As I did last summer with my director’s note for Can You Believe? at the Fringe and with my PhD proposal, I’m using this space as a place to put some ideas forth to the cosmos on my next project: an adaptation of The Tempest that my team and I have titled Set Me Free (should that be italicized? It feels kind of pretentious to italicize my own title–especially when our adaptation hasn’t been published!).
We’ve nicked our (italicized or otherwise) title from the final lines of the The Tempest‘s Epilogue, which is spoken by Prospero: ‘As you from crimes would pardoned be, / Let your indulgence set me free’. Interestingly, we’ve cut these lines along with the rest of the Epilogue for our version; in fact, we’ve cut about 66% of the Folio text so far, and we intend to cut 90% by the end of our rehearsal process. Set Me Free is essentially an experiment in doing a Shakespeare play without most of Shakespeare’s poetry. It’s the same basic concept as a ballet, in some senses, because we’re replacing poetry with movement and music. But it’s not a ballet; we’re pulling movement influences from a huge range of sources, including but not limited to Viewpoints, modern dance, Laban, contact improv, classical ballet, stage combat, and yoga. Yeah. And we’re using an original score (which sounds brilliant so far, by the way!). Oh, and it’s all grounded in the basic principles of devised theatre, even though it’s not technically devising because we have a script. I’m the director, but I’m not choreographing anything ahead of time. I have ideas; I have images; but the actual movement patterns will come from collaboration in rehearsal. Before you ask, we have roughly twelve hours per week for five weeks, or about sixty hours total, in which to go from 10% of Shakespeare’s play on paper and a rough draft of a score to a fully realized piece of theatre. No, I don’t really see how it could go wrong.
Actually, I think it will either be a smashing success or a complete and total flop. It’s a huge risk, which all theatre should be, really.
The bit that’s concerning me tonight (but totally not keeping me up or anything…) is the sound. As I said, the score sounds amazing so far; our composer Marcus has done some incredible stuff in a relatively short amount of time. But there’s a potentially dangerous element to our recorded sound for this piece: the lines. ALL sound, including spoken lines of text and the various songs written into the play, will be recorded ahead of time. Absolutely everything will be on a single track, meaning our sound operator gets one “Go” at the top of the show and that’s it.
Now, this has some huge advantages.On a totally practical level, our running time can’t help but be incredibly consistent. For another, we can play around with voices and sounds in a way that wouldn’t be possible with live sound; Ariel’s voice, for example, could potentially be made up of four separate voices put together. And the cast can have multiple takes of the same section of text. They also don’t have to learn the lines in a traditional sense, so they have more brain-space to devote to the movement work.
But there are some potential traps as well. I have no idea how I would react to performing with my own recorded voice as my soundtrack–or how I would handle reacting ‘in character’ to a live actor whose voice is coming solely through the sound system. We’ve also got potential issues cropping up in terms of gender and identity and probably other things too: our Antonio is played by a female actor, but the character will remain male. With recorded sound, we can have a man record Antonio’s lines…but what are the implications of that?! And (perhaps more importantly) will anyone notice or care?