Tempest on Snake Island

Company Name: Welfare State International
Location: Canada
Year: 1981

The show was staged in Canada in May 1981, working in partnership with a host community on Ward’s Island in Toronto harbour. The preparation for the show took two years with a number of meetings in London and Canada. The company involved 40 Islanders to organise, make, animate and perform the show. Two weeks were spent building the structures.

The Island community were in reality fighting mainland bureaucracy who wanted to take over their self-built wooden homes. So the theme of Shakespeare’s The Tempest was chosen to reflect the power struggle between the native Islanders and the mainland politicos. Five performances, each lasting four hours were made on five successive evenings. The audience was ferried to a remote part of the Island where they witnessed a complex promenade performance, involving 6 sites, a large-scale puppet tableaux, a shadow play and a communal circle dance with over 300 members of the audience.

Ron Grimes,  Beginnings in Ritual Studies:

Tempest on Snake Island worked. It galvanised a group of islanders and mainlanders, entertained and enlightened spectators, salvaged a lot of junk, taught numerous skills, generated several thousand dollars of income, facilitated important contacts, initiated ritual processes with on-going possibilities. Welfare State had not provided an answer to the socio-political problem but had transported it to a more sensual medium, that of a nursery rhyme celebration rite in which people are free to imagine alternatives.’

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