‘Tales from the Tempest’; Transylvania Hosts Roundtable with Local Author

Image Credit: Transylvania University

On October 19th, Transylvania hosted ‘Tales from the Tempest’ a roundtable discussion that focused on three literary works: The Tempest, the 1611 play by William Shakespeare, Wrecked, a 2022 novel by Heather Henson that is a modern retelling of The Tempest set in the knobs of Central Kentucky, and A Tempest, a 1969 play by Aimé Césaire that adapted Shakespeare’s play from a postcolonial perspective. The roundtable, which was moderated by French Professor Simonetta Cochis and featured Wrecked author Heather Henson, Theatre Program Director Tosha Fowler, and Junior Student Mary Clark, who is portraying Caliban in Transy Theatre’s upcoming production of The Tempest, examined how all three interpreted and were able to connect with the characters of these works. 

Heather Henson spoke on how she had been drawn to Shakespeare almost as long as she could remember. She grew up in the Pioneer Playhouse, an outdoor theater in Danville, Kentucky that was built by Henson’s father, Col. Eben C. Henson, in 1950, and plays like The Tempest were a constant part of the “magical world of theatre” that he created. Henson always wanted to work with Shakespeare at the Playhouse, but never could due to lack of general interest, so she began to look for ways to incorporate those stories into her writing.

It took many years for Henson to find a framework for a retelling of The Tempest that specifically focused on the relationship between Prospero and Miranda, with concepts like a post-apocalyptic setting being continually shot down by editors. Henson revealed that she first had the idea for what would become Wrecked after watching an episode of True Detective and realizing that she could incorporate her home state by using the meth crisis in Kentucky as a framework for a modern retelling of The Tempest. She recalled her pitch to her editor, saying, “I had two words for her, and they were ‘Meth. Tempest.’ And she was like ‘Yes!’” Henson expressed hope that her work could act as a gateway for young readers into the world of Shakespeare which was so important to her growing up.

Mary Clark acknowledged the traditional monstrous characterization, both in Shakespeare and later retellings, of the character of Caliban, who she is portraying in the Transy Theatre production of The Tempest. Challenging this traditional characterization is part of Transy Theatre’s ongoing goals of presenting stories relevant to modern audiences. Tosha Fowler would add that “Any time we approach an old text, we ask if we can make it meaningful…Time is the most precious thing we have.”

Recognizing that other modern interpretations of Caliban’s character, such as the postcolonial interpretation seen in Césaire’s A Tempest, wouldn’t necessarily work for the cast of the Transy Theatre Production, Clark began to build her own portrayal of Caliban by recognizing how she could relate with the character through personal experiences. Clark said, “I have been centering my interpretation of Caliban on his relationship with Miranda and how I see Miranda.” Fowler described how this process of re-interpretation was repeated with many other characters from the play, saying, “A play is not like a novel; you have to figure out what the truth is.” Fowler and Clark also talked about the ongoing design process for the set and costumes of The Tempest and expressed excitement at the work that is being done by all students and faculty in preparation for the show.

Tickets for The Tempest are available starting November 1st at 9:00 A.M., and the show will be performed in the Lucille C. Little Theater from November 15-19.