It’s pretty weird for me to be writing about Shakespeare in Prince Edward County. I’ve been going there for years to visit but I never would have considered it a place to see theatre. But along with my own transition into someone who visits the county more than once a year, comes the transition of Festival Players, a staple in county theatre, into a company headed by Stratford’s Graham Abbey. This signals big changes for Festival Players and Prince Edward County.
Romeo and Juliet is the most adapted work in Shakespeare’s canon and continues to be replicated through different mediums time and time again. And for a girl who lives for crazy adaptations of Shakespeare, I was completely and utterly in love with Stratford’s simple, “traditional,” and tragic Romeo and Juliet. Just when you think I’m gonna zig, I’m gonna zag.
It was a beautiful production directed by Scott Wentworth that was clear and emotionally moving and felt incredibly fresh. I put quotations around traditional because, despite its period appearance, the show had a buoyancy and a spirit that lived within the same realm as productions that adapt the show somehow, which made it feel modern. They even threw in some non-Shakespeare lines! The show gave the lead characters (played by Sara Farb and Antoine Yared) and the impact of their deaths respect rather than treating them as silly romantic children. Except when they were acting like children.
Antoine Yared as Romeo and Sara Farb as Juliet. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
In 2017, I have seen four productions of Twelfth Night. And Twelfth Night began as one of my least favourite plays.
The first show I saw was Shakespeare Bash’d’s production at the Monarch Tavern. Then in April I saw the Public Theater’s mobile unit production in New York. Then in June I went to Stratford, ON and saw their production of Twelfth Night. Finally, last night I saw Shakespeare in High Park’s version. Phew.
What I have discovered at the end of my Twelfth Night journey is that I really like some stuff about Twelfth Night. But I’m going to say right away that I am super biased about what I think classifies as a “good” Twelfth Night. So what I am going to do is go through each of the four Twelfth Night productions and think about what I found interesting about each and how I ended up as a girl who sorta likes Twelfth Night (maybe?).
Alistair Newton’s production of King Lear starring Diane D’Aquila begins with two black doors swinging open as her throne moves downstage where she is joined by The Fool. She sits there looking small and groggy. The Fool opens the doors of a music box, resembling the ones onstage, to reveal a miniature of Queen Elizabeth I. As the music continues to play, the stage is bombarded with people to assist Lear getting dressed. Lear hangs there like a rag doll wearing a white nightdress while she is strapped into a corset and an overwhelmingly large black dress reminiscent of the mini Elizabeth. The idea of being trapped in a box or manipulated by others is quite clear.
Amelia Sargisson (Cordelia) and Diane D’Aquila (Lear)
The reason I started this blog was to archive productions of Shakespeare that made me think or inspired exciting thoughts, so when I saw Why Not Theatre’s Prince Hamlet, I knew that I needed to write about it. I have seen four productions of Hamlet in my life so far and many other productions of Shakespeare, but this was by far the best Canadian production of a Shakespeare show I have been seen. The reason that I study theatre and, specifically adapted Shakespeare performances such as this one, is because of the power I believe it has to not only show respect to the original material but to create a more inclusive and diverse theatrical experience. This show did that and it took risks and it is exactly the type of theatre that makes my heart sing. I applaud director Ravi Jain for being such a risk-taker because it was such a breath of fresh air.
Christine Horne as Hamlet. Photo by Bronwen Sharp.
As young Mamillius asks his mother to tell him a story, he says that “a sad tale’s best for winter,” but Groundling Theatre Company’s The Winter’s Tale moves through every mood of the play with elegance and thoughtfulness. But within each moment creeps the menacing and destructive power of patriarchy. In the dark Winter Garden Theatre, I sat onstage amidst the other audience members examining the small set and starring into the dark abyss of empty seats in front of us. The show began with the house in the dark and the pseudo-theatre-in-the-round style staging took place onstage creating an intimate environment. Graham Abbey situates the audience within the story by placing us underneath the proscenium arch.
Courtesy of Groundling Theatre Company
What did I learn while assistant directing? A deceptively simple question.
Now I love Shakespeare but it’s a complicated relationship that is by no means perfect. There are a lot of things about Shakspeare’s plays that I find difficult to deal with. Part of the reason that I enjoy productions where the context is adapted is because it provides some wiggle room about what is highlighted within the play which can create a more diverse and innovative interpretation. Not that I don’t enjoy a good traditional show sometimes too.
So before I had even moved to Toronto and began my MA, I saw that Hart House was putting on a production of Much Ado About Nothing and from the poster I could decipher that it was going to be sets in the 1940s. I had lots of reasons for applying to assistant direct but two of the most prominent were that I wanted to learn directing techniques and I wanted to be a part of the process of working on a Shakespeare show (especially one set in a different time period).
Photography by Scott Gorman. Much Ado About Nothing directed by Carly Chamberlain.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre is not a Shakespearean play that is staged often. It is incredibly complicated with fast location changes and the story passes through decades. It also includes a mixture of plotlines found within other Shakespeare stories such as pirates, reuniting families, bringing back someone thought to be dead … It’s a big melting pot of different plotlines. The complexity of the plot is what makes it a big task to make sense of.
Scott Wentworth was the director for this production titled The Adventures of Pericles. I have seen him act in many plays years over the years from Banquo to Shylock but this was my first time seeing a show he has directed so I was excited. I think the strongest element throughout the show was the double (triple?) casting of Antiochus’ daughter, Thaisa, and Marina. They are all played by the ever charming Deborah Hay who travels through these women’s stories to teach us about their individual strength.
Photography by David Hou. Deborah Hay (Marina) and Evan Buliung (Pericles).
Watching an amazing Shakespearean actor is like the perfect storm coming together. There are so many factors needed in order to truly give an outstanding performance. But when you get that perfect combination then it is really like watching magic happen.
David Garrick as Lear in Benjamin Wilson’s painting
Back in 2015, I missed out on the opportunity to see Stratford’s Taming of the Shrew but on July 31st CBC allowed people like me to see the filmed version. It is a part of their initiative to make arts more available to those who may otherwise be unable to see them in person. This version stars married actors Deborah Hay and Ben Carlson and was directed by Chris Abraham. The Stratford show could be seen as two extremes coming together to meet in the middle. Katherine and Petruchio shed their performed behaviours and find truthfulness in their love.
Photography by David Hou.