The production of The Tempest at Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort is theater inspired by art inspired by nature.
"I'll think they (patrons) will have the experience like none they've ever had before, and in this day and age that's pretty hard to say," said Melanie VanHouten, who runs the park and is artistic director for the production. "Music, dance, theater and fine arts: there's a little something for everybody."
It is the second year for theater at the park. Last year, the same core group — VanHouten, director Kathi E.B. Ellis, composer and sound designer Phyllis Free and choreographer Dawn Schulz — mounted a female-centric interpretation of Macbeth.
"After the very first night, the audience was asking us, 'Are you going to do it next year?'" VanHouten said. "We said, 'Well, of course.' ... not knowing how we were going to pull it off financially."
The answer came in the form of a title sponsorship from Kentucky Employees Credit Union that allowed for the addition of a sound system and enabled to group to pay other costs and the fees of professional actors.
Ellis said she knew she had to produce Macbeth at the park when she saw the sculpture called The Crucible by Doug Schatz. "It was just a visceral response," she said.
This year, Mollie Rabiner's sculpture The Clarity Vehicle is central to the production.
The Tempest — about an exiled sorcerer, his daughter and his malevolent brother — feels right for the environment, she said, and the sculpture felt like the correct extension of that.
There is no formal stage, just a concrete centerpoint, at the Old Pond Amphitheatre, where the play will be mounted. The sculpture is crucial in evoking the mood on the magical island where Shakespeare set The Tempest. VanHouten said the actors interact and move the sculpture to change the mood and the emphasis of scenes throughout the play.
"This show feels right for this environment, then we collaborated to see what sculpture feels right to use," Ellis said.
All of it, she said, "is really at the core of the ambience of the island."
"We have a site-specific production in a very unique location," she said, making for a "multilayered and multisensoried experience."
"On top of that," she said, "we have Shakespeare's language."
The outdoor space does come with complications. There is no Plan B if there is a storm, for example. Plus, Ellis said, backstage is behind some bushes and a hedge. Stage directions can be "exit behind the hedge and the next time you will enter, enter on the steep hill," she said.
Multiple trips with the actors to the outdoor location before final rehearsals helped ease the transition from the rehearsal space to the show, she said.
Because of the production's unique location, patrons are encouraged to come early, bring a blanket and a picnic, and stroll the grounds to view some of the 30 sculptures installed there.
VanHouten, who says she does not always work well with others, said the collaboration among The Tempest troupe has been inspiring.
"None of us do what the other does," she said. "We all have our own areas of expertise and bring that experience with us."
And, Ellis said, they are already looking at other sculptures for inspiration for next year.