On campus this spring to portray Prospera in Hope College Theatre’s production of “The Tempest” opening on Friday, April 15, guest artist Julia Stemper is helping enhance the experience of the student cast and crew—but she in turn also appreciates what she has been experiencing at Hope.
The program is fortunate to have professional guest artists collaborate with its work in many areas. “The Tempest,” for example, also features professional scenic designer David Barber from New York City.
Stemper is based in the Chicago, Illinois, area, where she is the founder and artistic director of Stone Soup Shakespeare and was recently named company member with The Plagiarists. Her residency at Hope is made possible by a grant from the college’s Patrons for the Arts.
She has enjoyed the process of mounting “The Tempest” at Hope. From the minute she arrived, she felt a warm welcome.
“After I moved in my apartment, Daina Robins (director) happened to see my car in the driveway. She was in the neighborhood and popped in to say hello. That’s the kind of difference that you get while working here,” she said.
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,” she said. “You can tell the department is open to everyone being involved, listened to, and respected.”
She has been impressed with the work with which Hope College Theatre chooses to engage, 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,” she said. “Most important, 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. 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.”
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 Julia continued reading, she had an epiphany. “I couldn’t help but ask myself, how did this man—this entity—arrive?” she said. “We are so lucky that these stories have lasted. It’s not an accident. They are here because they are so rich.”
“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,” she said.”
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…’ I looked up at Emilie Bickel (Antonia) and I had this realization of what this relationship really was. I’m excited to see where it takes us.”
Freshman Katrina Dykstra of Walker 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 said. “She has helped me grow as an actor throughout this show, and I can't imagine having anyone else as our Prospera.”
Stemper thinks that the character of Miranda has the closest connection for college students. Upon seeing other humans, after being alone on the island for many years, Miranda exclaims, “brave new world….” Stemper relates that college students face similar circumstances. Whether they are facing new ideas, personalities and the challenges of being at college for the first time, or contemplating graduation, they are all entering the “brave new world.”
Prior to moving to Chicago, Stemper, who holds a BA from Macalester College, lived in Glasgow, Scotland, where she received her MFA from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. She has also done extensive work with the International Network for Culture and Arts (INCA). Similarly, she served as an educational performer at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
In addition to performing, Stemper teaches voice, movement and yoga. She was the director of Theater Education for Rhode Island’s Institute for International Sport and has been a guest lecturer on Shakespeare in Performance at Southern Illinois University (Carbondale). She also served as a program coordinator for The Kennedy Center’s Performing Arts for Everyone initiative.
Her credits include: “Much Ado About Nothing,” “As You Like It,” “Parlour Macbeth,” “The Tempest” (Stone Soup Shakespeare), “Belladonna Luna Sonata,” “these saints will burn,” “Matryoshka” (The Plagiarists), “Lydie Breeze” (Ka-Tet Theatre), “Commedia King John” (Chicago dell’Arte), “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed” (Lifeline), “Romeo and Juliet” (First Folio), “Heuristics in the Diner” (Traverse Theatre), “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (The Arches), “Twelfth Night” (The Globe Theater-Education), “Captain Squishy’s Yee Haw Jamboree” (I Like Nuts), “The Crucible,” “The Shape of Things” (Tapestry Theatre), “Alice in Wonderland” (Synetic/Classika) and “The Drunkard” (Solas Nua).
After “The Tempest,” Stemper will be returning to Chicago and to Stone Soup for its sixth tour and performing “The Comedy of Errors.”
Hope College Theatre’s production of “The Tempest” will run on Friday and Saturday, April 15-16; Wednesday-Friday, April 20-22, at 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, April 23, at 2 p.m. in the DeWitt Center main theatre.
Tickets are $10 for regular admission, $7 for senior citizens, Hope faculty and staff, and free for Hope College students and children 18 and under. Tickets are available at the ticket office in the Events and Conferences Office located downtown in the Anderson-Werkman Financial Center (100 E. Eighth St.). The office is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be called at (616) 395-7890. Tickets are also available online at hope.edu/tickets.
The DeWitt Center is located at 141 E. 12th St., facing Columbia Avenue between 10th and 13th streets.