Shakespeare on the spot: Local theater company delivers ‘bootleg’ version of ‘The Tempest’

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Nick Reed, seen here outside TheatreNOW, plays Prospero in--and is director of--a unique, unrehearsed production of The Tempest tonight at the downtown playhouse. Photo by Hilary Snow.
Nick Reed, seen here outside TheatreNOW, plays Prospero in–and is director of–a unique, unrehearsed production of The Tempest tonight at the downtown playhouse. Photo by Hilary Snow.

Nick Reed got a taste of the living, breathing nature of the stage when, as a student at UNC-Wilmington, he was called upon to step in, very last minute, on closing night of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” as one of the two leads.

It was a stressful situation–the actor playing Rosencratz had come down with a sudden illness and was in the hospital. While someone stalled the audience for a half hour, cast and crew threw a script in Reed’s hand and got him out under the bright lights to play a part for which he was totally unprepared.

He didn’t know the blocking for the role and had to stumble through the lines–often being physically nudged into place by his fellow cast members. It was a frightening ordeal, and Reed loved every minute of it.

“I remembered thinking how terrifying and fun that was…the cast and crew were so excited and said they felt like they actually watched it for the first time in the long time,” he recalled. “It was exhausting and full of energy. And I thought, I can recreate that whenever I want.”

And that’s just what he will do as director of Up All Night Theatre’s “Bootleg Shakespeare: The Tempest,” a totally unrehearsed production of one of the Bard’s most famous tragicomedies. The improvisational show, of sorts, will go on at 9:30 p.m. tonight (Wednesday) at TheatreNOW, 19 S. Tenth St.

It’s a concept Reed has only ever heard about once before, from a UNCW theater professor who had himself been a part of such an experiment.

After forming up all night nearly two years ago with fellow students Liz Bernardo and Zeb Mims, Reed decided to take a stab at the concept. The trio, which has since graduated, most recently put on “Brick,” an adaptation that earned a nomination as “Best Original Play” from this year’s Wilmington Theater Awards.

“The Tempest” has been cast, with each actor having a “rough idea” of his or her character, Reed said, but that’s about all the prep work they’ll get. When they perform tonight, it will be the first time they have all been on the stage together.

“We’ve all worked with Shakespeare before and know how to appreciate it in our own individual way. It’s going to be pretty exciting to come together…everyone has to listen to each other’s lines and respond,” Reed noted.

Since the cast is made of members of UNCW’s theater department, Reed knows them all well, knows which roles for which they were best suited. But he also knew there were a few actors he’d like to challenge just a bit.

“The guy playing Antonio, Josh Browner…just looking at him you can tell he’s a teddy bear,” Reed said. “So, I wanted to cast him as a villain.”

If it seems like Reed is a bit like a maniacal mastermind, quietly rubbing his hands together in the background, it’s because he is, in a good-natured sort of way. He’s thrown some curve balls into the mix, secret plans he has to better put the actors on the spot.

“There’s a bit I have only talked to two people about that three people need to be aware of,” he said, laughing. “So, they’ll have to figure it out on the fly. Who knows what they’ll come up with but it will be a thousand times better because it’s in the moment.”

And while he’s enjoying a little harmless trickery, Reed is willing to partake, as well, opting to take on a lead role as Prospero.

Actors have been tasked with coming up with their own costumes from “whatever they have in their closets,” Reed said. They’ll be performing with the set of TheatreNOW’s ongoing production of “A Trailer Park Christmas” behind them.

The wondrous chaos that is “Bootleg Shakespeare” is exhiliarating to Reed and it’s a concept he hopes audiences and actors alike will embrace.

“The audience gets to watch the actors have fun. And when the cast and crew has fun, the audience falls into suit,” he said.

Ahead of the one-night-only performance of “The Tempest,” Reed was already thinking ahead to future “Bootleg” shows.

“I’d love that,” he said. “And I hope that the theater community will come by and see it and say, ‘This looks like so much fun to do.'”

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.