Part 5: “The Tempest: Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on”: ‘Checkmate’ by Caroline Brent

You have heard from The Tempest: Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on’s director, designers, board members, artistic directors…but what about the actors? This cast has had their work cut out for them: on top of lines, blocking, character development, every member of this cast has had to gain a working knowledge of chess and Freudian dream theory. In addition to this, they are performing on a very unconventional stage, with a chessboard floor and three surrounding projection screens with which they interact. These actors have risen to the occasion with aplomb, and we couldn’t be more excited for audiences to see all of their hard work!

Trinculo (Thony Mena) finds Caliban (John Stange) on the island. Photo courtesy of Pallas Theatre Collective.

I sat down with Julia Sears, who plays Prospero, to talk about the ins-and-outs of this production.

Caroline: So you are playing a very different Prospero than audiences are probably used to.

Julia Sears: Very correct. Telling the story from Antonio’s point of view [learn more about this in part 2!] turns Prospero into the antagonist, rather than the protagonist. Also, the character is usually played by a much older male, which I am…not.

How does flipping the perspective and gender change Prospero?

The archetype changes drastically – Tracey has created a world where Prospero is not an old man who has lost touch with what it means to be a ruler (a fairly sympathetic role), but instead she is a young woman who feels entitled to her freedom, her power, and her intelligence – things that may threaten people if she were in a position of power. What is interesting about Prospero is that while she doesn’t have a lot of power (there are only three other people on the island, after all), she is incredibly empowered, and that is what Antonio fears – her knowledge and cunning. This new perspective turns Prospero into a very dynamic, very fascinating political character.

But it should be noted that the original text has gone unchanged.

What is so captivating and magical about Shakespeare is that perspective can change the entire meaning behind a moment on stage. For example, Prospero has this beautiful speech near the end of the play where she gets rid of her staff and book, her sources of magic. From the original perspective, it’s this moment of humility and reflection for the character. In our version, it’s a moment of victory for Prospero – she knows she can lay down her magic and still win the game against Antonio; she knows she doesn’t need it.

Tracey has mentioned that every character is a chess piece and moves accordingly for the majority of the show. Which one are you?

Prospero is a king piece, which only moves one square at a time, but in any direction. I think the chess concept suits Prospero very well, as she is such a calculating and strategic character. It’s been interesting to see how certain moves correspond with characters; Ariel, for example, is a knight and moves in “L” shapes, which fits with his mischievous and magical persona. The chess game gives the whole world a sort of baseline, and it allows the characters to be more heightened and defined, which suits the dream environment incredibly well.

-Prospero (Julia Sears) and Miranda (Kelsey Meiklejohn). Photo courtesy of Pallas Theatre Collective.

There are a vast number of rules in chess, and they govern the whole play. How as an actor do take all of that into account and still play a convincing character?

Sometimes having those sorts of restrictions helps you to fill up your character’s physical life in new ways; you find new ideas that you would never think about without the rules of the chessboard. When you have such a specific set of rules, you have to be more creative to do what you might have done in a more naturalistic setting. For example, in those tender moments between Prospero and her daughter Miranda, I cannot simply walk across the stage to her – I have to use my voice and body according to the rules and still try and have the same moment with Miranda. You have to work much harder, but I think that the choices you eventually discover are more valuable.
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We are entering tech rehearsals for The Tempest: Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on this weekend – it will be wonderful to see all of this magic come together. Hope you’ll come join us next week for the best game of chess you will ever see!

The Tempest plays January 10th – 13th, 17th, 19th, 20th, 24th, 26th, and 27th at 7:30pm at Pallas Theatre Collective at Warner Memorial Presbyterian Church - 10123 Connecticut Avenue, in Kensington, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

LINKS:
Part One of The Tempest: Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on: Meet Pallas Theatre Collective, by Michael Boynton.

Part Two of The Tempest: Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on: Views from the Chessboard, by Tracey Elaine Chessum, Ph.D.

Part Three of The Tempest: Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on: From The Boardroom, by John Horman.

Part Four of The Tempest: Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on: Chessboards & Sea-faring’ by Tracey Elaine Chessum, Ph.D.

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