Theatre Preview: Bringing the bard outdoors

Many years ago, along the misty river banks of England, the words of Shakespeare would resonate across the water. Once again it is possible to hear those classic lines in iambic pentameter from a distance, yet this time the distance is from our own Prince’s Island Park. Though flooding earlier this summer caused the annual Shakespeare in the Park production to move to the Mount Royal College amphitheatre. Water levels have since subsided, allowing the festival to return to the natural surroundings tucked away in our urban centre. These days, some may consider performing theatre outdoors unconventional, but things haven’t always been this way. Before we grew accustomed to sitting in a darkened room to watch performances of old classics and new favorites, thespian escapades often took place under the open sky.

“Shakespeare is meant to be outside” says Shakespeare in the Park director Martin Fishman. “The language and movements are big, which is conducive to the vast space of the outdoors. Shakespeare in the Park has become a part of the culture landscape of Calgary. Shakespeare isn’t Canadian or Calgarian, yet when summer comes people look for the Shakespeare performances.”

Performances this year of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing have already seen audiences as large as 700 people, and everyone involved with the festival are only expecting more to come. Over the years, Shakespeare in the Park has grown in leaps and bounds becoming somewhat of a Calgary institution.

“These productions have become an important aspect of summer in Calgary,” Fishman explains.

One of the big draws of the productions, besides the talented reenactments of some of the most famous plays ever put to page, is the egalitarian nature of the performances. Audience members are encouraged to pay what they can, though a $10 donation is appreciated. Such audience-friendly policies lead to a production with as little social boundaries as the sky under which it is performed.

“You will see a street person sitting next to a business man, both enjoying the play,” says Fishman.

The tradition for Shakespeare in the Park has generally been to stage one tragedy and one comedy per summer, but this year Fishman has adopted a new strategy. Although Much Ado About Nothing could be considered a tragedy, there are enough comedic aspects to leave audiences thoroughly entertained. While, A Midsummer Nights Dream is perhaps the quintessential Shakespearean comedy.

“People like to laugh more then they like to cry,” says Fishman explaining the decision to offer two lighthearted works this year instead of the usual tragedy.

Although not performed on the misty banks of the Thames, Shakespeare in the Park promises to offer a strong performance taping into the roots of traditional Shakespeare thanks to its setting, while offering a modern interpretation of some of the Bard’s most notable works.

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