Bob Jones University ended this semester’s Concert, Opera & Drama series with Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a performance made spectacular by new levels of student involvement, according to director and theatre department faculty member Jeffrey Stegall.
The performances earlier in the week gave students one last opportunity this semester to enjoy an exceptionally collaborative artist series. Stegall has plenty of experience with the play, having acted in it in 1997 and directed it once for BJU and twice for The Greenville Shakespeare Company since then.
Stegall chose to use his 19th-century vaudeville design that first went to stage in 2010 at BJU. Darren Lawson, dean of the School of Fine Arts and Communication, said The Tempest is performed at BJU about every eight to 10 years, with new designs used two to three times before being retired. Stegall’s design in 2010 was a student body favorite.
“When we did this in 2010, we had never done anything quite so ambitious,” Lawson said. “It’s a fresh way to do the play,” Lawson said the show’s popularity was largely due to the special effects, a facet he looked forward to seeing Stegall surpass in 2020.
For this year’s production, Stegall said he had forgotten how much of a challenge The Tempest was until he ran across some notes from the original design.
“We’re not only getting a Shakespeare play ready . . . but we’re also getting an illusion show ready,” Stegall said. Added to that challenge was the influx of young student actors, a challenge Stegall said he came to enjoy as much as staging an illusionist magic show.
“I found myself . . . so blessed and excited to be able to work with this next crop of young artists,” Stegall said.
Stegall was especially excited by the participation from what he calls his “spirit stage crew,” the ensemble of underclassmen theatre students who are both stagehands and spirits doing Prospero’s magic biddings. Stegall was particularly impressed with the creativity of Hannah Gooding, a sophomore theatre student who had the idea to add a “strong woman” to the play’s cirque-du-soleil-style magic show.
Gooding said the idea of a “strong woman” character in the magic show came from joking around with a friend, but she decided to send the idea to Stegall despite her doubts that he would choose to use it. Stegall’s reaction was enthusiastic—which is something Gooding said she has since come to expect, as Stegall continued to encourage underclassmen students’ ideas for added tricks to the already eclectic illusionist show.
Stegall said he was excited to be pulled out of the mindset of reiterating an old play with an already shown theme. “It was so exciting to think that here’s a student willing to bring her ideas, whether we use them or not,” Stegall said. A special appreciation for students working on this project grew out of the collaboration as more students got to bring unique perspectives.
I found myself… so blessed and excited to be able to work with this next crop of young artists. -Jeffrey Stegall
Eden Rowland, a freshman double major in English and theatre, was part of the ensemble, a huge opportunity for a freshman.
“Getting the opportunity to start with Rodeheaver is a blessing,” Rowland said. “It’s been definitely one of my favorite experiences of this whole year.”
Rowland also noted how collaborative the project was, saying that a lot of the ideas fleshed out on stage came from other actors. Beyond ideas, this collaboration eventually led to an eclectic cast.
Ezra Pressley, a freshman mechanical engineering student, rode a unicycle across stage as a feature of the magic show. The Tempest was Pressley’s first time on stage for a theatre production, giving him a greater appreciation for what goes on backstage, Pressley said. He was brought to the cast by Abby Marquez, a freshman history major who worked on props for the show. When Stegall asked for a unicyclist, Marquez remembered a volleyball game where she met Pressley. After asking around to find him, Marquez brought him to the cast.
Sean Powell, a junior math education major, responded to an email calling for a gymnast to add to the magic show, giving him what he called a once in a lifetime opportunity to perform on Rodeheaver stage.
Cearul Carpenter, a freshman fashion design major, also expressed his gratitude for a role in an artist series production as a freshman. “Everyone is treated the same,” Carpenter said. “Everyone is treated like a professional, as long as they act like a professional.”