Syracuse University Magazine

tempest.jpgThe Tempest Ladies (left to right): Holly Hart, Stella Berg, Dana Clinkman, Sarah Olbrantz, Jana Stambaugh, and Laura Borgwardt.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

 Tempest Ladies Give Shakespeare New Spin

Two years ago, six friends studying drama at the Globe Theatre in London through Syracuse University Abroad realized they had more than just theater in common—they all had a passion for Shakespeare, and they wanted to perform his work using their newly acquired techniques. Today, the friends—now known as the Tempest Ladies—can consider themselves veterans of one of the world’s greatest theater showcases: the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

The Ladies—Stella Berg, Laura Borgwardt, Dana Clinkman, Holly Hart, Sarah Olbrantz, and Jana Stambaugh—are all 2010 graduates of the Department of Drama in the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA). With the help of stage manager Chelsea Jennings ’11 and faculty advisors Felix Ivanov and Timothy Davis-Reed ’84, they performed their self-produced and -directed, all-female version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest August 9-14 at Edinburgh’s Quaker Meeting House. “Our time at the Fringe was incredible and a massive learning experience,” Borgwardt says. “It was absolutely worth every drop of blood, sweat, and tears—literally, we shed a bit of each—that went into this production.”

The Tempest Ladies first mounted the play at SU during the spring 2009 semester. In addition to performing all of the roles and directing, they decided to handle their own costumes, set, props, and lighting. Choosing a simplistic concept, the group donned blue leotards with black capri pants and changed hats to denote each character. 

To prepare for the Fringe, the group rehearsed the physically demanding production during the spring 2010 semester in New York City, where five of the actors were studying as part of the department’s Tepper Semester immersion program, and then in Syracuse in July. They also handled the many logistical issues connected to performing at the Fringe, including applying to the festival; finding and applying to a venue; arranging travel and rehearsal schedules; advertising; and costume, set, and prop design. With the help of the office of VPA Dean Ann Clarke, they secured college funding for the majority of the trip, and SU Abroad provided assistance with travel and living arrangements.

Once in Scotland, the group experienced the joys of performing and the challenges of marketing a production at what is considered the world’s largest arts festival—a 25-day extravaganza that featured 40,254 performances of 2,453 different shows in 259 venues. “I felt really encouraged and satisfied by the response we got from our audiences as well as the motivation it gave us as a young group of artists,” Stambaugh says. “Everyone was especially impressed by our use of the text, our physical inventiveness, and the way we included the audience without making them feel uncomfortable.”

According to Borgwardt, they also learned a lot about the art of “fliering”—the popular promotional tactic of passing out fliers. “We found that wearing our costumes and hats and playing drums while making our way down the Royal Mile [a historic street popular with tourists] got us the most attention,” Borgwardt says. “Also, having two-for-one nights is a must—we had nearly full houses on those nights.”

By the time The Tempest’s run at the Fringe ended, it had received rave online reviews from Venue 40 (“hugely inventive and wonderful”) and The Stage (“a spellbinding performance”) as well as from the audiences. Davis-Reed documented the trip on video, which the group hopes to present along with a book to VPA so that other drama students can learn from their experiences. “We received so much support and appreciation for our project, and although sometimes audiences were quiet, they were always very loving,” Berg says. “We were called back on stage, we were thanked, we were encouraged, and we were congratulated. Personally, I couldn’t have asked for more.”

 —Erica Blust