The Story Behind the Photo: "The Tempest"

Tania Thompson
 | Dec 23, 2020
The Tempest
Nate Dendy (Ariel), Tom Nelis (Prospero) and Charlotte Graham (Miranda) in The Tempest (2014). Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey.

About The Tempest

Transformed onstage into a travelling tent show, this is The Tempest unlike anything you—or the Bard—ever envisioned! As the wizard Prospero plots revenge on the enemies who banished him, the exuberant epic takes on a new life—thanks to the music (haunting ballads by the inimitable Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan), the magic (by Teller, of the legendary Penn and Teller duo) and the movement (by Pilobolus, the dance troupe Newsday called “mind-blowing…wildly creative…and physically daring”). This show was produced in association with the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University and The Smith Center, Las Vegas.

In 2014, magic burst forth on the Segerstrom Stage with a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, adapted and reimagined by acclaimed playwright Aaron Posner and magician Teller. As part of a 17-member cast, magician and actor Nate Dendy portrayed the spirit-servant Ariel. “I could hear people holding their breath every night when we got to this moment,” he says, of the photo, above. Read on to find out more about what he found magical and powerful about this moment.

What moment does this depict?

Simply, it’s one last dance. Prospero is giving his only child away to marriage. He’s a magician doing one last amazing magical trick with his daughter. He gets to perform with her one last time. It’s their version of a game of basketball in the driveway or fishing or working on a jigsaw puzzle together. Prospero is approaching the end of his own life and so it’s the two of them getting to share one last dance together. You can see me off to the side as Prospero’s spirit-servant, Ariel. I watched this moment from beside Prospero more than 500-plus times, maybe more, and it never got old.

How did you work to make this moment happen?

As so many moments require, there was a team of minds that fine-tuned this moment from every direction. It’s going to sound like I’m just listing people, but each one had a hand in why it looked, and most importantly felt, the way it did. Tom Nelis (Prospero) Charlotte Graham (Miranda) and I worked through the scene with our directors, Teller and Aaron Posner. And, of course, the late and great illusionist Johnny Thompson. Not to mention the band, sound design, lighting, set and costume teams. This isn’t a moment you can just wing​; ​everybody has to be on their game. It requires a lot of grueling work to make something look that effortless. I still wish I could have watched it just once from the audience. 

What’s the power about this moment?

From where I stood on stage, I could hear people holding their breath every night when we got to this moment. I could go on and on about its power, dramaturgically or metaphorically, but really, it just took people’s breath away. Plain and simple. And there just isn’t anything better than that right?

Anything else you’d like to say about the photo or the production?

All I can say is how grateful I am to have ​been a part of the team that built this production from the ground up. All of our casts and crews from theatre to theatre, and the entire creative team, taught me so much. I’ve gained some lifelong friends from the experience and it has literally changed the path of my life. Theatre. Is. Important.