Next week, Shakespeare’s The Tempest will be playing at Hart House as the theatre’s second play of the season. The play tells the story of Prospero, an exiled lord on the hunt for revenge and willing to sacrifice the happiness of his daughter, Miranda, to take down his enemies.
I sat down with director and Hart House Theatre veteran Jeremy Hutton to discuss what he wanted to bring to the play and how he feels Hart House has evolved since he was first introduced to it 13 years ago.
The Medium: What was your main vision when you first started as artistic director for Hart House?
Jeremy Hutton: Oh, wow, that’s going back a few years. There’s a bunch of things combined: there was making the artistic project more consistent during the season, trying to make things a little more interesting artistically, trying to do at least one Canadian work a year, and trying to get more students involved in the operations.
TM: Do you think that the visions you brought to the theatre are still present today?
JH: Well, I’m not around as much anymore, so it’s hard to say. But it seems like it. Certainly, the student involvement in the theatre has gotten better since I was the artistic director. They have a lot of time to focus on that, so that’s exciting. But yeah, I would say so.
TM: What encouraged you to take on so many different roles as director of this production?
JH: Oh, it’s my personality. I like to do all sorts of things. There’s a lot of reasons for that: I work in the arts, and if I was just an actor there likely wouldn’t be enough work, and probably the same if I was just a director. I think I would get bored if I were to sit around—I want to get ideas out of my head, so I like to do different things all in the same field.
I also write and do sound design. I do the sound design because there’s a lot of music in the show, and for me to communicate with a composer to get the sound that I want, and then get it all together in many ways, is easier and more effective. The marriage between those elements can be a little more precise because now it’s maybe two or three people trying to marry their elements rather than five or six.
TM: How do you balance all these different responsibilities?
JH: Less sleep. I’m not very good at dividing my brain in any given moment—I have to do one thing or another thing. So I kind of have to separate the tasks and find the time to do them. It’s just time management, really. It gets intense at points, but it’s well worth it.
TM: What was the main thing that you wanted to bring to The Tempest?
JH: It’s really interesting. I mean, I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare in my life, but The Tempest is one that I was not really familiar with before this process started. I’d never seen it, I’d never starred in it, and I’d never directed it. It was kind of like a fresh Shakespeare for me. The first step for me was just going through it and trying to figure out how to get all the magical elements to work in a unified world. ’Cause, you know, goddesses come down and all these crazy things. Trying to find some sort of overarching vision to be able to contain all that in a way that made it really cool, and not just trying and failing to do this gag or that gag. The overarching show design that came out of all these different elements really had to be there and try to find a solution that worked for all those things.
There’s a lot of colonial stuff in there: coming to this strange island and taking natives home with you and selling them or putting them on show. There’s a real underlying evil colonial feel with Prospero enslaving the spirits, and so with that in mind, I sort of wanted to put everything into a really colonial period and pick it up where Shakespeare wrote it, which is really early colonial—early 17th century.
The Tempest starts with a shipwreck, so the set itself is an island of shipwrecks. Ideally, if I had all the money in the world, my set of broken ships all over the place would move and combine to create one perfectly constructed ship at the end of the play.
TM: Was it very daunting to take on a play that, up until this point, you had only read but were never too familiar with?
JH: That’s what drew me to it. I did find it exceptionally daunting—especially this one, because there’s a lot of logic problems in The Tempest. Like, things that don’t actually make any sense. They don’t really have to make sense. But when you’re directing it, you have to make it make sense for yourself.
A lot of the times when I’m directing, I come in with preconceived notions of how it’s going to go, but when it came to this one there’s a more open process with the actors and with the designers because we weren’t sure yet how we were going to do some of the major magic elements. We knew we created a world where it was all possible, but it was daunting and time restrictions were piling up.
On the other hand, it’s very artistically satisfying to be able to explore that with a group of artists that you’re working with, and I think we’ve had a big success.
TM: You’ve directed quite a few plays at Hart House. How do you feel the Hart House Theatre has evolved since you first started working for it?
JH: Oh, goodness. Well it was, when I started here, a rental house that didn’t produce its own seasons at all. And then when I was a student in 2001 they started producing their own seasons and I was a part of that. I would say the major thing that has developed is a more interesting vision of what the theatre ought to be doing and more interest in executing that and making it happen. On top of that, the audience size has grown exponentially in those years. It starts to make you feel like maybe the theatre is relevant to the people who might be coming to see it.
TM: Do you feel like you played a big role in its evolution?
JH: I think I get more credit than I deserve. Obviously, I was a big part of it in many ways and a lot of the productions that started to be at the level the theatre wanted to be at were ones that I had worked on. But often in the theatre, we put a lot of focus on the individual production and forget the people who are making that happen. I think those people—Paul Templin, Doug Floyd—are the ones who are really responsible for the growth of the theatre over that time.
TM: What’s next for you?
JH: I’m doing some acting—I go back to rehearsals at the Winter Garden for Shakespeare the day after The Tempest opens at Hart House. That goes until Christmas, and then after that I don’t know.