Saturday, April 19, 2014

What Dreams Are Made On.....Teller's Tempest

"We are the stuff that dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep."
- Prospero, The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Photo by The Smith Center/Geri Kodey
"One morning in the late 1970's I woke from a dream in which I was Prospero, the great magician of The Tempest. As Prospero I was fighting "mine enemies" not by stabbing them with a sword, but by driving them mad with illusions." - Teller 

The Tempest brought to life in this way has been a fantasy of Teller's for thirty years. What a lovely gift this magician has given to our magical bring his dream to life for the first time and to do so inside a tent at The Smith Center's Symphony Park in downtown Las Vegas. Leave it to Teller to stage the show in this way, with magic, illusions and music so that it may be experienced as it never has before. The mission of The Smith Center, is "to build and establish a high quality performing arts center supporting artistic excellence, education and inspiration for all." So this is a dream realized by The Smith Center in that this type of production not only takes place, but originates here. The Smith Center has done so much for Las Vegas, by creating options that never existed before and helping to spread awareness that Las Vegas, a town of musicians, actors, dancers, artists, visionaries and more is a city brimming with culture.

The production will move on to Cambridge next month to Harvard's Loeb Drama Center, then perhaps eventually Broadway. The other major player making Teller's dream a reality is his Co-Director Aaron Posner, with whom he staged a production of Macbeth in 2008.

The other night when I entered the tent what struck me first was the smell and feel of dried grass under my feet.  As I rounded the corner from behind the bleachers and saw the stage, I had a flash of what it must have felt like to see a play at the Old Globe Theatre back in Shakespeare's day. Then, upon hearing the song..."Everything You Can Think of is True," I felt infused with the coming magic already.

The stage of The Tempest....Photo The Smith Center/Geri Kodey

Photo by The Smith Center/Geri Kodey

Our story starts with a tempest...a violent and windy storm.

Prospero, the main character, creates this tempest to trap his deceitful enemies, one of whom is his own brother, Alonso. 

Prospero, having been sent adrift 12 years before in an unworthy sea vessel with his 3 year old daughter, so that Alonso could steal his title as Duke of Milan, now seizes his chance for vengeance. As expected his brother and his posse have not changed a bit. Prospero, a magician, has a few tricks up his sleeve. The enemies are in Prospero's territory now and instead of violence he enacts his revenge with disturbing and bizarre illusions.  After this, the island and its inhabitants are truly in a whirlwind surrounded by trickery and vengeance, never sure what is real and what is not, and so are you, fair audience. The equally important focus of the story is on Prospero's love for his daughter Miranda.  She has no memory of life with anyone other than her father and a few unusual island inhabitants, until the strangers arrive.

The cast is made up of members of the Harvard affiliated Actors Repertory Theatre, (A.R.T.) and the dance company Pilobolus. Incorporating Teller's magic into this production was a unique part of the actors' roles, and they did it beautifully. Although I have studied and performed Shakespeare I have not seen The Tempest before, so this was truly special for me.

The music and lyrics of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan combined with the bluesy and other worldly sound of the spirit band Rough Magic, lends a dreamy and introspective background to the experience. Songs such as "You're Innocent When you Dream," and "Shiny Things," and the lead singers, Miche Braden and Shaina Taub, are wonderful. Their voices together are seductive, haunting and oddly comforting. Tom Waits' music completely transports the audience to the strange world that the cast and crew of The Tempest have so skillfully created.

"Everything we do with the magic serves the story." - Aaron Posner

Cast...Photo by The Smith Center/Geri Kodey
What the integrated magic does is match the audience's experience to the characters in the sense that we are never sure when we are going to see something odd or amazing, including characters emerging from house left and right.

I found it interesting that the two Shakespeare plays Teller has chosen to bring to the stage are also the two that deal most with the use and abuse of the powers of magic and the spirits. Teller's lifetime of experience with magic gives him a perspective of these works that few have.

"My main goal with this show is to make it entertaining.... and as understandable as 
the one that Shakespeare wrote and to take out all the obstacles that people 
normally have to enjoying and understanding Shakespeare." - Teller

Shakespeare wrote The Tempest after having written about humanity, greed, power, love and so much more, for decades. Most experts say it was the last play he ever wrote entirely by himself. I like to think perhaps with The Tempest he was writing about the most enduring human emotion of all, love, and that is what to look for in the midst of the "tempest" that is all of our lives.
"We are the stuff that dreams are made on and our little life is rounded by a sleep."
William Shakespeare was born on April 23 and died on his birthday, 52 years later.

The Tempest, April 1-27 at The Smith Center in Las

The Tempest Team...

Some of the text and credits below are excerpts from

Director and adaptor Teller, (yes that's his legal name), has been part of the internationally renowned comedy act, Penn & Teller, for almost 40 years. Together they have covered every end of the entertainment spectrum, including theatre, on and off Broadway, North America and Britain. They have for quite some time, held the record of the longest-running headline act at The Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

Penn & Teller have written and starred in several television productions such as the Emmy-nominated Showtime series “Penn & Teller: Bullshit!;” “Penn & Teller Tell a Lie” on Discovery; “Penn & Teller’s Sincity Spectacular” on FX and much more. Teller has written for The Atlantic Monthly, Smithsonian, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, to name a few. He is also a frequent contributor to All Things Considered on NPR. Teller co-directed the performance film Tim’s Vermeer, a feature documentary film, which will be released in theaters internationally in 2014 by Sony Picture Classics.

