‘Yolanda’ survival stories meet ‘The Bard’s’ classic text
There are few things in common between The Tempest, reportedly William Shakespeare’s final solo work, and the stories that came out of Leyte in the aftermath of the deadly tropical cyclone Haiyan.
One is a story about a deposed Duke and sorcerer of Milan, stuck in an island with his daughter, dreaming of revenge and justice, conjured in the mind of the legendary bard more than 400 years ago. The other is a story of tragedy and survival, and finding the strength to move on after a storm claimed more than 6,000 lives in 2013.
One story has a definite ending but remains relevant through the centuries. The other continues to unfold as the country and the rest of the world adjusts to extreme climate situations.
There are a few things in common between Shakespeare’s play and Haiyan’s real life drama, but these stories echo and intersect with each other in the Philippines Educational Theater Association’s (PETA) latest presentation, The Tempest Reimagined.
The Tempest Reimagined is the product of international collaboration between artists from the Philippines, the UK, and Japan through PETA, the British Council, theRoyal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) as well as Japan Foundation.
RADA’s artistic director, Nona Sheppard, directs the production while designer Marsha Roddy takes the helm on the set and costume design. The two have come a long way, collaborating on many shows in London, Los Angeles, New York, and Hong Kong. Lights designer Tsuguo Izumi oversees stagecraft for the production.
“PETA got in touch with RADA 3 years ago, asking if we could do acting workshops,” Sheppard revealed.
With the help of the British Council, RADA agreed and flew actor-trainer Sheppard, a vocal coach, and a choreographer to the Philippines for a 6-day workshop on musical theater. In the workshop, some actors asked Sheppard to discuss Shakespeare and text analysis. “The thing about Shakespeare is you shouldn’t be scared of him. He wrote his plays as normal people talking to each other, it just so happens to be in an unfamiliar language now. But even if you play to an audience that doesn’t understand every word, they should understand what you’re saying because your intention as an actress is so clear.”
During Sheppard’s acting workshop, PETA encouraged her to come back and hold a Shakespeare workshop the following year.
At that time, PETA had actors and theater workers on the ground in Tacloban, Leyte through a program called Lingap Sining. The aim was to collaborate with local artists through the Palo Cultural Arts Association (PCAO) and teach community Disaster Risk Reduction Management (DRRM) through a cultural campaign.
PETA invited Sheppard to go to Leyte to hear the survivors’ stories. When Sheppard returned to London, she brought these stories with her along with PETA’s invitation to direct a Shakespearean production. After all, what better way to tell the stories of Haiyan survivors on the 400th death anniversary of The Bard than through The Tempest?
“We’ve got to create a world in which both stories can happen at the same time,” said Sheppard. “There’s the drama of the storm. There’s humor. There’s the story of the royal family, but also the story of survivors. I invented a character based on a real person in Tacloban who told us stories: Jaime, a fisherman, who is a sort of audience representative. But in the end, we give a hopeful note.”
Writer Liza Magtoto, of Rak of Aegis and Care Diva, worked alongside Sheppard in translating and fine-tuning parts of the script. “Not only did we have to present the survivors’ stories but to take in the theme of disaster risk reduction, which sounded more like material for a pamphlet than a dramatic one. That was part of the challenge: how to be theatrical and less didactic without losing that message and the Shakespeare.”
From director, writer, designer, to lead actress, The Tempest Reimagined is shaped by strong women.
“Shakespeare has like 2 women and 79 men in every show,” Sheppard jested.
“In this show, I tried to make it very equal. In the script, the royal family is mainly men. There’s the king, his son, his brother, and Gonzalo, his adviser. Here, there’s a queen, her sister, her son and adviser. That’s an equal thing too. There’s CB playing Prospero and the sorcerer’s daughter Miranda. I think that’s very important. I’m very conscious of making sure women have an equal voice in theater. You always want to try to get more women into it,” the director ended.
Catch ‘The Tempest Reimagined’ from November 11 to December 4, Wednesday to Sundays with 10 a.m., 3 p.m., and 8 p.m. shows at the PETA Theater Center. For tickets and reservations, visit ticketworld.com.ph or call 891 9999.