Saturday, August 17, 2013

Theatre For Thought, August 17, 2013

joel fishbane

Summer’s almost over but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still time for that quintessential of all summer experiences – Shakespeare in the Park. Nor is it your usual band of lovers and clowns: across Canada, producers are trying to see how the Bard’s tragedies fare when performed under the setting sun. And it’s about time. There’s only so many times a person can sit through A Midsummer Night’s Dream, no matter how glorious the production. 

Thankfully, this summer Canadians have other choices to make. While Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan is performing A Comedy of Errors, they’re also giving us an outdoor production of Macbeth. They aren’t the only ones bringing the cursed Scottish play to the parks: Toronto’s Canadian Stage is presenting their own take (You can read my review here). Meanwhile both Halifax’s Shakespeare by the Sea and Ontario’s St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival are turning Elsinore into a park in their versions of Hamlet.

But the tragedy I’m most excited to see in an outdoor setting is Shakespeare in the Ruff’s Richard III. This scrappy band of Shakespeare lovers emerged last year to perform Two Gentleman of Verona in Toronto’s Withrow Park (longtime readers will remember my interview with co-founder Kaitlyn Riordan last year). The most popular of the histories, Richard III is traditionally set in theatres where Richard can skulk around and plot his various conspiracies. Setting it in the park will only allow director Diane D’Aquila to find radical new ways of telling the story; one can only imagine the amount of fun actors can have performing battle scenes in the woods.

And that’s really what’s the most exciting thing about seeing Shakespeare’s tragedies performed outdoors: they force performers and audiences to re-examine plays which have been exhausted by countless indoor productions. Shakespeare in the Park is almost always a barebones experience, with minimal sets and a sharp focus on the text. This is badly needed in productions of the tragedies, which often risk becoming showpieces for directors. 

We’ve all seen Shakespeare shows that have been hi-jacked by a director who wanted to impose his / her own interpretation; this is harder when shifting the play into a space that demands we pay attention to substance over style. After all, audiences aren’t being penned in by the theatre walls. If you bore them, they’ll simply walk away.

In addition, the outdoors allows artists to take advantage of the fact that theatre is a suggestive medium. Cinema has trained us to look for hyper-realism, but that’s hard to achieve in the theatre – especially in plays where characters break into soliloquies or address the audience directly, like Richard III. In some ways, a park may be the perfect place to hear Hamlet’s musings or watch Macbeth listen to prophecies of the days to come. Parks are, after all, where people go to play; the setting may be the perfect place to allow actors to have fun with some of their favourite toys.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.