THE TEMPEST: An Immersive Experience Comes to The Shakespeare Center LA

The performances will take place March 16 to April 16.

By: Feb. 23, 2023
THE TEMPEST: An Immersive Experience Comes to The Shakespeare Center LA

The Shakespeare Center LA and After Hours Theatre Company announce the premiere of The Tempest: An Immersive Experience, a fully reimagined immersive performance based on William Shakespeare's The Tempest. The director is Ben Donenberg, Shakespeare Center LA Artistic Director; Graham Wetterhahn is the Producing Artistic Director at After Hours Theatre Company.

The performances will take place March 16 to April 16, with the press opening on March 24, at Shakespeare Center LA, 1238 West First Street, Los Angeles CA 90026. Tickets are on sale at tempestla.org.

In this performance, the audience is cast ashore on a mysterious island, to experience a fully realized telling of what is thought to have been Shakespeare's final play. Guests will find themselves shipwrecked onto the shifting sands of an island under the spell of supernatural powers. Guests can excavate clues and solve puzzles, while indulging in themed artisan elixirs and island vibrations.

The show is an end-to-end reimagining of Shakespeare's The Tempest. In early discussions, Wetterhahn suggested an ideal play would have a single setting and take place more or less in real time - and Shakespeare Center LA's Ben Donenberg immediately said The Tempest. The action also lends to various levels of audience presence (and seating to match) - from those that want to simply hear a story, to those that all but want to be in the show.

The cast includes Chris Butler as Prospero, Leith Burke as Alonso, Wayne T Carr as Caliban, Mason Conrad as Boatswain, Rodney Gardiner as Antonio, Jin Maley as Ariel, Dan Parker as Trinculo, Anja Racic as Juno, Chris Rivera as Sebastian, Ulato Sam as Ferdinand, Kay Sibal as Miranda, Paul Stanko as Master, Peter Van Norden as Gonzalo, KT Vogt as Stephano, and Jonathan Von Mering as Adrian.

The Shakespeare Center LA's mission is to ignite personal and community transformation. Working with After Hours Theatre Company, an LA-based theater company specializing in experiential and immersive entertainment, whose mission is to create a theatrical experience that broadens the definition of what theatre can be and attract new audiences to theatre in LA.

The Tempest takes place on a mysterious island where Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, lives with his daughter Miranda after being usurped by his brother Antonio and left to die at sea 12 years prior. There he freed an imprisoned magical spirit Ariel and has taken them as a captured servant to do his bidding. Also on the island as Prospero's servant is the monstrous Caliban, the son of the dead witch Sycorax. Prospero is a self-taught magician obsessed with pure knowledge and in a way, both the island is his theater and Prospero is self-referential to theater.

The play follows Prospero's spiritual journey as he navigates his drive for revenge and the importance of forgiveness freedom and imagination. At the play's conclusion, the audience and the characters are uplifted and inspired by the themes of choice, forgiveness, and freedom. The play ends with Prospero's monologue, often thought to be Shakespeare's farewell to the theatre.

Graham Wetterhahn, Artistic Director, Co-Founder and Executive Producer at After Hours Theatre said, "We want to invite audiences into the world of "The Tempest" in a way that film, television, and even traditional theatre cannot. So often events that are promoted as "immersive" are nothing more than superficial places to take pictures. We want to create a satisfying experience that truly envelops you in the story through moments of exploration and interactivity, while remaining accessible to both traditional theatre and event-going audiences."

"After Hours has always been interested in pushing the envelope on what "theater" can be. Young audiences often will throw money at festivals, concerts, and events but never consider a night out at the theater. We want to create a theatrical experience that feels like an event -- an exciting, immersive production that is engaging, invigorating, and new."

Shakespeare Center LA and After Hours Theater Company have created a direct audience engagement built in with Shakespeare's work of The Tempest. SCLA artistic director Ben Donenberg explained its origins as "During Elizabethan times and at the original Globe Theatre, audiences were viscerally engaged with the players. They would throw tomatoes at the actors, boo, and hiss. This production is aiming to create a riveting interaction and make Shakespeare immersive in the modern sense as a natural evolution of the craft that has been lost in the traditions of current theatrical presentations."

"Throughout the duration of the show, the audience and the cast are on a journey together. There is a feeling of closeness to the story, to the characters, and to each other. Some characters want dominance, some want empathy and we move through that with them and can find the characters who we identify with or those that we don't. The show is ultimately uplifting, audiences see themselves as the characters fall in love, get angry, fight, and plot. We get to talk to them and get to know these iconic characters through the immersive elements."

