The Tempest: Stage Set

The Tempest: Stage Set – Pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache – 8 x 10 inches.

The Tempest begins with a storm that will wreck a ship and deliver its passengers into the hands of a vengeful magician, who wants to harm them. This drawing from my sketchbook shows the stage of the outdoor Elizabethan Theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland before a recent evening performance.

In a few minutes darkness will fall and the sound system will shock the audience with deafening blasts of thunder and flashes of lightning. Crew members of the ship will scramble over the stage trying to trim the sails, represented by the three triangular shapes. We have no doubt that the ship is doomed. Mother Nature helps too: rain falls steadily and I have to stop drawing because the paper gets wet.

Most of the audience has prepared for the storm with ponchos, umbrellas and raincoats. But the temperature is 41 and the rain is relentless. The actors suffer the most, especially the four who, as part of the play, have been enchanted by a magic spell and have to pretend that they are asleep in the puddles on the stage.

At intermission, stagehands emerge to swab off the stage. Rain still falls and many in the audience head for the exits. Connie and I want to stay for the rest of the performance, but we’re soaked and miserable. So we stagger up the street to our B&B, quaking with the shivers as if we had palsy.

The sketch is not a product, like Shakespeare’s play. It’s more like a rehearsal, a process of paying attention. Days later, I added ink and colors, like layers of memory. We didn’t get to see the entire Tempest, but now, how can we ever forget it?

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