The Tempest and Other Events                                                                                                                                                                                               Penny Hes Yassour

Lecture for the Conference Seeing the Sounds 25.5.2010

In this lecture, I will talk about the stage installation that I created for Shakespeare’s The Tempest, at the Freiberg Theatre in Germany, in 2009.  It was directed by Jarg Pataki and was collaboration among the Theater actors, the Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Opera singers. The music for The Tempest, was composed by Jan Sibelius, in 1925, for the theater in Copenhagen. I approached the theater’s stage, as a site for an Art Installation, as an “event environment” for the play to take place. This is the same attitude I apply to my Art-Work Installations, in Art Spaces.

As an artist, I'm enquiring the relationships, between the work of art, the viewer and the space, to create a work for the theatrical stage, presented several challenges. The idea was to present the visual and other theatrical elements of acting and music, as parallel events, which were conceived separately, but not detached from mutual inspiration, and were associated as if in a collage.  Among the many subjects in the play, Shakespeare explores the nature of illusion and art, especially theatrical art. He questions the power of art, to influence real life, through transformation, and evokes the tension, between the isolated, self-absorbed artist and his involvement and commitment to the community. These two subjects, were my main references, while developing my ideas, first in a model and later on, when I was directly involved in the production of the set.

The principal arrangement of the setting for the play, supported the concept, of experiencing two different kinds of spaces simultaneously: an illusory space, and a concrete one. The Orchestra, sat on the main stage of the Theater, covered by a Net, positioned above it, in a three-dimensional gesture. This created a space of magic and illusion. The second stage was a light box stage, which emerged and was elevated, from the front center of the first stage and gradually descended toward the front rows of the audience. This is where the Net lay, touching the floor, and creating a concrete arena, within which the actors and the singers could play. The mise-en-scene was developed in relation to this specific structure.

In the first part of the play, the Net, covering everything, forms an overall element of illusion and deceit, within it, Prospero’s human experiment takes place, by means of manipulations. After the intermission, the Net is elevated and becomes a hollowed, vertical screen, casting shadows on the drawing,   exposed on the light box surface. The act of drawing is continued by the play of lights and shadows.  

The nomadic essence of the Art language, and its dialectical relationship to reality, is part of my ongoing exploration. I decided to experiment with my language, within the new situation presented by the Theater space, here I could have a completely new freedom of the imagination. New dynamics and layers of meanings enabled new possibilities.

The utterly, new orchestral colors of Sibelius’ music, seem inexhaustible. The magical sonorities of the pieces are a dreamlike source of inspiration and energy. I could describe the experience of the Music as synaesthesia, the mixing of the senses that allows you to hear colors and see sounds. Yet I think that the different media, that took part in this production, preserved their independence, as equal components. The music, the singing, the acting and the sights, created a non-linear event that accumulated in time, and echoed its elements, as a continuous experience.

 The play itself,   is full of wondrous events - fantasy, music, sound and light effects, these are Prospero’s means of control, by which the artist-magician, conducts his human experiment. However, it is only in a world of spirits, in a unique environment of illusion, song, and enchantment - in such a special place as a magic island or in the theater - that Prospero's magic can become effective.

 The setting consists of 3 main elements: the Nets, the Drawings and the lighting.  All were subjected to change, throughout the play and within the space. This Stage Installation echoes the gaps of information scattered throughout the play. The nets, in their structure and meaning, are a collection of empty holes that allow constant movement, between the two-dimensional image, and the sculpted work of the three-dimensional drawing in space.

The net, is transformative in meaning, and deceptive in its essence; it is difficult to fasten the glance upon it. It becomes an expression of the passages, between the known, the explicit and the real, and the unknown, the inexplicit and the imaginary. The Empty Holes or gaps are invitations to participate and play; which reflect my attitude, while installing a project in the Art space. In this stage work, the actors, musicians and singers, realized and interpreted my work, by the virtue of their movement, their gestures and their vocal expressions.

 The Tempest is the last drama that Shakespeare wrote, and from it, rises a tempest of emotions, that engage the consciousness, with the transformative power of art, together with feelings of doubt and pain, as the playwright decides, to part from his stagecraft, and to retire from the theatre. In the last scene, the Net hanging above the orchestra, rises, while casting shadows, on a big horizontal drawing which envelops the orchestra. Up to this moment, we have experienced this drawing, as part of the labyrinth. Now the magic has expired, Prospero stands vulnerable in front of his audience, and the drawing is fully exposed.   

Just as the drawing, discloses the beginnings of artistic gesture, so Prospero, as Shakespeare’s voice, has exposed the devices of stagecraft throughout the play. The drawing is a direct artistic medium that reveals a language, of naked signs, it follows the movement of the body, and it's changing rhythms and strengths. It is consciously aware of the unconscious.        

The image is the language, and the language is the image.

Throughout the play, Shakespeare informs us, that we are the audience, at a drama, that is bounded by time, place and theme. In this exposure of the theatrical devices, Shakespeare, or if we want, Prospero, remains vulnerable on the stage. The magic has been stripped from him, and he asks the audience for acceptance, in the form of applause, and for closure, as he rounds out his professional life.  Similarly, the drawings which are now directly exposed on the stage are left naked – there are no more shadows, nets, labyrinths. Gone are the manipulations, complexities, illusions, made through magical effects.

The audience, is an actual witness, to the transformative power of art, and is thus invited to continue and to fill-in, the “holes” in its interpretation.