CREATIVE PEAKS: Shake it Up

By on July 12, 2017

Thin Air Shakespeare hearkens back to boisterous theatrics.

The Tempest characters Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo by artist Johann Heinrich Ramberg.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Back in the days of Shakespeare, going to the theater wasn’t a formal affair. Plays were staged outdoors, the audience got rowdy and the actors interacted with them from the stage.

That tradition is carried on today every summer across the country, when theater companies perform Shakespeare plays in parks.

In Jackson Hole, it takes place in the amphitheater outside the Center for the Arts. Off Square Theatre Company’s Thin Air Shakespeare brings the famous playwright’s tales to life each summer.

In its fifth year, the company is performing The Tempest, a story of magic, revenge and forgiveness set on an island where some of the characters are marooned.

The production is a dramedy, with moments of levity and also seriousness, and one of Shakespeare’s most musical plays, Natalia Macker, Off Square’s artistic director, said. It takes place on a remote island in an undefined time and there are spirits and magic in the story.

“There is an other-worldliness about the place,” Macker said.

Attending the show is free and families are encouraged to come together and bring a picnic. The outdoor venue is in the spirit of open-air Shakespeare productions across the country. The idea is to make Shakespeare accessible to everyone. In turn, the next generation is introduced to Shakespeare in a fun and relaxed atmosphere, Macker said.

Plus, there is no better place in the summer to watch a play than an outdoor venue in Jackson Hole. Indeed, “in the summer in this town people don’t want to sit inside in a dark theater,” Macker said.

The actors benefit, too. They can use their natural surroundings as part of the show and it gets the audience more involved.

People get up during the performance to refill wine glasses, kids run across the lawn and the actors, in turn, get to make it all part of the production, director Edgar Landa explained.

“They’ll interact,” Landa said. “They’ll relate. There’s no fourth wall.”

There are 16 actors in the show, about half of whom Off Square imported from Los Angeles for the production.

The company sets the stage without the aid of major stage lights and an intricate set. The natural surroundings, like the stars in the sky, the rising moon and the mountains surrounding the valley all become part of the set and the story, Landa said.

“We have to create the magic with the words,” he said. “It’s a difference between an LP and a CD. We’re analog and that’s wonderful and that forces us to think how we create a story without fancy lights.”

Instead the scene is set with a soundscape created by a composer, along with simple effects that transports the audience to the island.

Landa, who has directed previous Thin Air Shakespeare productions, hadn’t directed The Tempest before. He was drawn to the play’s theme of redemption, something everyone can relate to and think about in their own lives, he said.

“Even when we have great injustice done to us, we can still find the ability to forgive in some way,” he said.

But he also explored the darker threads of the story, including the indentured servitude of a magical spirit, Ariel, (Jeff Bratz), and the enslavement of Caliban (Minerva Garcia). It was Caliban’s island and initially he had a mutually beneficial relationship with those that arrived, Landa said. But that goes awry and he ends up enslaved. He’s called a monster in the show and in some productions portrayed as one.

“For me, I don’t think he’s a monster,” Landa said. “He’s absolutely human and why he’s called a monster—it’s all perception.”

The show takes twists and turns, but even with the magic thrown in, Landa said he thinks people will find something relatable in the storyline.

It is a production for all ages. People are encouraged to bring chairs, food and something to drink during the show. Landa hopes watching the play will remind people how poignant Shakespeare’s work can be.

“I want people to go home and maybe think about reading a Shakespeare play,” Landa said. PJH

Off Square Theatre Company’s Thin Air Shakespeare presents The Tempest, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Center for the Arts’ amphitheater, free.

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