SPEA Insights: Exploring Caliban in The Tempest

By Rinjisha Roy

William Shakespeare’s plays are renowned for depicting a diverse multitude of characters, and The Tempest is no exception. In the upcoming IU Theatre production, director Henry Woronicz has experimented with his cast, having female actors play different gender roles within the play. And, quite interestingly, this includes the half-monster Caliban, to be played by 3rd year MFA actor, Ashley Dillard.

Having always played women in the past, Ashley observes how unique this experience is. From alternating voice modulations to a bizarre physical appearance, Ashley has had plenty of scope to experiment with her character. “Caliban has had about six different voices and accents,” she says, “Henry and I collaborated in finding Caliban’s voice. Just in the past few days, we found a sound that feels on the right path.” The physicality of Caliban is also intriguing. “The character has a deformity, and I base all my movements around that. Because the upper body is weak, something else has to be strengthened. So all the power comes from the legs and the hips,” she adds.

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Abby Lee (Stephano) and Ashley Dillard (Caliban) in an early rehearsal on the Ruth N. Halls stage.

Caliban’s physicality also affects his relationships with the other characters on stage, and often this involves a shifting balance of power. Ashley talks about her early interactions with Matthew Murry, who plays Prospero in the play. “At first Caliban was afraid of Prospero. Matt would attack me and I would get scared, withdraw, and chew on my growth. Then one day Henry said to me that we cannot have Caliban physically disengage so much, because then there is no fight left between the two. So then I tried to find places where I could pick a fight with him,” recounts Ashley.

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Ashley Dillard’s “Caliban” in rehearsal

Ashley uses thoughts of revenge to lead Caliban to rebel, even though his deformity makes him the less strong character of the two. “As Caliban, I do not physically or emotionally give up, even though Prospero is the one who usually wins.” Caliban’s resilience leads to a positive change in the character’s relationship with Prospero, a progression that audiences can see happening on stage. Ashley mentions one scene where this is evident. “When Prospero extends the olive branch to Caliban and says, ‘Let’s do this together!’ there is a real moment of reconciliation between the two, because they are not master and servant anymore. I think the relationship being solidified makes the physicality more truthful,” she concludes.

So what has she learned from playing a character like Caliban? Ashley has several thoughts on that. “Previously if I were offered this character, I would have said no way. I play ingénues, and that’s what I do really well. But graduate school has really opened my eyes to saying ‘You can be that, but you can also dig into the masculine side of the same character because those two sides exist within you’, and it has been liberating for me to find my strengths and my power.” It has also allowed her to better relate to the very human feelings in a character like Caliban. “I see a lot of myself in him,” she observes, “as somebody who feels bad when something rightfully theirs is stolen from them.” For her, Caliban’s emotions are reasonable, because she is able to feel Caliban’s agony. “Finding the anger in Caliban is not so difficult, I can hone in on that pretty quickly. It is true for theatre, and acting in general, that the more parts you play that are different from yourself, the more you learn that they are not so different from yourself”.

Ashley’s portrayal of Caliban is certainly one of the aspects in the play that I as an avid Shakespeare admirer am eagerly looking forward to. Ashley mentions how people have responded upon hearing she is playing this role. “Everyone that I have talked to is like ‘That’s awesome!’ or ‘I can’t wait to see a woman do that part!’. Being able to watch a half-monster living in a timeless world on a 21st century stage is a rare treat, and all the more reason for you to come watch this production opening Friday, February 24th  in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre!

The Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance appreciates the valuable contributions of IU’s SPEA arts administrators to the cultural life of Indiana University and the Bloomington community. We look forward to seeing how they continue to be powerful advocates for the arts, here and abroad.

rinjroyrinjisha565-jpegRinjisha Roy is graduate student in the Arts Administration program at SPEA and a graduate assistant for IU Theatre’s marketing department. She is from Calcutta, India and was a literature major as an undergraduate at St. Xaviers College in Calcutta. Her interests include writing, poetry, Shakespearean theatre and classical music. This is her second semester at IU and she is very excited to be a part of the IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

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About IU Theatre Department

Welcome to the 7th & Jordan blog. This blog is a peak behind the curtain at the Indiana University Theatre Department productions and student work.
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