Hello, I’m Jeffrey Chips, and I will be playing Alonso in this year’s production of The Tempest with PSIP. I’ve just returned to Pittsburgh after three years away in Staunton, VA, where I earned an MLitt and MFA in Shakespeare and Performance from Mary Baldwin College. For anyone who saw PSIP’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2006, I played Snout. I’m thrilled to be back in the area and working with this wonderful company again.
My graduate program in Shakespeare and Performance worked in association with the American Shakespeare Center, which meant that for three years, I had the opportunity to witness and work with some amazingly talented people putting together some incredible pieces of theater. In my final year, I served as an understudy on four productions at ASC, among them being The Tempest, which I actually got to perform twice as Gonzalo. Largely because of this experience, The Tempest is a play that sits very near and dear to my heart. It has some great passages. Prospero’s “We are such stuff as dreams are made on” speech might be one of the best passages ever written down by anyone anywhere. And though it’s been cut from this production, I encourage everyone to read Gonzalo’s “I’the commonwealth…” speech in 2.1 and marvel at how, in 1611, Shakespeare was able to foresee the economic and political problems people in the New World would face for centuries to come.
But aside from the great speeches, what I love most about The Tempest is that it is, at its core, a play about fathers learning to love by letting go (though I should add that with talents like Helen Mirren and Olympia Dukakis playing Prospero in recent incarnations, the play definitely speaks to both mothers and fathers). We see from the beginning how Prospero holds tightly to the things he loves (his books, his magic, Ariel, Miranda, and of course his grudges) to the point that he becomes possessive. I suppose he’s Shakespeare’s version of a hoarder. Letting go is difficult and painful for him, and watching him do it is heart-wrenching. The play also features Alonso, the King of Naples, who has recently married his daughter, Claribel, off to the King of Tunis and will likely never see her again, and then has lost his son, Ferdinand, in the storm, believing him to be dead. Though Alonso’s story is not as central to the overall plot as Prospero’s, I find it equally compelling, and (**SPOILER ALERT**) his reunion with Ferdinand deeply moving.
While working on the production of The Tempest with ASC, my wife and I gave birth to our son, Samuel, and the themes of the play suddenly took on an even greater significance in my own life — especially the Alonso-Ferdinand storyline. I’ve seen some phenomenal actors play Alonso (namely Rene Thornton Jr. at ASC and Adam Smethurst with Actors From the London Stage) with great emotional depth and vulnerability. I hope that my portrayal can live up to their example, and I look forward to allowing this great play once again teach me how to be a better actor and father.