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Music, magic and dance make for accessible ‘The Tempest’

Colette Greenstein | 5/14/2014, 12:59 p.m.
The version of William Shakespeare’s "The Tempest" playing now at the American Repertory Theater fuses an extraordinary and colorful world ...
“The Tempest,” an adaptation by Aaron Posner and legendary magician Teller, is now playing at the American Repertory Theater. The play features music by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan.

The version of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” playing now at the American Repertory Theater fuses an extraordinary and colorful world filled with music, magic and dance from playwright and director Aaron Posner and Teller of the legendary magic duo Penn & Teller. “The Tempest” tells the story of Prospero, played by Broadway actor Tom Nellis, an exiled duke and magician, who, after years of living with his daughter Miranda, played by Charlotte Graham, on a magical island must unexpectedly confront the people who wronged him in the past.

Adapted and directed by Aaron Posner with magic by Teller and music by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, this production has been a labor of love for both men. Posner and Teller have not only strived to bring Shakespeare’s words to life but have also worked on making the words and vision of William Shakespeare accessible to everyone through the elements of magic, dance and song.

“If I’m evangelical about anything in the world it is the accessibility of Shakespeare, and the fact that he can speak to everyone,” Posner says. “Accessibility goes deep for both of us.

“And we’ve had some fabulous responses of people saying, ‘I’ve never seen a Shakespeare play before and I love this,’” he added. (Prior to coming to the ART, the production had a limited run in Las Vegas in April.)

Posner and Teller first met when Teller saw a production of “The Tempest” 21 years ago in 1993. The two united on a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 1998, where Teller did some magic for the play. A decade later the two reunited or as Posner said “it was a full-on collaboration” on a production of “Macbeth” in 2008.

According to Posner, their conversation of ‘The Tempest’ has been going on for a while and the significant conversation about ‘The Tempest’ has been going on for about five years. The two have had numerous meetings and workshops and conversations in discussing how they would bring their version of “The Tempest” to life.

“Teller and I have read the play to each other a couple of times as we went through cutting it and discussing where the magic goes and where the music goes. It’s been a labor of love but a tremendous amount of work to bring it to fruition,” Posner said.

When asked about what excited him about bringing “The Tempest” to the ART, Posner says, “I think it will be helpfully fabulous for Shakespeare scholars and for people who love Shakespeare and are seeing their fifth Tempest to compare it to the others. It’s also completely available for people who’ve never seen a Shakespeare play before. For people who are coming because they’re fans of magic, or they’re Tom Waits fans, or they’ve seen Pilobolus or they love dance.”

In addition to the haunting and spare music by legendary singer/songwriter Waits and his writing partner and wife, Brennan, another element that makes this production so unique is the movement of the characters. They’ve been brought to life through the choreography of Matt Kent of the famed and internationally renowned American Dance Company, Pilobolus. Pilobolus performances are characterized by a strong element of physical interaction between the bodies of the performers and exaggerations or contortions of the human body requiring extreme strength, flexibility and athleticism, often blurring the lines between individual performers.