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Release: March 24, 2000

Iowa corn plays a role in UI production of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' April 6-16

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa corn has probably never before been included in a staging of Shakespeare's island fantasy, "The Tempest," but it will be prominent in the University Theatres Mainstage production April 6-16 in E.C. Mabie Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Performances will be at 8 p.m. April 6-8 and 12-15, and at 3 p.m. Sundays, April 9 and 16.

Director Alan MacVey, chair of the UI department of theatre arts, explains, "In designing this production, set designer David Thayer and I asked, 'What kind of island do we live on?' We found there were three: As artists we live in the theater; as teachers we live in an academic community; and as citizens we live on this island called Iowa. David came up with a set that should remind audiences that they share these three islands with us. A wide open stage, a hundred books and a few tons of Iowa corn are all present."

There will be so much corn on the stage and around the theater, in fact, that people who suffer from severe corn-dust allergies should probably choose not to attend.

Shakespeare's tale of the exiled sorcerer Prospero and his daughter Miranda, marooned for a dozen years on an enchanted island with the deformed savage Caliban, has not only been one of Shakespeare's most popular plays, but has also inspired numerous adaptations -- even the classic 1950s science-fiction film "Forbidden Planet" and Peter Greenaway's over-the-top film "Prospero's Books."

A heady mixture of the spiritual and the intellectual, the comic and the dramatic, "The Tempest" is filled with romance, murder, revenge, forgiveness and magic.

" 'The Tempest' is one of Shakespeare's most theatrical plays," MacVey explains. "In the space of a few minutes audiences see magic spirits, murderous princes, drunken clowns and a philosopher king trying to make sense of the universe. The play is filled with music, visual delights, and a chorus which keeps changing its costumes to keep up with the action. It is an image of our world, and Shakespeare has included something for everyone."

But, like all of Shakespeare's comedies, "The Tempest" is also rich with many layers of meaning and ambiguity, as Prospero confronts his old enemies, mixing conflicts both external and internal. "I initially chose this play because of its magic elements," MacVey says. "I knew audiences would enjoy them as much as I do. But as I've worked on the play I've discovered a very personal relationship to it.

"At its center is Prospero -- a parent, a teacher and the administrator of a small island. He is struggling to find the right balance between enforcing his vision on everyone on his island and giving them the freedom to discover their own path. The central journey of the play is his, as he finally lets go of control. Every parent, teacher and administrator knows this is not easy. It isn't easy for Prospero either and I sympathize with the way he has to battle his demons."

Some scholars read "The Tempest," Shakespeare's final play, as a commentary on European exploration and subjugation of new lands and peoples, perhaps inspired by fantastic stories of a 1609 shipwreck of a British vessel in Bermuda. The fact that the play was written for performance in the royal court, the sponsor of the colonial ventures and the enslavement of native peoples, adds to the salience of the script's utopian musings, both for its time and for modern audiences in a post-colonialist world.

Other scholars find Shakespeare, at the end of his creative career, investing Prospero with autobiographical reflections that bear on the magical power of theater to both enlighten and deceive, and on his personal sense of the possibilities and pitfalls of artistry and intellect.

The UI production of "The Tempest" features costume design by Tammy Laisnez, lighting design by Kelly PerkinsSmith, choreography by dance department faculty member Alan Sener, and songs by MacVey and Mark Perry.

Tickets for "The Tempest" are $15 ($7 for UI students, senior citizens and youth). Tickets may be purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area dial 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

For information and calendar updates on UI arts, visit <> on the World Wide Web.

(NOTE: Director Alan MacVey and other members of the artistic team for "The Tempest" can be reached for interviews through the UI Department of Theatre Arts office, 319-335-2700.)