Brave New World
Staging "The Tempest" at the Isles of Shoals is no mean task

The location of that "uninhabited Island" Shakespeare imagined when he wrote "The Tempest" almost 400 years ago has been the subject of much debate. Still, it seems safe to say that what he had in mind wasn't 95 acres of wind-swept rock with a marine laboratory, historic gardens and a Web site.

Enter Jessica Bolker, bearing a vision. The UNH associate professor of zoology and former theater techie had read "The Tempest" but had never seen it on the stage. As associate director of the Shoals Marine Laboratory, operated jointly by Cornell and UNH, Bolker works on Appledore Island, the largest of the nine Isles of Shoals. Appledore, she thought, would be perfect.

At a potluck last fall, she approached David Richman, a Shakespearean scholar with the UNH theater and dance department. What did he think?

Almost as fast as "tricksy spirit" Ariel turns invisible, Richman made up his mind. The answer was yes. Shakespeare was bound for the Isles of Shoals.

David Kaye, who teaches acting, directing and playwriting in UNH's theater and dance department, agreed to direct. He too recognized the potential for spellbinding theater. "How many chances do you get to do 'The Tempest' on an island?" he asked. Still, for all its stark beauty, Appledore is not exactly hospitable, Kaye noted. Not much fresh water. Thin topsoil. Lots of poison ivy. Exactly where and when would they stage the play? How much would it cost to break even? How close would the audience have to sit to the island's generators? To tent or not to tent? What if a real tempest blew in at showtime? And, oh, yes: who would be in it?

Kaye and Richman designed "Shakespeare and Environmental Theater," a special summer course they would team-teach, to find out.

Twelve students signed up. It took three days in May to read through the play once as a group: Kaye and Richman wanted the ensemble to see and hear literally every syllable, considering nuance through an organic lens that would eventually need to include not only the "charms" and "brine pits" that Caliban, the play's local monster, describes, but also what they'd discover on Appledore.

One discovery was nesting Greater black-backed gulls so vocal and territorial they prevented Kaye from scoping out site possibilities and drove one actor to pop in ear-plugs in order to get a full night's sleep between rehearsals.

For Richman, who would play Prospero, every sound and line of a play is charged. Blind since birth, he reads scripts in Braille, and the role of Prospero, the revenge-nursing magician, is one he'd been hoping to play all his life. He carried a sumac branch found on the island as his staff, to accompany what Richman called Prospero's "difficult and painful and moral ascent" from fury to forgiveness.

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