Growing up with the Bard: Lili Beaudoin on starring in the biggest Tempest ever

"I feel like I'm wrestling with great magic," director Meg Roe says of Shakespeare's last play. The result-- revamped from the 2008 production for the Mainstage--is a blockbuster of a play.

Miranda surrounded by the wreckage of the storm. Photo courtesy: David Blue

Bang! crash! With gusto and bravado, The Tempest stormed onto stage and captivated the viewers on opening night.

And it's all been a whirlwind for Lili Beaudoin, playing Miranda in her first Bard mainstage performance. "It really is a dream--a midsummer night's dream."

So after twenty-five years, what does it mean to grow up with the Bard? 

Younger than the company itself, Beaudoin has at her age seen too many plays to be able to count them all.

"As a kid, I remember being just so blown away by the talent and the production." Watching from backstage, she'd see the shows enough times to memorize the lines of favorite characters.

The company has always been a major part of her life: her father has played Puck in Midsummer's four separate times, Alan Morgan (Prospero) is a close family friend, while Jennifer Lines (Ariel) was her nanny.

She'd always wanted to be a part of the theatre "because of the community, and the support they give. Everyone takes care of each other."

She got her chance in 2003, on the Okanagan Bard's Production of Midsummer, where she got to play Baby Mustardseed. She was eleven. The experience is a blur to her today. 

Now, "it's much more real. It's a miracle, you know?"

New Staging, New Life 

Around her is one of the most lush productions the Bard has ever put on, with music, fire, flashing lights, dances, weddings, and magic. It's a blockbuster of a play.

Meg Roe creates a Tempest that balances tradition with her vision. "I feel like Prospero," she wrote of the directing experience, "preparing to wrestle with great magic."

The 'magic' is Shakespeare's last play, a complex work where magic can be tragedy but criticism can be comedy, and nothing is as it seems. Formerly discarded as a 'problem play', it's now considered one of Shakespeare's finest. And  Roe tackles it with respect and love.

The result is a play which is fresh at the same time that it stays true to the source material. Four strings musicians accompany the performance, with a number of soliloquies turned into arias. The songs, written by the Bard's Alessandro Juliani,  breathe new life into the script-- the shipwreck more dramatic, the faerie scenes more enchanting. For Beaudoin, the music "represents everything Shakespeare was trying to do with the play. It's magic." 

Roe also gender-bends to great effect. The Trincula-Stephana scenes-- written originally for two male sailors, now as wives played by Naomi Wright and Luisa Jojic-- are the funniest you'll see all summer: dancing around stage, wine in hand, the two sisters fall over each other, tear their dresses, lick shoes, and find themselves under the covers with the slave Caliban. It nailed Shakespeare's bawdy humor in the way productions that play it safer never could.  

 But the dramatic moments of the Tempest aren't lost between the laughs. A darkness surrounds the play, and all the magic and revelry can't disguise the brutality of Prospero, the island's master and slavekeeper. As Prospero, Alan Morgan expertly balances cruelty to his servants, hatred to his brother, and love to his daughter all in the same scene. But Caliban (Todd Thompson) reveals the true extent of Prospero's cruelty as he crawls along the stage. The showdowns between the two are the emotional cruxes of the play, showing the traumatic effects of slavery. For all the play's laughs, these are the scenes you remember long after the show.

Beside some of the darkest scenes in the play, Beaudoin's Miranda dances and sings of love. Her support for her father-- especially after witnessing his treatment of Caliban-- might seem cruel or oblivious. But with Beaudoin, Miranda's goodness shines through.

For her, Miranda always had to be "full of love, love for Caliban even though he's terrible to her, love to her Father and love to the world." And for good reason: without her, the play would lean a lot closer to tragedy than comedy.

 The Bard Experience 

But the grand production, the tremendous acting, and the beautiful music can't obscure the Bard's greatest asset: its setting. This year, the mainstage curls itself like the inside of a shell, opening up at the back on English Bay. And whether the play conveys joy or despair, the backdrop remains.

"The weather is one of the actors in the show," Beaudoin says, "except you never really know what it's gonna do."

On opening night it played its part perfectly. As Miranda talked of the storm, the Ocean crashed; as Ariel sung her aria, a heron moved across the banks; as Prospero gave his "this is what dreams are made of" soliloquy, it went dark and the city lights twinkled on.

It's the kind of moment that can only happen at Bard on the Beach. Twenty-five years later, the Bard has become a Vancouver staple-- how many other cities get a stage where a heron is part of the cast?

And now Beaudoin, years after watching Bard plays backstage, plays a central part in one of the company's biggest plays ever. The Tempest combines everything that's amazing about the company: brilliant acting, surreal sets, and just a little bit of magic. 

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