In his Los Angeles Times review of After Hours' One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Philip Brandes said "After Hours is elaborately immersive ... upon admittance audience members can check themselves into categories [from] higher functioning to passive. You can plan on getting there at least a half-hour early if you want to tackle the brain teasers. As a classic drama wrapped in a theme-park interactive attraction, the show is thoroughly engaging."

Anthony Byrnes, KCRW FM, said of "Cuckoo's Nest," It's fun!. The concept is nutty but genius ... my advice -- bring a couple of friends, definitely a have drink or two and follow the clues. A bit like going to Disneyland to see your favorite characters ... it's an experience. It's not just another night in the theater. On the night I went the audience was a good twenty years younger than your typical LA theater audience. That's impressive."

Stage Scene LA said, "After Hours Theatre Company's one-of-a-kind production an absolute must see. This is Los Angeles theater at its most innovative and exciting."

For the past three years leading up to the pandemic, Shakespeare Center LA has produced an immersive Tragedy of Macbeth every October. SCLA Artistic Director Ben Donenberg said, "I feel strongly that exploring the different theatrical tools we have to engage people's imagination and storytelling is essential to the evolution of our artform -- and immersive encounters with the classics is a powerful way to engage new and current audiences.

Donenberg continued, "We are very excited to be working with After Hours, they are bringing an energy and perspective to theatrical invention that is invigorating and challenging. We are also interested in the dynamic between established theaters like Shakespeare Center partnering with new emerging companies like After Hours. The Tempest is about forgiveness leading to freedom. This is a time that calls for imaginative freedom and engagement. It's fun with a purpose - ultimately the show is funny - come laugh and maybe experience Shakespeare in an entirely new way." Director Ben Donenberg is the Founder and Artistic Director of The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles (SCLA). As a director of populist interpretations of Shakespeare, Ben has built a reputation of creating excellent, accessible productions that are underscored by the canons of modern songwriters and recording artists. His production of Much Ado About Nothing at Center Theatre Group starred Helen Hunt and Tom Irwin and featured Lyle Lovett in the role of the musician Balthasar. The production was supported by progressive bluegrass singers and songwriters Sean and Sara Watkins.

Other Shakespeare productions include two productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream. One featured Natalie Cole and Obba Babatundé singing Nat King Cole jazz standards, with text performed by Tom Hanks, William Shatner, Tracey Ullman, Geoffrey Rush, Christina Applegate, Rita Wilson, Zack Braff, and Kate Hudson (2006, SCLA). Ben directed the other for a Los Angeles Philharmonic's 1999 Fall Gala at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, it featured Mendelssohn's Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night's Dream and was supported by voices from the Los Angeles Opera and Los Angeles Master Chorale with text performed by Alfre Woodard, David Ogden Stiers, and Peter MacNichol. Other actors and recording stars who have performed in Ben's annual staging of Shakespeare include Sir Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Kenneth Branagh, Will Smith, Steve Martin, Cedric the Entertainer, Dule Hill, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Martin Short, Reba McEntire, Faith Hill, Tim McGRaw, Ewan McGregor, Jackson Browne, Tracy Ullman, and Eric Idle.

Ben's production of The Merry Wives of Windsor at UCLA's Royce Hall featured the songs of Hank Williams performed by Reba McEntire, with text performed by Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hanks, Tracey Ullman, Rita Wilson, Martin Short, and William Shatner, who played Falstaff. His presentation of As You Like It also featured Lyle Lovett, this time singing the music of Pete Seeger, with text performed by Sir Anthony Hopkins, Benjamin Bratt, and Carla Gugino. Ben's Twelfth Night featured Peter Gallagher singing Gershwin and his The Two Gentlemen of Verona featured music by The Beatles. Ben has also directed more traditional outdoor and site-specific Shakespeare plays for SCLA that have toured to venues throughout Los Angeles County, including to Union Station, Pershing Square, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and the South Coast Botanic Garden.

Ben has received local awards and national recognition from Actors' Equity Association, NAACP, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, California Educational Theatre Association, and the Mayor of Los Angeles. His 2006 six-year Presidential appointment to the National Council on the Arts was unanimously approved by the United States Senate. In 2012, Ben was selected by the U.S. Secretary of Defense to participate in the U.S. Department of Defense Joint Civilian Orientation Conference. He has lectured on theatre aesthetics at the University of Southern California, and at the Huntington Library and SCLA's award-winning Will Power teacher training seminars. Ben received his bachelor's in philosophy from University of Southern California and is a graduate of The Juilliard School's Drama Division.




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