By Charlie Senack
Live, in-person events are back in Kitchissippi, and the Torchlight Shakespeare in the Park series has been attracting hundreds of local residents looking to take in the arts.
The performances, which are put on by a Company of Fools theatre company, have been an ongoing summer tradition since 2002. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the theatre industry was forced to shut down for two years.
With mandates lifted, they have been able to bring entertainment back to the community again.
“We are touring over 40 parks in Ottawa and Eastern Ontario, and we have quite a few performances in the Hintonburg, Westboro and the Carlington areas,” said Nicholas Leno, artistic director at a Company of Fools.
Already they have performed shows in the community at Hintonburg Park, Lions Park, and Clare Gardens. They will perform at nearby Raven Park in Carlington on Aug. 5, and again at Clare Gardens on Aug. 6.
The show being put on this summer is The Tempest, a Shakespearean play about Duke Prospero, who has been waiting to reclaim rule after being overthrown by his brother 12 years prior. Since being banished to a deserted island, Prospero has rehearsed his plans for over a decade, but new enemies emerge.
“It has a shipwreck; it has magic; it has all kinds of spirits and fun magical creatures. The show runs for 90 minutes and it’s pay-what-you-can,” said Leno. “It’s Shakespeare like you have never seen before. It’s not your Victorian Shakespeare: we use puppets, masks, and slapstick as a stylized approach. We really like to show the stories and the texts rather than just speak it, and all of our work is family-friendly.”
The Tempest runs until Aug. 13. This year, for the first time in a decade, the theatre company will be putting on two shows. For three weeks, from Sept. 12 to Oct. 1, they will perform Hamlet, a well-known Shakespearean play about Hamlet returning home for her father’s funeral, only to discover that her mother has married her uncle. Hamlet is visited by her father’s ghost, demanding that she avenge his murder.
“It’s going to be a little bit of a different tour model,” explained Leno. “We are going to be at Canada’s botanical gardens next to the Experimental Farm for a week, and then at Beechwood Cemetery for a week. The third week we are going to visit some of our rural communities. It’s got five actors playing 16 different parts—again, 90 minutes in length.”
So far, the weather this summer has cooperated for the performances, but when it gets too hot, actors may perform without wigs and jackets. Rain usually only washes out a handful of scheduled shows a year, and they hold off cancelling shows until as close to the 7 p.m. start time as possible. With unexpected weather patterns in Ottawa, storms are often quick to blow over.
Surprisingly, audience numbers are back up to pre-pandemic levels. Leno thinks that is thanks to the shows taking place outside with lots of space for people to distance. It’s also good news for the actors who make a living entertaining crowds.
“The last two years have been hard financially for sure. This is what people do for a living,” he said. “It’s also been emotional to a degree. A lot of our actors dedicate their lives to this craft and dedicate their lives to sharing live performances and live stories with audiences. Not being able to do that has been hard on folks, but everyone here is in great spirits.”
For a full list of Shakespeare in the Park performances, visit fools.ca. Leno said they recommend a donation of $20 per person, but says it’s pay-what-you-can.