The Rehearsal/The Tempest


The Tempest / The Rehearsal (2015)  is a work in three parts. The first was a performance in which a group of actors who were invited to rehearse Act III Scene One and Act IV of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the second a video depicting this experience, and the third a script, a transcription of the video that mirrors its installation form.

Actors were instructed to devise a performance of the section of Shakespeare’s The Tempest on a beach. Engaging with that setting and using a set of props provided to them. The rehearsal experience lasted several hours and the potential performance that was devised by the 10 actors will never be performed. The process of the rehearsal becomes the narrative content of the play. Reference to the Shakespearian original is juxtaposed against the suggestions for a potential adaptation.

The narrative of the video departs from traditional narrative trajectory. Instead of the development and resolution of a major conflict there are instead a series of minor fluctuations of excitement within a more delayed plot development, with no resolution. The actors re- engage with the same section of script. Each time more details of Shakespearian text are revealed, as are subtle details of the infrastructure engaging in its appropriation. Furthermore the actors’ personalities and the connections between individuals within the group subtly emerge in the new works. The presence of pomegranates in the set provokes a series of departures from the script and provides a point for the unification of all individuals involved in the rehearsal; the pomegranate becoming a reoccurring symbol in the new play. Reference to Shakespeare’s original and the actors continuing commentary on their direct experience are balanced with a focus on the propositions for a new performance in the video and script.

A tension between potential and actual, and concealment and revaluation develops within the entire work. Actors were given limited information on the play, and 12 pages from the middle of the original play. No outline for how the final product could be was provided. The references made to the play reveal information about The Tempest but scenes were decontextualized and thus explanations behind the events presented are concealed. Throughout the video there are suggestions for what the play could be but the play is never formally realised as a piece of on stage theatre.

Whenever a text is appropriated the individuals involved engage in a process of negotiation. This notion is exaggerated in the video, and the narrative is of a process of negotiating another text. The actors must work collaboratively drawing in a range of experiences and individuals into the context of a shared experience. This negotiation allows for subtle aspects of the original text and the production infrastructure to be explicitly revealed. The whole system that enables a theatrical outcome to be produced becomes the subject of a new history – in a traditional context of theatre this is what remains behind the scenes.

The situation that manifests ‘Behind the Scenes’ is what frames this appropriation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest – within this, the actor’s craft and the actor’s ability to engage a process of identity transformation comes into focus. In the video the ten actors are in the process of embodying characters, but they are also individuals who bring their own characteristics to the mix. Represented in video and the written script they become characters in their own right. They are not themselves, or Shakespeare’s characters: they are characters that are caught in a process of transition between two individuals, one fictional, and one

with their own embodied experiences and personalities. The complication of character is intensified within the written scripts. Actors are characters of the same names, voicing dialogue designed for a constructed individual.

A multifaceted construction of character manifests within the context of this work. Each person in the video presents three selves: the original person, the scripted character, and the individual transitioning between the two. No identity is conclusive.

The experience suggests that people have an instinctive need to bind narratives to beginnings and ends. Actors were given a section of script from the middle Shakespeare’s play, and despite this, rehearsed and planned it as an entirety. They devised a tableau for audiences to encounter at the beginning of a performance, rather than for transitioning between scenes, they marry a couple despite that not being part of the play, and Prospero takes his revenge on Caliban and his confederates. If one sat through the video without prior knowledge of the original one might think that to be the totality of the play.

If the video departs from the narrative convention of totality, then the spiral bound script with no front or back goes one step further, rejecting it completely. There is no linear progression, no beginning and no end. The performance can loop indefinitely. It is cyclical. This offers a degree of freedom to performers engaging with the work, as they can choose when to begin or end, or to choose whatever micro-narratives from the whole to be included in their adaptation and in what order to do so.

The recontextualization of theatrical form allows for a dialogue surrounding it to develop. It’s not just ‘behind the scenes’ becoming content; these works allow for the richness of this phenomenon that occur within this space to be brought into critical focus.


-Sophie Durand 2015