The 17th annual Shakespeare in the Arb will wash up on the shores of the Huron River this month. Backed by the winds of a violent maelstrom, this year’s production will be The Tempest.
The run of performances features an immersive experience that borrows landscapes for sets as spectators wind through the expanse traveling with the show. Each evening, the audience can expect a unique experience in the unpredictable outdoor environment at the University of Michigan’s Nichols Arboretum.
“One of the things about working in the Arb is that it’s made me very creative with whatever happens,” said Kate Mendeloff, founder and director of Shakespeare in the Arb. “Sometimes the weather is bad, sometimes we have ants or termites or nesting birds who are really noisy. We have the helicopters flying over the hospital landing pad. There’s just lots and lots of things that in a normal theater you would not have to deal with. But that’s part of what’s so challenging and wonderful about working there.”
Huron River circa 1610
Mendeloff also plans to merge the history of the area with the world of The Tempest without having to do any drastic reimagining. “I thought about what Michigan would have been like, literally what would have happened if a boat crashed up on the Huron River in 1610. I wanted to create the Ariel and Caliban spirits very much modeled on the Anishinaabe culture that would have been living in this part of Michigan at that time. I didn’t want to be exploitative of that culture, so I included elements of Native American culture but also allowed the setting to be fictionalized.”
This along with other local tie-ins, most notably the use of Michigan soil, will offer viewers a transportive experience through centuries and cultures while simultaneously not straying far from hometown history.
“[Shakespeare] taps into human nature in a very profound way so we find ourselves able to identify with his characters even though they speak in a different way than we do. You’re in a different era, a different country, but the people are still very relatable. He encompasses the world in his writing. I think that’s why his material is so popular and why you can see Shakespeare plays over and over again,” said Mendeloff.
A new line-up of performers is featured; double-casting roles not only offers a number of opportunities for actors, but also serves as a means of preserving the distinctiveness of every performance.
For the better part of 20 years, the onset of summer has beckoned Shakespeare in the Arb, anchored as a local institution. The words of The Bard reel in scores of new spectators each year, but it’s the work of Mendeloff and her rotating team of actors and consultants that will have them coming back this June.