Shakespeare doth take the UMKC stage next month with the theatre department’s production of “The Tempest.”
One of the last plays written by the famous playwright, it’s set on a secluded island where a group of shipwreck survivors is manipulated by a vengeful sorcerer.
“I wanted to try to make Shakespeare as accessible as possible,” says the play’s director Scott Stackhouse.
Stackhouse has taken an unconventional approach to the casting of this play. The characters in The Tempest are complex and dense. Typically, the most challenging roles would be given to staff members or hired out to professional actors. Stackhouse opts to cast the entire play from within to give students exposure to tricky roles.
“They love the challenge,” Stackhouse says. “They often love the challenge and just don’t get an opportunity to do it.”
Stackhouse also implements what he calls gender-conscious casting. Several key characters that are typically male are played by women. This is common in Shakespeare plays, but where Stackhouse deviates is the male characters have now been changed to females.
Gender swapping isn’t the only way Stackhouse adds a wrinkle to this production. The technical aspects of the show also push UMKC theater to new boundaries.
“It’s a good challenge for the design staff in terms of a magical-filled island somewhere in the Mediterranean and what all that can mean,” Stackhouse says.
The play will force the production team to work in a space they typically do not, which was a big draw for Stackhouse.
“The Tempest” is also partnering with the UMKC music and dance departments to provide the show with live music and several dancers. While this makes the show ever more complicated, it elevates the production value to a level too high to pass up.
Stackhouse is unphased by the show’s complexity.
“We’re just going to see how much magic we can create in the theater,” Stackhouse says. “You need the right play to be able to do that sort of thing.”
Stackhouse’s interest in the play goes deeper than the technical challenge. The show’s deeper themes of forgiveness and freedom strike a chord with him, and he hopes it will with the audience as well.
“If we’re going to reach out and get people to think about their own selves and lives, maybe they can let go so they can be free of some extra burden they don’t need,” says Stackhouse. “And I think in this day and age, we could probably lose a lot of that stuff.”
“The Tempest” will run March 8-17 at UMKC’s James C. Olson Performing Arts Center.