartford Stage. (Photo by T Charles Erickson)

Fabio Toblini, COSTUME DESIGN: Darko’s concept was to have the set and costumes on the island match like camouflage using Shakespeare’s text. Alex came up with the colors and the font for the set, and I used those specifications to have digitally printed fabrics that we then used to make the costumes for the magical beings on the island (top image). I tried to design shapes that would be inspired by classical Greece but not rooted in any particular history. For the shipwrecked people (directly above), we decided to go with the Regency period. The style of menswear then was very self-conscious and tight fitting, with a lot of arrogance built in. To support the ship, we needed some kind of structure on Jane’s body. She is wearing a corset with strong, unsightly straps that the actors used to hold her during the storm. We decorated the corset with three-dimensional elements to conceal them. Not exactly a comfortable costume!

Shakespeare’s The Tempest ran May 10–June 10 at Connecticut’s Hartford Stage, under Darko Tresnjak’s direction. The production featured set design by Alexander Dodge, costume design by Fabio Toblini, lighting design by Michael Chybowski, sound design and original music by David Budries and Nathan A. Roberts, voice coaching by Claudia Hill-Sparks, dance and aerial consultation by Joshua Dean, and fight choreography by Craig Handel.

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