Hope College Theatre is pleased to welcome guest artist Julia Stemper to play the role of Prospera in “The Tempest.” Hope is fortunate to have professional guest artists collaborate with the art departments in many areas. “The Tempest” also features professional scenic designer, David Barber, from New York City.
Stemper is a Chicago native and the founder and Artistic Director of Stone Soup Shakespeare. She was also recently named company member of The Plagiarists. Prior to moving to Chicago, Stemper lived in Glasgow, Scotland, where she received her MFA from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Stemper has also done extensive work with the International Network for Culture and Arts (INCA). Her residency here is made possible by a grant from Hope’s Patrons for the Arts.
“Shakespeare isn’t scared to write about just how big our emotions and stories and relationships are, and he uses language that works to match the enormousness of it all,” Stemper said.
Stemper has enjoyed the process of performing “The Tempest” at Hope. From the minute she arrived, she felt a warm welcome.
“After I moved into my apartment, Daina Robins (director) happened to see my car in the driveway,” Stemper said. “She was in the neighborhood and popped in to say hello. That’s the kind of difference that you get while working here.”
Stemper is also very appreciative of the support in every aspect of the production—directors, designers and stage managers.
“The physical space is great. It is so nice to be working on stage so early and be supported technically. You can tell the department is open to everyone being involved, listened to and respected.”
Hope’s production has changed the gender of the leading character to a female. Prospera is the rightful duchess of Milan who has found refuge on an island after her younger sister, Antonia, seized Prospera’s title and property. Her possession and use of magical knowledge renders her extremely powerful and not entirely sympathetic. Her actions generate the plot of the play, as her various schemes, spells and manipulations all work together to achieve the end design.
Stemper first read “The Tempest” in her junior year of high school. Her great aunt adored Shakespeare, and the two would often talk about the plays.
As Stemper continued reading, she had an epiphany.
“I couldn’t help but ask myself, how did this man—this entity—arrive? We are so lucky that these stories have lasted. It’s not an accident. They are here because they are so rich.”
When asked about her favorite part of “The Tempest,” Stemper mentioned the fact that Prospera and Antonia are being portrayed as sisters.
“There is this huge layer added that is so relatable. Being a sister myself, I can relate to the feelings of love and frustration. During the second read through, I said ‘For you, most wicked ma’am, whom to call sister would even infect my mouth, I do forgive…’ and I looked up at Emilie Bickel (Antonia). I had this realization of what this relationship really was. I’m excited to see where it takes us.”
First-year student Katrina Dykstra (’19) plays Miranda, the daughter of Prospera, and is thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with a guest artist.
“I feel so privileged to have worked alongside Julia. She has helped me grow as an actor throughout this show, and I can’t imagine having anyone else as our Prospera.”
Stemper thinks the character of Miranda has the closest connection to college students. Upon seeing other humans, after being alone on the island for many years, Miranda exclaims, “brave new world!” She says that college students face similar circumstances.
Whether they are facing new ideas, personalities and challenges of being at college for the first time or contemplating graduation, they are all entering the “brave new world.”
Stemper has been impressed with the work Hope College Theatre chooses to perform and especially the interaction with guest artists.
“It is exciting to hear of how often the department works with outside professionals, infusing new ideas, creating relationships and exploring different practices within its own curriculum,” Stemper said.
“Most importantly though is that it does all that and is still a liberal arts degree, so it encourages students to explore ideas and other subjects beyond theater,” Stemper said. “I think that helps create theater practitioners with a diverse point of view and also practitioners that can relate to audiences that come with even more diversity. You can’t create new work without breaking out of your comfort zone and experiencing new things. It really all goes back to ‘The Tempest’ which might be why it’s my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays.”
After “The Tempest,” Stemper will be returning to Chicago and to Stone Soup for their sixth tour to perform “The Comedy of Errors.” Hope’s production of “The Tempest” will be on April 15-16 and 20-22 at 7:30 p.m. and April 23 at 2 p.m. in the DeWitt Theatre. Tickets are $10 for regular admission, $7 for senior citizens, Hope faculty and staff and free for Hope students and children 18 and under. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Anderson-Werkman Financial Center