Silent Shakespeare

Wow, so this post has been delayed and delayed and delayed…life got in the way a bit, but hopefully I will now return to at least a semblance of a normal posting schedule.

This week’s topic? A silent version of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

Silent Shakespeare, you ask? But isn’t Shakespeare known for his language, known for his words?

The answer to that is a resounding yes, but the stories behind the words are almost just as well known. A few weeks ago a friend asked my roommate and me if we’d like to go to the Synetic theater in Crystal City, right outside of DC, to see a this silent version of The Tempest.

“I saw a silent King Arthur play there, and I’ve never had such a connection to Guinevere before!”

“Oh?” I said. “That sounds cool, sure!”

“They have cheaper tickets in the splash zone,” she continued. “Is that okay with you guys? We get ponchos!”

…the SPLASH zone?

What the hell, I thought, what can it hurt to try? My roommate Katy and I agreed to go, and so a couple of weeks later we met the girls in our writing group outside the theater. I admit, I was skeptical. As much as I trusted my friend’s opinion and taste, all I could think was “Silent Shakespeare? How does that even work? And…ponchos? I’m either going to love this or hate it.”

But as we sat down in the third row and pulled on the ponchos over our nice theater clothes, I felt my curiosity growing; the set was beautiful and the stage was covered in several inches of water, as The Tempest is set on an island, and I couldn’t help but wonder exactly how they were going to utilize it to tell the story.

As an English major in college, I took two Shakespeare classes: one was a normal semester long class where we studied seven of Shakespeare’s plays, (though the Tempest wasn’t among them) and then the second was a two-week long study abroad class in England, where we saw Romeo and Juliet performed at the reconstructed Globe Theater, which was an incredible experience. I have a poster on my wall dedicated to all the phrases that originated with Shakespeare’s writing. Since living in DC I’ve seen performances of Henry VIII and Much Ado About Nothing, and both were amazing performances.

In short, I really like Shakespeare.

But as the lights dimmed and the actors came out on the stage, anticipation flooded me.

Turns out, I had no reason to be concerned I wouldn’t like this show.

Because I was electrified.

From the moment the sweeping, epic music sounded through the theater, from the moment Prospero entered the stage with baby Miranda, I was enthralled. The actors expressed so much with mere glances and actions, also using really intensive interpretive dance to help move the story along,. I watched Miranda and Caliban play across the water while happy music tinkled through the air, watched the mood grow serious as Caliban attempted to rape Miranda, felt my heart beating in my chest when Prospero punished Caliban, and felt it again with Prospero’s family arrived on the island. I even got tears in my eyes at the conclusion, when Prospero forgives his brother Alonso and places Miranda’s hand in Ferdinand’s.

And not a work was spoken.

I laughed out loud, I was moved, I cried…it was everything a theater performance should be, and I came away from it not only with a greater appreciation for Shakespeare, but with a greater appreciation for the power of storytelling in all its different forms. This was Shakespeare at perhaps its most non-traditional, but it was an incredible experience, and my friends and I plan to go back and see the rendition of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (no water this time, though)  and I’m excited to see the differences in experience, considering I’ve read Midsummer many times, whereas I had never read The Tempest.

But because this was a bit difficult to explain, I shall leave you with a video of clips from the performance!


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