“O, brave new world that has such people in’t!”
On April 7-8 and April 13-14, the Orcas Island High School “Theater as Lit” class will be performing William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” at 7:30 p.m. in the Orcas Center’s “Black Box” theater. The play is set on a remote island, where the sorcerer Prospero has a thirst for revenge that changes to forgiveness with the help and love of his daughter Miranda. Prospero’s plan involves magic and a big storm. Like last year’s “Midsummer Night’s Abduction,” the production has a modernized setting but the text is entirely Shakespeare. Director Jake Perrine has also incorporated some twists to the production. The play touches on forgiveness, control, isolation and family dynamics.
“It’s about what it means to be an adult – the rites of passage and how we behave as adults. I don’t think we give kids clear destinations for that,” said Perrine. “We’ve thrown this play on its ear.”
Perrine and high school teacher Val Hellar have led the course, which offers students a chance to explore mature themes and delve into performing. The curriculum for this year’s class has revolved around gender roles, the masks that people wear and the definition of masculinity and femininity. The students wrote and performed monologues about “a time when you felt like you needed to wear a mask.”
“It was the bravest thing I’ve ever witnessed in my career,” said Hellar.
After the success of last year’s Shakespeare production, the two decided to tackle a darker, more complex piece of his work – and the kids have jumped in with both feet. Hellar and Perrine have worked with the students on understanding the language so they can accurately portray their characters. They’ve been rehearsing only four hours a week since September, but they pack a lot into their time together.
“I am amazed at how willing the students are to be vulnerable in front of an audience,” said Hellar. “They come in afraid and unable to speak and leave wanting to find out when they can do it again.”
“The Tempest” stars Robert Hall as Prospero as well as the cast of students: Journey Howden, Margot Van Gelder, Bradley Neal, Miles Harlow, Pearl Mudd, Kai McGregor, Henry McMurray, Cyrus Amour, Phaedra Osborn, Brother Murphy, Jessie Nichols, Aiden McGregor, Cierra Lutz, Ingrid Figueroa, Alyssa Johns, Tori Sturk, Richardo De Anda, Ella Nelson, Erin White, Katarina Schiller, Aiden McGregor and Brittney Kern.
“It’s almost like a team sport. We become a family,” said Nichols, who is playing Adrian and a spirit. “I have an issue with stage fright sometimes but when I am with my friends it goes away.”
Van Gelder, who just finished performing in “Spamalot” on the Orcas Center main stage, says she is thrilled to be performing Shakespeare. She is playing Ariel.
“I love the way it’s written. The language is beautiful and it’s the star of the show,” said Van Gelder.
Having Hall in the cast has elevated the students to a new level.
“Watching a professional in action brings everyone up,” said Perrine.
Hall says the students are a “great group of kids” who are very accessible.
“They’ve bought into the process, and are doing a good job with some difficult language and surrendering to Shakespeare,” he said. “This play has thick metaphor, heavy simile and complex sentences.”
Perrine designed the set, lights, sound and costumes and Hellar is stage manager. Bethany Mooradian is running sound and Keith Light is handling the lights. Kari Van Gelder helped create the costumes.
Funding for the play and the theater as lit class comes from the Orcas Island Education Foundation. After this production, the students will participate in “Rock of Orcas,” a 1980s extravaganza directed by Grace McCune and Perrine and starring local singers and dancers.
Tickets for “The Tempest” are available at the chamber of commerce, online at oief.org/events or at the door the night of performances. Proceeds from the play will benefit OIEF. The suggested donation is $10 for adults and $5 for students.
“We are so excited about this year’s performance of ‘The Tempest.’ The creation of this wonderful partnership with Orcas Center and Jake Perrine is an amazing gift from OIEF,” said Principal Kyle Freeman. “It is a joy to watch our students take to the stage and explore an exciting and engaging form of learning. The theater as literature class has provides a wonderful opportunity for our students to grow, learn and expand their horizons.”