Director and adaptor Aaron Posner is a Helen Hayes and Barrymore Award-winning playwright and director. His adaptations include Macbeth (with Teller, from Shakespeare), Who Am I This Time? plus several more. He is a founder and former Artistic Director of Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre and has directed at major regional theaters from coast to coast. Aaron is an artistic associate at Milwaukee Rep and the Folger Theatre in Washington, DC (where his recent production of Romeo and Juliet received rave reviews). "Las Vegas is the perfect place for the combination of Shakespeare, Teller's magic, Tom Waits' popular music and the fabulous movement of Pilobolus, all serving a really great piece of literature, a really great story. I just think that's a combination that you just don't see just anywhere." - Aaron Posner

Founded in 1971, Pilobolus has built its fervent and ever-expanding international following by proving the human body to be the most expressive, universal, and magical of media. Pilobolus maintains its own singular style. Pilobolus' core mission is to make art that builds community. Choreographer Matt Kent is the Associate Artistic Director of Pilobolus and has worked with the company since 1996 as a dancer, collaborator, creative director, choreographer, and associate artistic director.

American Repertory Theater, The A.R.T. at Harvard University is a leading force in the American theater, producing groundbreaking work in Cambridge and beyond. The A.R.T. seeks to expand the boundaries of theater by programming events that immerse audiences in transformative theatrical experiences. (Excerpt from The Tempest program).

Tom Waits is an American singer-songwriter, composer, and actor with a distinctive voice, musical style and unique persona.  Kathleen Brennan is an American musician, songwriter, record producer and artist.

Tom Nelis, Prospero
Charlotte Graham, Miranda
Nate Dendy, Ariel
Zachary Eisenstat & Manelich Minniefee, Caliban
Louis Buteli, Antonio
Dawn Didawick, Gonzala
Christopher Donahue, Alonso
Joby Earle, Ferdinand
Edmund Lewis, Sebastian
Eric Hissom, Stephano
Jonathan M. Kim, Trinculo
Rough Magic, A Spirit Band, Miche Braden, Michael Brun, Shaina Taub, Nate Tucker

Understudies...Amber Bonasso, Gonzala, Sam Cordes, Ferdinand, Stephano, Madison Kisst, Miranda, Jeff Lafferty, Sebastian/Master, Darek Riley, Antonio/Alonso, Christopher Rose, Ariel, Bernard Verhoeven, Minion/Boatswain/Trinuculo

More of the Architects and Builders of the Magic that is The Tempest...
Daniel Conway, Scenic Design, Paloma Young, Costume Design
Christopher Akerlind, Lighting Design, Darren L. West, Sound Design
Johnny Thompson, Magic Design, Thom Rubino, Magic Engineering and Construction
Kenny Wollesen, Instrument Designer, Duncan Stewart and Benton Whitley, Casting
Katie Ailinger, Stage Manager, Allegra Libonati, Associate Director
Erin Guernsey, Asst. Stage Manager, The Smith Center Las Vegas
Taylor Adamik, Asst. Stage Manager, A.R.T., Magdalene Ellsworth, Assistant Director
Andrew Cohen, Assoc. Set Designer, Paige Hathaway, Joshua Madsen, Assistant Set Designers
Katherine Nowacki, Assoc. Costume Designer, Brian Jones, Assoc. Lighting Designer
Charles Coes, Assoc. Sound Designer, Christopher Rose, Magic Technician
Derek Wiles, Master Electrician, Vinny Giordano, Proper Acquisition - The Smith Center
Lynetta Welch, Special Magic Seamstress, Morgan Goldstein, A.R.T. Production Dramaturg
Jeremy Sortore, Voice Coach, Katherine Davis, Crystal Murphy, Production Assistants,
Justin Lex, Smith Center Tech Liaison, Ruth Lichtman, Producing Intern

A.R.T. Season Support, Harvard University, DigBoston,

The Smith Center Support, Land Rover Las Vegas...additionally Ceasar's Entertainment, Wirtz Beverage Nevada, Popped, and Plops Cakeballs.

Production Support, Zita Ezpeleta and Kewsong Lee, Sarah Hancock, Alan Jones and Ashley Garrett

All photos courtesy of The Smith Center/Geri Kodey 

Special Thanks: William B. Collins, Beth Emelson, Janet Griffin, T. Gene Hatcher, Tony Hsieh, Penn, Emily, Moxie, & Zolten Jilette, Gabriel Lyster, Barabara Mowat, Michele Osherow, Miasie Ann Posner, Angel Sugg, Pam Thompson, UNLV, Erin Weaver, Judi Williams.
From the Penn & Teller office: Glenn Alai, Steven Doctors, Laura Foley, Nate Santucci, Ezekiel Zabrowski, The Rio All-Suites Hotel and Ceasar's Entertainment for hosting The Tempest workshop at the Penn & Teller Theater. The actors who participated in the developmental workshops for The Tempest: Tommy Derrah, Brittany Duff, Alexander Hernandez, Ted Hewlett, Carol Kane, Nathan Keepers, John Kuntz, Patrick Page, Mindy Woodhead and Henry Woronicz.

Unions: AEA, USA-829 IATSE, and the stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

Some of the text and credits above are an excerpt from

Teller talks about the Las Vegas production of The Tempest, Video by The Smith Center/Paul Alvarez Link

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, (1978 edition)
Shakespeare and the Invention of the Human, Harold Bloom, 1998

Anna Wendt Copyright 2014

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