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Catch Shakespeare's "The Tempest" Outside at Thomas More

One of the best things about any summer is free, outdoor Shakespeare. Thomas More College’s Villa Players debuts its new under-the-stars Summer Shakespeare, which continues this weekend, June 16 and 17, with Bob Allen, one of the area’s favorite veteran actors, starring as Prospero in The Tempest.

The comedy/romance/drama/fantasy is a perfect play to begin with, says program director Greg Procaccino. “Shakespeare mixes love, magic and revenge and family all into one story.”

You want adventure? The Tempest begins with a shipwreck. Sorcerer Prospero has conjured a storm that brings a group of courtiers to his magic-filled island. Among them is Prospero’s brother Antonio, who has usurped his role as Duke of Milan.

Prospero may be seeking revenge on the brother who betrayed him – but what he finds by the play’s end is redemption.

Allen and director Elizabeth Harris both use the word “freedom” when they talk about performing outdoors.

“You need loads of creativity to face the problems that Mother Nature and a fixed environment can throw at you. That to me is fun,” Harris says.

“Outdoors there is a rawness about the work,” Allen adds. “There seems to be more vitality in the work and the connection to the audience is more spirited. 

“The audience can relax and enjoy the Bard's works without taking it so seriously as they often do with mammoth indoor productions. Shakespeare is less intimidating; less formal; less scary. It is a good way to test the Shakespearean waters”

What you won’t find, he says, are “lights, massive sets, pyrotechnics, or other conventions to mask the work.” On the other hand, there may be “traffic noises, planes, geese, wind, birds, sun, and rain.”

“Being outside you get what you get,” Harris agrees. “There’s only a certain amount of time before you lose light, varying weather. You have to be flexible and willing to go with it.”

Allen introduces his character to Tempest newbies: “Prospero is a man wronged by his brother at a time in his life when he has only his position, his studies and most importantly, his late in life daughter, Miranda, for solace. 

“Even as he plots to regain his dukedom, he puts her future happiness first (by bringing ashore a suitable suitor in Ferdinand even as Propsero restores Miranda’s rightful place in Milan.)”

Prospero uses and abuses spirit Ariel and monster Caliban throughout the play, Allen observes. “Although in the end he rises above his meaner instincts and forgives all, still, he shows himself to be human and subject to all that means.”

“It's a play about opportunity, love, deception, and redemption,” Harris says. “All of these characters are very human. We can see a little of ourselves, our faults as well as our nobility, in each of these characters.”

They both have some suggestions for what to bring along – starting with the bug spray of your choice and a blanket, cushion, or chair.

“Some snacks and a bottle of wine,” Harris suggests.

Allen is more practical. “Water and an umbrella - the one to keep oneself hydrated and the other to keep the sun off (or the rain, if it should happen.)”

The Tempest, 7 p.m. Continuing June 16 and 17.  Villa Players Summer Shakepeare, Thomas More College, 333 Thomas More Pkwy., Crestview Hills. The stage is in front of the chapel. Free.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts