Here Come The Tempest Ladies!

An Interview with Stella Berg & Katherine Elliot

By Frances McGarry

In 2008, six Syracuse University Acting students imagined a novel approach to presenting Shakespeare.  Inspired by a semester abroad program at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, Stella Berg,  a co-founder/producer/actor of the company, experienced Shakespeare in an entirely different light. “I saw what it was like to really witness a Shakespeare performance done the way that he would have done it; full of music, dancing, humor, life — and it was electric.” Growing up in Istanbul, Stella was taught to dissect and analyze Shakespeare’s plays line-by-line: “I hated Shakespeare in school; it was so boring and I couldn’t understand anything.” Everything changed the moment she saw her first Globe production.  For their final assignment, their class performed a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the Globe stage. The founding members were all paired in the same group and since there were no men in their troupe, the women assumed all the roles.  Having a mutual affinity towards the Bard and playing roles they never would ordinarily be cast in, the ladies decided to continue working together as an ensemble.  Being a group of only six, they developed a unique way to cast their shows.  “We switch roles constantly throughout the play.  So no one is cast in any given part, but rather we share the roles and switch often throughout each play.”  The switches happen at very deliberate points – whenever there is a change in the status quo of a character.  Because of this, each actress is given the opportunity to play a wide variety of characters, both male and female.  Thus, became the creation of The Tempest Ladies.

Stella envisions a three-fold approach to achieve this undertaking:  first, to strip away gender stereotypes; second, to embolden young people to access Shakespeare’s plays in real and practical ways, and finally have these aspirations coalesce to be a source of entertainment for their audiences.  Katherine Elliot who recently joined the ensemble this past year was surprised at how audiences embraced this gender-friendly presentation of Shakespeare.  As Producer for The Taming of The Shrew, Katherine was concerned that a 3-hour performance would have audiences streaming out during intermission; in fact, “People were blown away!  The audience was entertained and very active the whole time. They wanted to come again.  They were upset that there wasn’t a longer run.”  As performers, both Stella and Katherine spoke of the dynamic nature of switching roles as well as gender onstage.  “Every actress brings her own idiosyncrasies to that character,” says Katherine, “it’s also fun to have the opportunity to play male roles and to get into their heads.  You learn that men and women are very similar in a lot of ways.”  “These stereotypical elements that we attribute to the male versus the female actually become irrelevant,” Stella explains, “because at the end of the day we’re all human beings [thereby bringing a transparency to] human sexuality. . . It doesn’t matter if it’s a female character or male character; they have the same wheel of emotions. For instance, there’ so much strength and so much murderous and treacherous energy in Lady Macbeth – qualities typically attributed to men. Simultaneously there are moments of intense vulnerability and childlike behavior, of dread and fear from Macbeth – emotions usually attributed to women.  When I play Lysander and play opposite of another who’s playing Hermia, we’re two people in love, regardless of their gender of who’s playing what.  You feel the same jitter and excitement for someone you adore – an element of fear.”  Katherine interjects, “Kate [The Taming of the Shrew] is written as a very masculine character, she’s tough and won’t submit, so she’s seen as this “shrew”. . . and watching actresses in our company play her is interesting.  She is psychologically masculine and biologically feminine, and since we are an all-female ensemble, she tends to be played as a male character would be.  It was a lot of fun for me to watch every night.”  No matter which female is playing which role—audiences suspend their belief and their perceptions are altered by this artistic invention.

The arts can transform people’s lives and this is why The Tempest Ladies are intent on making this accessible to students.  “It can be a bit intimidating to play Shakespeare in English for Turkish students attending a French school in Istanbul,” reported Teaching Artist Laura Borgwardt in her testimonial:

The idea of a language barrier begins to creep into your subconscious. The key is remembering that movement is a universal language. It can convey feeling, story; meaning. Using our bodies to express is innately human. We ‘jump for joy,’ we ‘tremble with fear’. There is a shared understanding of the way we use physicality to communicate. It no longer matters if the audience comprehends every single word that we were saying – they follow the meaning through the movement.

Our workshops in Istanbul focused on ensemble-building and using movement to help tell a story. As a companion to seeing the play performed, they allowed different access points to the material and to the experience. To delve into the themes and physical vocabulary beforehand left the students more prepared for what they were going to see. It gave them ownership over their own experience and allowed them to take part in the process.

I was impressed by how willingly the students jumped into exercises, trusting us and trusting their peers – their fellow ensemble members – and in doing so, creating something so beautiful together. The joy of self-expression, and of working together to accomplish a task, permeated the classroom. It is the same joy we have as an ensemble when we rehearse together and create. It was incredible to be able to share that passion with future storytellers.

After raising $10,000, The Tempest Ladies are readying for their Off-Broadway production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this April.  Looking to the future, they would like to take A Midsummer’s Night Dream back to Turkey, but for now, The Tempest Ladies will set the NYC theater world afire with their talent, their passion, and their tempestuous tale of comedy and gender subterfuge.

For more information about The Tempest Ladies visit:,

To purchase tickets to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream visit:

Testimonial #47: Katherine Elliot, Actor/Producer The Tempest Ladies

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?

Being artistic is just sort of in my blood, so I guess I was born with a broken mold. I was very lucky to have had some excellent and encouraging teachers when I was in school. I think the first one was the French teacher that I had from 6th to 8th grade who everyone called, Madame. She was fantastic. Every class was like watching a performance, and she could make us laugh while she was speaking a language that we didn’t know yet. Needless to say, her humor made me, and I’m sure most of the rest of the class, really want to understand what was going on. It made me want to learn French. Every day before class, we got to pick out what we wanted to wear. There were boas, berets, sparkly dresses, old suit jackets, flowers…all sorts of things. We were called by the French names we chose, and it was a blast. She knew that I liked art, and she was always encouraging me to utilize it.

A couple of years ago, I was taking an intensive at The Second City in Chicago, and I couldn’t believe it when I walked in and saw her sitting in my class. I also couldn’t believe that she actually remembered me after all of these years. It was a fun reunion, and we ended up carpooling to every class. She doesn’t teach anymore, but it made me really happy to know that she is still putting on performances.

Another standout for me is a professor that I had in graduate school (for English Literature; it wasn’t an art program) who came into my life at a time when I was on the verge of making some very big decisions. Allowing me to incorporate my artistic interests into the class may have tipped the scale that sent me rolling off to New York. There were many reasons that I chose to pursue the arts instead of getting a “real” job, but this professor really made it hit home how important the arts always have been throughout history, and still are to this day.

He would show us paintings that were painted at the same time that the books we were reading were written, which is typical to do from time to time in most literature classes, but this professor made it a focus. We would analyze paintings in the same way that we analyzed writing. We would find ways in which the author was likely influenced by the painting, which really made the connection between the arts, literature and society hit home for me. Everything is interconnected, and to this day, this is still a pattern, if not more because of the internet and our ability to easily mass communicate. He also allowed me to make a pair of Viking boots instead of writing a paper because he recognized that I would learn well that way, and it is because of that class that I am able to make my own moccasins. It’s also responsible for my knowledge of the trials and tribulations of Viking footwear during battle 🙂

All in all, I was champing at the bit to pursue the arts as a career, and these teachers assisted in making me feel confident that the arts are not only important, but crucial. Art is a form of communication, and I believe that it’s as necessary a school subject as learning to write. I am very thankful.

How are the arts re-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your local schools?

A Midsummer Night's Dream

I am a Producer/Actor for an all-female Shakespearean theatre company called The Tempest Ladies, and part of our mission is traveling overseas (primarily Istanbul, as of now) to schools in order to make Shakespeare more accessible in a fun and creative way. It gives children the opportunity to learn about Shakespeare and his plays through movement, character/relationship building and performance as opposed to sitting in a classroom only analyzing the text. We are based out of and perform in New York City, and we are currently talking about bringing our productions and workshops to underprivileged schools in the area as well as other cities abroad.

April 22-26, 2015

American Theatre of Actors, Chernuchin Theatre (View)
314 W. 54th Street
New York, NY 10035







The deadline for the submission of applications will be 11:59 PM Thursday, April 30, 2015
Award winners will be announced by September 2015

The Women in the Arts & Media Coalition, Inc. will present the 2015 Collaboration Award recognizing Women Working with Women.  The $1,000 Collaboration Award and additional honorable mentions are designed to encourage professional women in the arts and media from different specializations to work collaboratively on the creation of a new artistic work. As the aim of the award is to encourage women to work collaboratively with women of other disciplines, each collaborative team must be comprised of female members of different Coalition associations, unions, guilds and affiliates of The Coalition. Eligible teams may submit any form of creative collaboration on a new work that had its first public performance within the last two years 2013-2015. A Public Performance can include, but is not limited to a staged reading, gallery show, screenings, concert series, etc.

Submissions will be judged on the basis of artistic excellence, diversity, and clarity. All topics and subjects will be considered. Special attention shall be given to those projects which reflect the goals of the Coalition: to advance women’s work and women’s issues.

The team that has been selected and the honorable mentions will be invited to be recognized at an awards ceremony in New York in October 2015. Women outside of New York may send a designee to speak about their project and accept the award.

Teams of two or more women working together on the creative project may apply for the 2015 Collaboration Award. Applicants must be members in good standing of two different organizations and/or affiliates with The Coalition. Those organizations are: Actors’ Equity Association, Dramatists Guild, League of Professional Theatre Women, New York Women in Film & Television, Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, Writers’ Guild of America, East. Affiliate member organizations are: WomenArts, Women Make Movies, Women’s Media Center, Works by Women, The Rehearsal Club, Dancers Over 40, Professional Women Singers Association, The Drama Desk, The Lambs, Inc., and National Theatre Conference.

Apply here

Quotes from Past Winners:

“We are so honored to be accepting this award. One of the best aspects
of making this very unconventional film was working together.
We are two women who brought different skills sets to the table.
We got it done using our creativity, mutual respect for one another,
quality Skype-time with our families back home, plain old hard work,
and as much good humor as we could muster. It means the world
to us to have our film embraced by an organization that celebrates
women in collaboration.”

Jane Edith Wilson and Grace Lee, 2013 Winners

“It was an honor for Stefanie and I to receive the Collaboration Award.

It came at a critical moment for the development of Electric Baby as

the award supported our work together on two developmental

workshops and our world premiere production of the play at Quantum

Theatre in Pittsburgh. Not only did this award support our work

financially, it gave our collaboration recognition in the field. Stefanie

continues to be a key collaborator of mine on subsequent projects

and having our relationship recognized publicly is invaluable.”

Daniella Topol, Director, 2011 Winner

“New work needs momentum. It’s simply not a reality that a play can

be written in the attic and then magically find a production. Or that one

production will lead to a second or third production. People need to

hear about work. They need to hear about the artists who make the work.

There is no question that this award not only helped The Electric Baby

become a better play, but it gave the baby a life.”

Stefanie Zadravec, Playwright, 2011 Winner

“The Collaboration Award’s encouragement of women working together
is terrific. It made all the difference in providing my collaborator and I

with the time and support we needed to create a complex and dynamic

theatre work.”

Kristin Marting, Director, 2008 Winner

“The evening of the Collaboration Awards was imbued with theatrical

magic. Wendy directed an excerpt from my play, Birds, that captured

the spirit of the play with great response from a wildly supportive audience.

Birds is the third play of mine that we worked on together. It was a beautiful

jumping off point for us in our process. It provided the opportunity for us

to mine even deeper in our exploration of the world of this complicated play,

and the support, enthusiasm and appreciation of this body of amazing

women helped carry us through to the next step of our artistic journey.”

– Jen Maisel, Playwright, 2006 Winner





Slow Art Day April 11, 2015

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”—Henry David Thoreau

Join a movement! Slow Art Day is an international event encouraging people of all ages to visit museums and to look at art slowly.


• To break out of your typical “go, go, go” routine.
• To learn about yourself, fellow participants, and the creative expressions of women artists.
• To make discoveries about and forge connections with artwork.


Participants will look at five works of art for 15 minutes each and then meet together over lunch to talk about their experience. Simple by design, the goal is to focus on the art and the art of seeing. Don’t worry, museum staff will be present to provide you with artwork suggestions and questions to consider.


11–11:15 a.m.: Check in
11:15 a.m.–12:30 p.m.: Look at five artworks for 15 minutes each
12:30–2 p.m.: Discuss and dine (buy your own lunch) at nearby Le Pain Quotidien


Reservations are recommended. This program is free with museum admission.

reserve your spot
– See more at:

Here at Slow Art Day we focus on how visitors engage with physical works of art – how paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other media are perceived, considered, and experienced by the viewer. But in our digital age, museums are increasingly trying to deliver “snackable” digital content – short bursts of entertaining and enlightening information delivered through social media initiatives or interactive installations. In an article published by The Guardian earlier this week, Danny Birchall, Digital Manager at London’s Wellcome Collection, eloquently makes the case that digital or virtual engagements with artworks allow for the same unhurried, slow potential as physical interactions. Birchall writes, “[…] if museums can deliver snacks, why not three-course meals? Is there space in museums for slower and longer digital experiences for audiences to savour and enjoy?” Birchall uses the Wellcome Collection’s Mindcraft, an immersive and interactive tool that describes the history of hypnotism over the course of a six-chapter digital story, as a case study for his article. However, even the relatively long-form (for the digital realm) Mindcraft is only about 15 minutes long – a fraction of the length of your typical Slow Art Day event. Is this enough to ensure visitors’ full engagement with digital content? Can museums offer an immersive, engaging digital experience that avoids superficiality and truly deepens the visitor’s experience of a work of art without relying on gimmicks?

Read the article “Museums should make time for slower digital experiences” here

About the Event Date Apr 11 2015 Time 11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m. Location Meet at the Information Desk in the lobby Admission Free with admission Reservations Recommended – See more at:

Lena Dunham Reveals the Artist Behind Eloise in a New Documentary


Vogue%20Logo| March 26, 2015
By Valerie Steiker

If you grow up in New York City, certain landmarks become your own. For Holden Caulfield, it was the Central Park ducks; for Stuart Little, it was the boat basin. For me, it was always the Plaza. Maybe it started because my parents held their wedding reception there—I still have the little gilded room plaque with their names and the date. Then there are the many fond, if slightly dim, adolescent memories of ordering zombies and pupu platters under the thatched ceiling at Trader Vic’s. But first and above all there was Eloise. Every time my mother would take my sister and me for tea at the Palm Court (my favorite miniature sandwich was the shredded chicken with saucy stripes of emerald green), inevitably we’d go visit Eloise—well, at least the painting of her by her original illustrator, Hilary Knight, that still presides over the southern corridor. Standing hand on hip with a shy smile, she was like a third, devilishly unkempt sister—the one who might get away with plunking eight cubes of sugar in her tea or successfully sneak a second éclair.

So it was a delight to return to the Plaza last Monday to watch It’s Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise, an HBO original documentary directed by Matt Wolf and executive produced by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konnerthat airs tonight. Nearly 60 years ago, illustrator Knight teamed up with author Kay Thompson to portray a pint-size Auntie Mame who rules over the Plaza in her own inimitable fashion. The result was an instant classic, with Knight’s drawings—finely etched black and white with hot-pink accents—indelibly capturing a day in the eccentric life.

Wearing a crisp turquoise-and-white-striped Tanya Taylor dress, Dunham greeted the suitably New York crowd—which included Bergdorf legend Betty Halbreich, Broadway staples Madeline Kahn and Alan Cumming, and Dunham pals Allison Williams and Zac Posen—in the Terrace Room. Moving easily between her ever-growing roles as a TV star, best-selling memoirist, and now power producer, she bantered with HBO’s Sheila Nevins as they introduced the 35-minute film.

In it, Dunham recounts how she and the now 88-year-old Knight met a few years ago after someone told him about the Eloise tattoo she has on her lower back. He sent her a stack of the books with a personal note, and they became creative compadres. “It was as if I’d known her all my life,” he says. As one might expect, the appeal of Eloise for Dunham ran deep: “She does what she wants . . . . There’s a lot to relate to when you’re a slightly weird child.” Her friends agree: Tavi Gevinson calls the book “a feminist primer,” Mindy Kaling describes its heroine as “a little Napoleon.” But the film really takes flight when it delves into the life of a man who has never let go of his belief in the power of the imagination.

Born on Long Island, where he lived until he was six, Knight grew up in New York with two artist parents: His father drew aviation models, his mother spun painted fantasies for children. Right away, he says, “I never thought of doing anything else.” We see him early on playing in water, a sweet square-jawed kid who looks like one of Wendy’s Lost Boys. And in some ways he never does grow up. The film breezes through his studying at the Art Students League, his stint in the navy during World War II, to get to the origins of Eloise. A slender bespectacled young man, he was working as an illustrator at Mademoisellewhen D. D. Ryan, an editor at Harper’s Bazaar, introduced him to Kay Thompson in 1954. Thompson was a scenery-chewing diva of the first order who had made her name on the radio and lived at the Plaza. She had come up with the character of a little girl living at the hotel, and would apparently call her friends using the voice of Eloise. Knight and Thompson had lunch at the Persian Room and began brainstorming together; many of those original descriptions and drawings—“an egg cup makes a very good hat”—ended up in the finished book.

Thompson soon left for Paris to film Funny Face, in which she’d been cast as a demanding magazine editor. She invited Knight to come along, and they did a sequel, Eloise in Paris. There would be four books altogether before the collaboration fell apart. But even before then, there was a marked difference in temperaments. “You could not put us in a room together,” says Knight, “I would dissolve into the background because of her powerhouse personality.” One quickly gets the sense that Thompson didn’t like sharing the creative spotlight. Once the relationship ended—she had cut him off from his fair share of royalties—Knight never spoke to her again. “It was demoralizing,” he admits.

Although Knight would never be as famous for a single project again, in some ways his imaginative life was just beginning. The film’s glimpses of his Manhattan apartment, with its Bird Hall, book- and record-laden shelves, and original artworks, including many of the Broadway posters he’s illustrated over the years, reveal a life devoted to aesthetics and artistic freedom. As Dunham says: “He wants to live in a curated world that he’s created.” Or as Knight himself puts it, “I’m excellent at fucking off.” We see him fully immersed in play: having a cocktail in a gorilla suit, giving a mouse a proper funeral. We watch as he shoots a film, a sort of low-rent The Wind in the Willows, with his latest muse, cabaret singer Phoebe Legere(“completely mad, but has never been committed,” he says admiringly), whom he’s cast as a scantily clad mermaid opposite a man in a frog suit. As one of his nieces observes: “He has a child’s world view.”

It’s Me, Hilary is not just a portrait of an unsung hero of New York culture, but an unexpectedly poignant primer on how to stay true to one’s vision and fully engaged as an artist, for life. As Knight, nearing 90, says, “I just feel that there’s a lot more to do.” One can easily picture Dunham saying the same thing. At one point in Knight’s tchotchke-filled apartment, Dunham tries on a messy blonde wig and says, looking into the mirror, “I feel very Eloise-y.” As a child, she instantly saw herself in that girl who lived by her own rules, whose belly hung over her skirt, whose hair was never brushed. But as the audience drifted to the Palm Court for a celebratory tea afterward, it struck me that for those little girls who wore gleaming Mary Janes and velvet headbands that always matched their dresses, Eloise was irresistible, too. She reminded us that every living creature has a vivid personality, that bravura often leads to bravery, and that the world won’t end if we defy expectations—it might even be more fun.