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'The Tempest' actors pray for good weather in Brunswick

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'The Tempest' actors pray for good weather in Brunswick

BRUNSWICK — For his upcoming production of William Shakespeare's "The Tempest," director Al Miller hopes life doesn't imitate art. 

"We're hoping it doesn't get rained out, but it's Maine for God's sake," Miller said at a rehearsal this week. "We'll give it a shot and hope for the best."

Miller's weather worries are well-founded. He plans to put on the town's first open-air Shakespeare production, at the Brunswick Mall gazebo.

Seven actors from the School Street-based nonprofit The Theater Project are playing 12 roles in the story of revenge, love and forgiveness.

The production, shortened to 80 minutes, is being staged for free for three evenings, Aug. 8, 9, and 10. 

Over the Theater Project's 40-year history in Brunswick, it has never produced a Shakespeare production outside, even though Miller thinks the gazebo is crying out for it.

In fact, the wooden pavilion isn't all that different from Shakespeare's famed Globe Theater, he said.

The production will be staged without amplification, artificial lighting, or recorded sound, and will begin in the early evening to take advantage of the waning summer light. 

"We're going back to basics, which are good script, good actors and, we hope, an interested and lively audience," Miller said. 

The Tempest is the story of a magician, Prospero, who has been banished to an island with his daughter Miranda and his two servants after being overthrown as Duke of Milan by his brother, Antonio.

When Prospero conjures a storm – the tempest – to wreck a ship sailing near the island, it washes up Alonso, the King of Naples, and his son Ferdinand, along with the scheming Antonio and their hangers-on.

The shipwreck sets the stage for a love story between Ferdinand and Miranda, Prospero's return to power, and a hilarious attempted takeover of the island by a pair of Alonso's inebriated servants and Prospero's savage slave Caliban.

The play lends itself well to an open-air production, said Sean McGuire, who plays both Fernando and Alphonso: the island itself becomes like another character in the production, an aspect enhanced when the natural world can accentuate some of the play's more primal aspects.

"It's a very outdoor play," McGuire said.

Holding a free, outdoor performance also relaxes the formality some associate with Shakespeare, Miller said, opening the play to people who might not otherwise buy a ticket. 

In his experience, as long as the actors understand their lines, the audience can understand the Shakespearean language and be pulled into the performance, he said. 

"It's not a case where only English majors and theater buffs can appreciate the play," Miller said. "It belongs to whoever is wandering by."

The Brunswick Mall isn't without challenges, including other people who might want to use the gazebo, the weather, and traffic noise. 

Jesse Leighton, who plays Prospero in the production, said open-air productions have an element of unpredictability that keeps actors on their toes.

"It's the only performance space where someone can feasibly walk through your scene," Leighton said. 

For Carrie Bell-Hoerth, who plays Miranda, the challenges of an outdoor production make for a more invigorating, spontaneous acting experience. 

"You have to be listening to your surroundings, and adjust to them," she said. 

While acknowledging the peculiarities of the space, Miller said he's confident the production will work.

If it does, he hopes it could start a tradition, adding to Brunswick's already formidable schedule of summer cultural events, which include the Maine State Music Theater and the Bowdoin International Music Festival.

Performances begin each evening at 6:15, and audience members are encouraged to bring chairs and blankets. For more information contact the Theater Project at 729-8584.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.