The show must go on as Theatre Calgary’s annual celebration closes out 26th year

The cast and crew of Theatre Calgary’s Shakespere in the Park try to prepare for anything nature throws their way, be it thunder, wind, or rain.

But what about floods?

This was a question the members of Calgary’s annual celebration of the Bard found themselves asking as their traditional Prince’s Island Park venue was covered by water for the second time in a decade.

“We’ve seen a lot in our time, but nothing like we’ve seen this year,” says Haysam Kadri, Shakespeare in the Park’s company co-director.

Kadri, who has worked with the company for over a decade in various roles, recalled the challenges faced relocating the company’s 2005 play to a hastily-found backup location at Mount Royal University. “It’s not a new precedent for us,” notes Kadri.

Despite the flood ariving at “the worst possible time” for the company, washing away not only their venue, but nearly two weeks of performances as well, the cast and crew “managed to persevere,” says Kadri.

“There was more of a chance to not be able to do a show,” Kadri adds. “Not unlike the rest of the city, we’ve faced a lot of challenges putting this production together.”

Shakespeare in the Park is now making use of the TransCanada Amphitheatre on the southwest side of Mount Royal University, a location typically reserved for the university’s outdoor concerts.

“The venue change has had a significant effect on us,” Kadri says, noting Mount Royal Univeristy was “more of a destination spot” when compared to Prince’s Island. The central Calgary venue typically has a large number of patrons stumbling upon the play without knowing about it beforehand.

“Our numbers have been down significantly,” Kadri says, though he notes that a large number of Calgarians are still putting their lives back together after the flood. “We all know somebody still suffering because of the flood,” Kadri adds.

TWO HOURS’ TRAFFIC

Edmund Stapleton as Mercutio, left, makes a desperate lunge at Steven Pecksen as Tybalt durring one of Romeo and Juliet’s several fight scenes.

Photo by BAJ Visser
With the challenges facing the cast and crew of this year’s Shakespeare in the Park, one may be forgiven for thinking that they were preforming the Bard’s infamously cursed play, MacBeth. However, it is Romeo and Juliet, the famous work of star-crossed teenage romance, which the company has been performing for the past month.

“Romeo and Juliet really lends itself to the outdoor environment,” Kadri says of the celebrated tragedy, contrasting it with some of the gloomier plays which can be a harder sell during bright summer evenings. “There’s always a demand for Romeo and Juliet.”

Recent University of Lethbridge graduate Brett Gartley, who plays the role of Romeo’s confidant Friar Laurence, says that while everyone knows the ending to the play, “if it’s done the right way, you never want the play to end, you’ll wish [Romeo and Julliet] will have a chance to live and love.”

THE NEXT GENERATION

Dealing with wind, rain, and other environmental factors provides the young actors of Shakespeare in the Park with a strong educational opportunity, Kadri notes – even if flooding isn’t officially part of the curriculum.

Acoustics, for instance, are a major challenge, as noted by Red Deer College graduate Callahan New. New, who plays the Prince of Verona, says one of his biggest takeaways was the various workshops that the actors partake in, learning how to properly project while outdoors.

However, equipment such as a complete sound system provided by Theatre Calgary has helped the actors defy the elements to some extent.

“We just preformed in Banff without mics and it completely changed the dynamic of the beast,” Gartley notes.

Robyn Ord as Lady Capulet, left, DJ Gallety as Lord Capulet, and Lennette Randall as the Nurse morn the apparent death of Brianna Johnston as Juliet.

Photo by BAJ VisserThe artists employed at Shakespeare in the Park are all emerging artists, recent graduates from six post-secondaries across Alberta.

Both Gartley and New says that the opportunity to work at a job they loved right out of college was a major appeal.

“It’s a great cushion between the educational world and the professional world,” Gartley says. “We keep learning, but we take it and use it in practical terms in a way that progresses into our future careers.”

“There’s not one thing about this program that isn’t helpful,” adds New. “Many of us have gotten job offers already.”

Kadri, who was an actor in Shakespeare in the Park himself when he first started his career, notes the appeal of featuring younger, local artists.

“You’re watching the future of Canadian acting and theatre on display here,” Kadri says. “People love to follow our local actors as they grow in their careers.”

WHAT FUTURE MAY BRING

While the 26th season of Shakespeare in the Park ends Saturday, Aug. 10, there was concerns that this year would be the cultural institution’s last. Mount Royal University, one of the event’s major backers, have indicated there is a strong possibility that the institution will have to pull its funding due to budget cuts forced by the Government of Alberta.

However, the program’s continuation still looks promising. “Theatre Calgary is committed to the franchise” Kadri says. “I can guarantee you next year will happen, and it keep happening for many years after that. “

“The fabric of every city is its arts and culture scene,” Kadri adds, “and Calgary has become a major cultural heart of the country.”

Shakespeare in the Park will take place at 7:00 PM until Saturday, Aug 10 at the TransCanada Amphitheatre at Mount Royal University.

bvisser@cjournal.ca