Arts Desk

The Tempest! In! Space!

Ever heard an extraterrestrial speak in Shakespearean prose? Or a sentient computer in iambic pentameter? Thanks to WSC Avant Bard's occasional tradition of mounting the Bard's plays in Klingon, these aren't entirely—ahem—alien concepts to D.C. theatergoers.

The newest member of the local verse-and-Vulcans scene? Lean and Hungry Theater, which presents its newest radio play on WAMU-FM this Sunday at 6 p.m. It's a futuristic, one-hour take on Shakespeare's The Tempest, which the troupe will perform live in front of a live studio audience, followed by a Q&A moderated by the station's Kojo Nnamdi. The adaptation, by Hannah Todd, marries Shakespeare's language with a sci-fi soundscape as way to entice genre fans, young listeners, and even traditional fans of classical theater.

As far as creating an aural landscape, relocating the story to the Naples Galaxy far, far away has required the company to depart from its usual M.O.  "We need more swooshing and sliding, " says Artistic Director Jessica Hansen.  "If we were to produce [the sounds] live it would require an entirely different set of Foley equipment from what we've used in the past. We typically try to work a slide whistle into every show, but—because it's sci-fi and so modern we're taking a one-show break from doing the live foley, and focusing on computer-generated sound."

Todd, who will also direct Sunday's performance, found her concept by "looking for inspiration from classic radio programs...one of the most long -standing radio drama genres is science-fiction." And The Tempest, it turns out, has gone to space before. The 1956 classic Forbidden Planet takes its plot from the play, "but I don't know of any version of Shakespeare's Tempest, done sci-fi," says Todd.  "Then I just went from there...I decided that Caliban would be an alien because he's the inhabitant of the planet.  Ariel would be a sentient computer program...that seemed a good way to do a science-fiction version of a spirit."

Lean and Hungry's sound designer, Gregg Martin,  composed mostly original music for the production, but the troupe also included one science-fiction standard. "You know the tune of Daisy Bell?" says Todd. "'Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do,' the song that Hal sings at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey? It's also the first song—Gregg told me this—that they ever programmed a computer to sing in 1961. You can look it up on YouTube. So that's what he did for the Ariel song."

Todd hopes the concept will appeal to a broad, "cross-generational" audience. The post-performance Q&A is another means to that end, in keeping with the company's efforts to make Shakespeare accessible to students and to populations often underserved by traditional theaters, such as the blind and elderly. "We typically have somebody with a radio background and someone with an educational background," explains Hansen. This time she intends to broaden the panel to include herself and some of The Tempest's cast and crew "to talk about the concept of the theater company and our process."

And what does the company think of Kojo Nnamdi moderating the talk-back and adding some stardust to the proceedings?  "I'm so excited, you have no idea," says Todd.  "He has a little group of fan girls in this cast and crew. When we found out that he was going to be doing the talk-back, there was a lot of squealing and jumping up and down."

The Tempest air Sunday at 6 p.m. on 88.5 FM. The performance takes place at Wilson High School, 3950 Chesapeake St. NW. $25; students are free.

 

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