By Marcela Creps
As Henry Woronicz prepared to direct IU Theatre’s production of “The Tempest,” he decided to do something different.
He’s been in productions of the Shakespeare play, but this was his first time directing the show. In previous productions, the character of the spirit servant Ariel was “so earthbound” that he decide to work some magic into the show.
Woronicz knew Paulina Makowska, whose talents include aerial silks. And the idea was born to make Ariel aerial.
“We started talking about how we might do it,” Woronicz said.
There were limitations to what could be done. Due to the space and safety concerns, the three actresses cast as Ariel never get more than 48-inches off the ground. They also had to find actresses who would be able to go through the necessary training.
“It’s been fun to work on, and I think we added a little bit of extra magic to ‘The Tempest,’” Woronicz said.
First, the decision was made to cast three actresses who would work together to create Ariel. Woronicz said he wasn’t concerned about finding women who could handle the role’s special requirement.
“Most young actors these days are doing some kind of workout program,” Woronicz said. Also, the school is home to many dancers and actors with various skills that would translate well for the role.
Actress Courtney Relyea-Spivack said it was during callbacks that the plan to use silks was first mentioned. Not having much upper body strength, she was worried about how it would go.
“It was sheer adrenaline that sort of got me through that callback. I’d never climbed a rope before and I was like, all right, I’m going to do it. I just did it, and it was the hardest callback I’d ever had,” she said.
She had to do the opening scene from the show. Because she’d played the role before, she was able to recite the lines, although it was difficult to improve new skills on the silks while speaking Shakespeare.
“It was terrifying,” Relyea-Spivack said.
It didn’t make it easier when she fell off the silks during the audition. Luckily, the trainer caught her. Relyea-Spivack said there was concern that the fall would scare her off the role, but she reassured them she was up to the challenge.
Along with silk training, Relyea-Spivack said she works out about six to seven times a week to improve her upper body strength for the performance. As rehearsals have progressed, she’s become more comfortable in her ability to do the show.
“I didn’t expect myself to ever have upper body strength, and i have a pretty good core and knew i could at least rely on that. But once you’re up there, you’re really holding yourself up for the most part with your upper body. Then everything else is maneuvering these 30-foot long silks that once we got onto the stage they were lot more bungee-like and they were completely different material to get used to. So it’s been a constant training experience for my body, which I’m still sort of learning how to deal with,” she said.
However, she said Makowska has been great in helping the actresses work with their bodies. Because Makowska is certified in Active Release Technique, she is good at helping them deal with pain and teaching them how to adjust positions to make it easier.
Although the training has been intense, Relyea-Spivack said the role has been the most challenging yet the most rewarding. She’s enjoyed working with Emily Rozman and Athena Kopulos, the other two actresses cast as Ariel. Because the three work together to play one character on stage, they’ve had to learn how to harmonize as one character. As such, a lot of trust has grown between the trio.
“So it’s been really, really difficult but really amazing to sort of watch all of our progress,” she said.
Going into the final few days before opening night, there are still changes being made to the show. It was also very different working on the silks in the movement studio versus the silks on stage for the show. Because the silks on stage are installed differently, it took time to get used to jumping on them and the movement that happens with the silks.
Woronicz said as rehearsals have progressed, constant changes have been part of the process. “There has been a constant sense of readjusting and rechoreographing and rechanging,” he said.
The silks are essential to in Ariel’s role.
“Henry did a really good job of sort of making sure we’re always touching the silks. He always described it has having a power cord to the sky. Sometimes we disappear behind the silks and we’ll be on stage and you’ll kind of forget that we’re there and we’ll pop out,” Relyea-Spivack said.
While she admits there are times she still thinks what she’s doing is crazy, having Rozman and Kopulos there has been crucial in giving her the confidence to get through the difficulties. Together they work out problems and concerns.
“We’re all in this together so if we’re both having a moment of ‘Ah, I can’t feel my foot,’ we’ll look at each other and be like ‘It’s going to be OK. we’re going to be done in five seconds,’” Relyea-Spivack said.
Adding this skill to her resume will also be important, as she’s not only learned about using aerial silks but has also shown the ability to meet a new challenge.
Woronicz said the actresses are hoping to be able to capture video of the performance that can be used for their audition tapes.
“The theater embraces all kinds of disciplines and modalities, so to have a special skill like that on your resume at the right place at the right time, it might get you the job,” Woronicz said.
So far, the rehearsals seem to be giving Woronicz what he hoped the production could be and more.
“I’m very excited by what’s coming together,” Woronicz said.
Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. For this story and more arts news, visit heraldtimesonline.com.