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Why Teller Added Magic Tricks to The Tempest

Penn’s silent partner on the magic he’s devised for Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater

You’re a magician. Why Shakespeare?

When I was about five or six, my grandfather, who was a Russian immigrant who devoted himself passionately to English literature, sent my family a set of volumes of Shakespeare. My father pulled out two for me: Macbeth and The Tempest. Sixty years later, [they’re] the plays I’m devoting a large portion of my life to.

What makes this production of The Tempest different from others?

We go through all of the work to fake the magic in a way that convinces the audience. There are hints in Shakespeare’s text that he would have done the show this way. In the text, it says the feast vanishes with a “quaint device,” which is Elizabethan lingo for “magic trick.”

What kinds of magic tricks will the audience see?

Ariel uses a pack of cards as a way of talking. At the same time that he narrates events, he illustrates what he’s talking about with amazing card magic. Cards become characters and weapons.

How is creating an illusion for a story different from performing it for its own sake?

The whole art of the show is, How can you make the magic clarify and enhance the story and not contradict it? The underlying image behind this show was Willard the Wizard, who had a touring tent show during the Depression. If Willard the Wizard decided to do The Tempest, how would he do it?

GO: The Tempest runs through November 8 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave. $48 to $88. chicagoshakes.‌com

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