Cirque du Soleil director brings spectacle to ‘The Tempest’
Megan Valley | Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Shipwreck, salvation and the sea are swept into a spectacular in the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival’s (NDSF) “Cirque du Shakespeare” performance of “The Tempest.”
Director West Hyler has directed Cirque du Soleil, as well as Shakespearean dramas, musicals, Broadway productions and circuses around the world.
“I’m always looking for ways to create productions and to take what I’ve learned from other shows and bring it back to a world where you don’t normally get that type of artistry,” he said. “I thought it’d be interesting for ‘The Tempest,’ because it’s set on a magical island, to let that magic really be evoked using acrobatics and more circus techniques.”
The production is put on by NDSF’s Professional Company. Hyler said nine of the 21 actors are professionals; the rest of the cast is rounded out with members of NDSF’s Young Company, who Hyler has worked with for the past two years.
One of the actors, Sarah Scanlon, plays Ariel, a spirit of the sky who’s forced to work for the magician Prospero, played by Nick Sandys.
“We have [Scanlon] on trapeze for the entire show,” Hyler said. “We represent her enslavement by having her on the trapeze, and it’s only when she’s free from his power she can come down.”
In addition to the trapeze artist, “The Tempest” features clowns, acrobatics, live original music played by the cast and the work of “air sculptor” Daniel Wurtzel.
“[Wurtzel] came in to create these effects that would let us show the power our magician has over the air,” Hyler said. “What Daniel’s done is he harnesses the power of wind through an arrangement of fans and, through the directionality of them, he can kind of control where the air goes.
“He’s able to levitate objects, actually sculpt objects in the air. He came in to create these big spectacles where there’s a big storm that wrecks a boat or Prospero calls down these spirits from the air … and he traps all of his enemies in this enchantment.”
Wurtzel’s work in “air sculpture” has been featured in productions and museums, as well as at the closing ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
After a year and a half of pre-production, Hyler said production rehearsals lasted for “only” four weeks.
“I didn’t introduce any sort of acrobatic or musical skills to people,” he said. “Sarah Scanlon, who’s in the trapeze, she’s been doing this for a very long time. You’re drawing on skills that people have been perfecting over a lifetime.”
Despite all the spectacle apparent in the production, Hyler said the performance is more than just beautiful circus display.
“This is ‘The Tempest,’ and it’s not really cut,” he said. “I’ve made some adjustments, but it’s two hours of content. All the language of Shakespeare is in it; it’s Shakespeare. There’s just enough spectacle and wonder inside of the show that their eyes and imaginations become engaged and that’s really rewarding. If you do something right, you can keep the attention of an entire audience.”
The show runs until Aug. 28, with shows at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. All performances are at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Tickets range from $10 to $40 and are available at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center ticket office. Guests under 18 can get in free with the purchase of a regular-priced adult ticket.
“It does feel as though it’s a modern circus, but it’s deeply rooted in the text,” Hyler said. “It’s a true hybrid; if you’re a Shakespeare purist, I think you’re going to love it. If you’ve never seen Shakespeare and you’re bringing your kids or your grandparents, I think they’re going to be awed by the spectacle of it and the acrobatics of it.”