Sounds and Sweet Airs That Give Delight, and Hurt Not

So I’m walking my kids slowly through last year’s Tempest movie, now that I have it on DVD.  By slowly I mean about 5-10 minutes at a time before they go to bed, with heavy voiceover.  They seem to be confused (not understanding a word of the dialogue), but interested.

So we’re at the scene where Ariel, singing “Full fathom five,” guides Ferdinand across the island to where Miranda can see him.  It’s easy to see a how a big part of the play is missed here.  The kids can see Ariel, singing.  They ask me whether Ferdinand can see Ariel, I say no.  I try to explain this whole idea that, from the perspective of the shipwrecked sailors, all they know is that they miraculously survived the wreck, showed up on shore with their clothes completely dry, and they hear music. It’s very important in a number of scenes that they want to follow the music, which we as the audience know is Ariel’s way of bringing them where he wants them to go.  The music is so prevalent that even the child-monster Caliban gives his beautiful speech about how not only is this magical sound no big deal, but he’s actually come to quite love it.

Very hard to convey that on film, where we’ve become so used to separating out the idea of “soundtrack” that it’s difficult to understand when the characters on screen can hear the music and when they can’t. On top of that you have to get across the idea of “following” the music, which seems to be coming from over there somewhere.  To the film audience, the music is coming from the same place the dialogue is coming from, it has no direction.

So that gets me to my discussion question.  Let’s say that you’re staging a Tempest.  What sort of special things can you do with the music to get this point across?  I’m thinking of stuff like having speakers randomly behind and around (under?) the audience so we can feel where precisely the music is coming from, and have the characters actually come out into the crowd, literally trying to follow it.

That’s a very specific question, but I’m also curious about broader answers on the whole “What can you accomplish with live theater that is hard-to-impossible on film?”

3 thoughts on “Sounds and Sweet Airs That Give Delight, and Hurt Not

  1. So interesting, and we're about to have to struggle with this very thing. I think one thing that you can do is make it LOOK magical, LOOK intentional – so the audience has a visual cue that Ariel is involved. Also, consistency.

    For example, perhaps *Ariel* sings – and it sounds like a person singing, not like recorded music. And consistency is good.

  2. Last ASC show had Greg Phelps, as Ariel, enter singing and playing guitar while Ferdinand followed him, staring around as if trying to identify the unseen source of the sound. And it was magical.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Last time we did "Tempest," our Ariel sang, and played multiple instruments (sometimes accompanied by other "sprites" either singing or playing). Most of the time, he was on the balcony of the stage, while Ferdinand was on the stage proper.

    We also had "sprites" in and behind the audience, making live sound effects (magic bowls and such).

    (I work at the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta.)

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