Andrew Ribner/Visual Editor

While many students love Shakespeare enough to take a class on his plays, for others, such scholarly dedication isn’t enough. Nick Orvis ’13 decided to take matters into his own hands by directing his own production of “The Tempest” as part of his senior thesis. The Argus met with Orvis to talk about Shakespeare conspiracy theories, directing a non-Second Stage play, and the relationship between Shakespeare’s writing and the language of terminally ill patients.


The Argus: Tell me a little about the concept behind your thesis. The “fairy-tale magic and poignant melancholy” mentioned in your Facebook event sound interesting.

Nick Orvis: Well, “The Tempest” has always been one of those plays that divides audiences. On the one hand, it’s a story that involves true love, magic, and has a “happy” ending. On the other, the main character has to say goodbye to almost everything that he has known for the past twelve years, letting go of people and things that he loves. In the end of the play, we have to leave the enchanted island.


A: What prompted you to do a thesis?

NO: I’ve always been interested in a directing thesis—the chance to do something really exciting, really (really!) challenging, that I get the opportunity to work on for the entire semester. The department is a great resource that has pushed me to be far bolder and more experimental than I think I would be producing this same show on Second Stage, which is a great thing for me as an artist—I have problems from sticking too closely to my safe zones). After that, it just became a matter of finding a topic that I was deeply invested in researching and a production that went with it.


A: What does a directing thesis entail—other than, you know, directing?

NO: Well, there’s a paper! That’s why it qualifies as a thesis rather than simply a “project.” So I’m creating this production this semester but also already working on a paper that I’ll be turning in this coming spring. My thesis examines the act of dying well on the Renaissance English stage, tracing the development of the idea from the Middle Ages to Shakespeare’s day.


A: How does the show audiences will see this weekend compare to your original vision?

NO: Well, I personally would say that it’s very close. I suppose it depends on what you mean—if you’re asking, have I compromised on anything for reasons of budget, time, et cetera, then no, this isn’t really different from what I envisioned. But I’m not a dictatorial kind of director; my ideas are pretty much constantly changing in response to what happens in the rehearsal room. Even the last few nights we’ve been making little tweaks to the production as we discover new opportunities. So it’s a very different production than first popped into my head over the summer, that’s certainly true!


A: Has your experience as Second Stage’s Lights and Rigging Liaison influenced your set and lighting design choices? Did you have much of a say in the technical aspects of the production?

NO: Of course I did, but that’s because I’m the director, not because I’m a Second Stage Liaison. My scenic and lighting designers (Emmie Finckel ’14 and Rachel Leicher ’15, respectively) have done an incredible job creating the world of this play, and certainly I think my technical knowledge has helped me communicate with them.


A: Why Shakespeare? Specifically, why “The Tempest?”

NO: I love Shakespeare. How could you not? I think that without a doubt he is the single best English writer I have ever read and certainly the best dramatist (which isn’t to say he doesn’t have some flops—“Two Gentlemen of Verona,” I’m looking at you). As to “The Tempest”: the rough idea for this production came to me in a flash one day, when I suddenly had a vision of Prospero using an IV as his magic staff and realized that a lot of the language used in the play is similar to the language used by terminally ill patients today. And that’s all I’ll say about that (come see the show)!


A: What’s your take on those pesky Christopher Marlowe conspiracy theorists?

NO: [Laughs] Well, people will believe whatever they like. There’s no reason not to think that Shakespeare wrote his plays (though certainly there’s been a lot of research done demonstrating that some of the later ones especially had co-authors). The common objection is that the plays sound too educated for a glovemaker’s son, but a knowledge of the classics (their main beef) was part of primary school education back then. Besides…have the people who claim this ever read Marlowe? University-educated Marlowe is far more erudite than Shakespeare. Not to mention the fact that their two styles just sound completely different.


A: Do you plan to pursue theater post-Wes?

NO: I always want theater to be a part of my life. Somehow, some way. Preferably in a way that pays me so that I can do it full time! Whether that means professionally directing (I’m looking into long-term internships for next year) or teaching theater at the high school level or eventually above (the other career path I’m interested in), yes, I plan to pursue it.


A: I’m an Average Wesleyan Student with a lot of studying to do over reading week. Why should I tear myself away from my incredibly productive and intellectually stimulating Wesleyan education to come see your show?

NO: Well, first is the star-studded cast: Emily Hunt ’13, Zach Libresco ’13, Paulie Lowther ’13, and Maddy Oswald ’14. If you don’t think you know who they are but you go to theater on this campus, you almost certainly do. They’re four of my favorite actors, and I’ve been thrilled to work with them this semester. Secondly, I certainly hope that the show itself will be intellectually (or at least aesthetically) stimulating! It’s a revamp of a classic, which in my opinion is always very exciting. In adapting (or in my case, heavily cutting) a classic piece of theater, you have the chance to stake your claim and explore a bold new world (heh) of theater. In the classics, the lifeblood of our current feelings can come most alive.

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