'Tempest' in the Trees: IslandWood's First Shakespeare Production

tempest-cropped1Update after seeing the show: We found kindred spirits at the performance of The Tempest at Islandwood, from the audience members gathered around the intimate ground stage to the characters in the play. It was a delight just to walk through the campus of this outdoor learning center on the way to Creaky Tree Meadow. The buildings we wandered through and around are gorgeously designed, and the grounds and forest are a true respite from city life.

I was glad there was no intermission during the play; this meant we could fully immerse ourselves in Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter. My 11-year-old daughter, attending her first outdoor play, noted that it was awesome to be able to float in and out of the dialogue; that you could always figure out what was going on, be it from the action or a portion of the lyrical words.

The most magical scenes for her were when the spirits took center stage, singing and dancing, bearing food and drink and turning themselves into tables. I enjoyed the energy of Ariel, an airy spirit played by Jenna May Cass, and the light-hearted scenes whenever the drunken butler Stephano (played by Kristi Ann Jacobson) was on stage.

And who wouldn’t feel under the spell that Shakespeare weaves as Prospero says “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”


Imagine relaxing on an island while watching a play about people shipwrecked on an island.

You can realize this vision at a performance of The Tempest at IslandWood on Bainbridge Island, on August 1, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8. Plop a picnic blanket down on Creaky Tree Meadow during this first outdoor theater production from Islandwood, an outdoor learning center, and Bainbridge Performing Arts (BPA) Shakespeare Society.

The idea of tying the plot to the outdoor setting was the brainchild of director Tom Challinor. This play is part of his final project for his MFA in Arts Leadership from Seattle University. “When you take [a play] outside and add nature to the mix, it becomes a third part: nature, audience, and artists,” he says.

If you have never been to Islandwood, attending this play is a way to familiarize yourself with its lovely campus, which contains 255 acres of forest and wetlands, including tree houses, a pond, and a bridge. Nic Nemeth, an 11-year-old who has participated in activities here (IslandWood's flagship program is a school overnight program), says, “IslandWood is awesome. It makes you want to live in the trees.”

Seeing theater outside lends itself to unique moments of magic and connection, from a plane passing at a certain moment to the sound of wind and creaking trees adding to the action. The play The Tempest has something for everyone, too, says Challinor. The main character Prospero invokes a storm, causing people to shipwreck on an island. Storylines include a princess and a prince; a dad getting in the way of true love; a servant/master thread; the dance between revenge and forgiveness; monsters, fairies, spirits, and a magician.

And don’t forget the age-old quest to be king. “They all want to become kings, like in most stories,” says actress Grace Anne Smith, an 11-year-old girl who plays an unnamed singing spirit who is Ariel’s sidekick in The Tempest.

Of course, there is no way to know what parts of the play will speak to each audience member, what role the surrounding environment will play, or what magical moments each night’s performance will bring. That's part of the beauty of outdoor theater.

Still, young actress Grace Anne, whose mother Barbie-Jo Smith plays Ceres the Goddess of Bounty in The Tempest, can talk about her favorite scenes, such as when the spirits put the shipwrecked passengers to sleep. She loves that they wake up the person Prospero likes best by singing an Elizabethan tune while everyone else continues to snooze.

“We use our magical voices to wake him up because he doesn’t even know we are there,” says Grace Anne.

Unlike most of the outdoor theater you will see in the Seattle area this summer, this isn’t a free production and there are a limited number of tickets to the shows, making for a more intimate setting. If you don’t live on Bainbridge Island, the journey to Islandwood may add to the feeling of traveling back to Shakespearean times via an outdoor theater experience.

Challinor recommends leaving your cell phone in your car. “Give us three hours. Sit in the woods for a bit. It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you are from. You are going to find kindred spirits here.”

If you go ...

When: The play runs on August 1, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8; all performances are at 7 p.m. and last just under two hours, with no intermission.

Where: IslandWood, an outdoor learning center on Bainbridge Island. Directions here.

Tickets: Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for children. Buy online.

Age recommendation: The play is geared for older kids who can sit calmly through an almost two-hour play.

Tips: Be ready to walk for about 15 minutes from the parking area to the meadow. Just shy of two hours, the production has no intermission. Bring your lawn chairs or blankets.

Also visit: The Lynwood Center near IslandWood has many new shops and restaurants and a farmers market. If you arrive earlier in the day, also consider checking out the new Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, near the ferry landing or lovely Bloedel Reserve, 8 miles north of IslandWood.

See also: Our complete guide to outdoor theater this summer.

nancy-altonWriter, editor, and writing coach Nancy Schatz Alton is finishing the last draft of a memoir. She is co-author of two holistic health care guides: The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knees Book. When not navigating parenthood, she uses her brain power to write, edit, and fact-check articles for websites and magazines. She lives in Ballard with her husband and two elementary-age daughters. Find her blog at Within the Words.

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