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The official press release for this summer's production can be accessed through this link: Tempest Press Release
Westmore News on LawnChair’s TEMPEST:
Environmentalism in the eye of the storm - LawnChair Theatre’s production of ‘The Tempest’ promotes environmental awareness
By Sarah Wolpoff
The posters advertising this summer’s LawnChair Theatre production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” appropriately depict a ship at sea facing a brutal storm on its way to wreckage.
On closer look, it becomes apparent that the scene is a photo montage using recycled and repurposed plastics, such as straws, plastic bags and packaging. And considering the deeper message behind the community theater organization’s masterpiece, the depiction is even more fitting.
“The Tempest” tells a story about redemption and forgiveness and the healing of familial wounds, staged on a magical island that hosts a royal shipwreck. Since Port Chester residents Peter Green and Carin Zakes established LawnChair Theatre in 2006, they’ve put on various Shakespearian plays every summer, which recently turned into a traveling show that tours various neighboring communities.
Green prides themselves on bringing a contemporary element to every show they do. This year, however, they went above and beyond modernism and intend to send a relevant message about environmental awareness.
“This is the first time that LawnChair has really tried to embrace a message beyond the messages that theater is generally about—empathy, compassion, to help people understand how people are and how much we’re alike,” Green explained. “We’ve been able to take to this bigger idea because ‘The Tempest’ lends itself to that.”
As noted, the community theater group always aims to contemporize Shakespearian plays. Without changing the words themselves, they speak to current issues facing society.
In 2012 they performed “Much Ado About Nothing” set in the World War I scenescape similar to “Downton Abbey,” which was booming in popularity at the time. It felt right because it represented a time when people started to contemplate the meaning of honor.
Similarly, in 2013, they showcased “The Taming of the Shrew” in a Madmen-esque sitcom setting of the 1960s. This allowed them to meditate about feminism and women’s roles in America.
“In this show you’re abandoned on an island. So we started thinking, ‘if we’re thinking about an island, right now, in the middle of the ocean, what are we going to think about?” Green animatedly recalled. “We’re going to think about what’s going on in the ocean right now, all the plastic, the garbage. We thought, ‘how can we make use of that?’ And here we are.”
“Our oceans are in such danger due to our everyday behavior that’s very modifiable,” said Port Chester resident Julie Thaxter-Gourlay, the director of the show who spearheaded the environmentalism theme. “There are 15 million metric tons of plastic in the ocean. By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish. I thought we should help educate our audience and neighbors not only about the crisis but how they can help.”
The theater group is sending their message through the scenery. Several magical fairies on the island are portrayed as endangered aquatic animals, and the costumes were devised with reused plastics.
Fairies with plastic bag wings and penguins with feathers made of straws will be seen galloping across the island, which has accumulated an endless amount of trash.
“The set is supposed to depict the violent intersection of nature trying to survive the onslaught on its organic material,” Thaxter-Gourlay, who lives on Locust Avenue, said. “We’re trying to find the beauty of the nature sustaining this amount of garbage.”
For weeks, Artistic Director Alexandra Theodoropoulos has been collecting garbage to repurpose as the set. She’s gathered roughly 500 cubic feet. She’s strung together colorful plastic bottle caps into a beaded curtain and used plastic hangers, sheets and garment bags to line the island ground.
“It’s anything we take for granted that takes space in our garbage bins,” the Cold Spring resident said. “Anything food related we basically used for the fairy feast. It’s supposed to be this disgusting, indulgent, fast food phenomenon.”
Education is being just as emphasized as depiction. LawnChair has partnered with the County Executive’s Director of Sustainability and the Riverkeeper non-profit environmental organization to ensure there are informational tables set up at their performances.
Zakes said that this year they’re also incorporating children into the cast for the first time as well. It helps inspire creative thought and adds a family-oriented message.
Thaxter-Gourlay added that having children in the show enhances their message for the audience.
“I remember going on hikes as a Girl Scout and my troop leader saying, ‘don’t take a rock from the path because if everyone did, there would be no path.’ That’s the mentality; leave the world better than how you found it,” she explained. “I know I need to be a better steward of my environment, to be a better parent to my son and leave him a better world. So, I’m really excited we’re working with kids. It kind of enhances the experience and illustrates to the audience why we need to clean up the planet.”
The LawnChair cast and crew see themselves as a family. “If I say the words community theater, it’s not like one word is more powerful than the other,” Green described.
And through producing “The Tempest,” the family of theater enthusiasts are making critical changes, both personally and professionally.
“We’re changed as an organization because of this piece of artwork, and we’re changing as people as well,” emphasized show producer Amy Simmons.
Personally, they’ve become more conscious about the waste they produce every day. Meanwhile, they’re also making changes in how they operate as a company.
This year, for example, the Rye Beverage Mart donated boxed water containers, so they don’t need to give out water bottles as they traditionally have done in the past. Because of this show, they plan to never use water bottles again.
Green said he’s purposed to do theater that tells stories and sends a message about humanity. The world and U.S. are faced with pollution issues alike, and while theater is an indirect way of responding to those challenges, he believes it’s worthwhile to use it as a form of advocacy.
Simmons expounded on the sentiment, maintaining their art can be incredibly influential in impacting people’s day-to-day lives.
“The more you hear this message, every time you pick up a container that’s recyclable and hold it in your hand, your thought about the longevity and the process that piece of plastic goes through is heightened,” she said. “That awareness is heightened through art forms like this. It’s extremely important.”
“The Tempest” will be performed seven times at six different locations between July 19 and July 28. Performances are free, but a $20 donation is recommended.
On Thursday, July 19, they will be at the Village Green in Rye City, Friday, July 20 at Recreation Field in Chappaqua, Saturday, July 21 at Pine Ridge Park in Rye Brook, Sunday, July 22 at Hudson Park in New Rochelle, Thursday, July 26 at Lyon Park in Port Chester and Friday and Saturday, July 27 and 28, at Rye Town Park in Rye.
All shows start at 6:30 p.m.
Celia Spana of Cliche Magazine recently wrote an article on summer Shakespeare performances featuring Lawnchair, which can be accessed here: Modern Shakespeare Is In
Port Chester Patch published another article detailing the upcoming release of this year's production, which can be found here: A Tempest is Brewing: LawnChair Theatre's 13th Season