For her upcoming production of The Tempest at Stephens College, visiting director Terry Berliner certainly had a lot of personal experience to draw from. Often considered one of the last works of Shakespeare, the play is set on a remote island in the midst of a storm.

Berliner lives in New York, where she works as an artistic director for LeAp OnStage, a program dedicated to teaching students playwriting, production and theater appreciation. Shortly before she came to Columbia to begin work on The Tempest, Hurricane Sandy hit. Biking around the Red Hook neighborhood after the floodwaters receded, she says the damage she saw served as a haunting reminder of the power of water.

Peggy Friesen (Prospero) and Olivia Romeo (Miranda) rehearse a scene from the Stephens College production of The Tempest. Photo courtesy of Stephens College.

In her production, Berliner drew on her experience with Sandy, as well as six months spent on the island of Maui in 2005 and 2006. In October 2005, she read a National Geographic article, “Hawaii’s Outer Kingdom,” about a remote part of the island chain that she had never known. Several images from the story affected her deeply. In particular, one photograph of a bird stood out. The bird had mistaken trash, such as lighters and plastic bottle tops, for food. Ingesting them and feeling full, it died of starvation.

As she began work on The Tempest in the fall of 2012, Berliner says she thought a lot about life on an island — what tides bring onto the shore and what they take away. She also considered the relationship between nature, trash and beauty.

She relied on her experiences in Hawaii and in post-Sandy New York for inspiration in her production, most notably through the scenic design inspired by the swirling shape of a hurricane. The design team also incorporated found objects normally viewed as trash, such as soda pop bottles, into the play’s props design. The jewelry and accessories worn by the actors are also inspired by garbage — one costume is made entirely out of bottlecaps woven together to make a corset.

“If we as artists make things out of what we find and know in the world we live in, then this production is a simple reflection of life as we live it today, filtered through William Shakespeare’s words,” Berliner says.

  • What: The Tempest
  • When: February 8-10, February 15-16
  • Where: Macklanburg Playhouse, 100 Willis Avenue
  • Cost: $16; $8, students and seniors

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