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?”