This is part of an ongoing series of regional Shakespeare coverage. It’s Tori here with the latest in Shakespeare news from Toronto.
This summer has been full of innovative, creative, and inspiring productions and Shakespeare-related events. This city’s independent Shakespeare scene is incredibly vibrant and collaborative; because of this, many companies and individuals have been able to come together to not only create new and exciting ways of understanding and staging Shakespeare, but have also been able to use their love of Shakespeare to help their communities.
August saw Dauntless City Theatre put on an immersive Love’s Labour’s Lost, Shakespeare in the Ruff put on an a innovative and sophisticated Macbeth using puppets, and Shakespeare Bash’d put on a captivating staged reading of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II.
Dauntless City Theatre took over Berczy Park for their Love’s Labour’s Lost. The audience followed the actors as the action took place. Like the Princess of France and her ladies, we too as the audience were barred access into Navarre by Ferdinand and his attendants. We saw the ladies scheme to teach the men a lesson when they tried to woo them in disguise. Scott Emerson Moyle’s direction was spot on, because of the structure of the play, the audience felt like co-conspirators, in on all the action. This created a higher level of dramatic irony that would not have been achieved with a traditional staging of the play. All of the actors were fantastic, but the standouts were hands down Jordan Hall as Berowne and Tim Maclean as Don Adriano de Armando. Hall through his swaggering and cockiness was able to convey to the audience the timelessness of the play’s message. Maclean’s accent and the ridiculousness of his performance amplified the already high level of comedy present in the play.
Shakespeare in the Ruff’s production of Macbeth: Walking Shadows, was incredible. Not only was the performance captivating and incredibly multidimensional, but their use and the process that went in to creating their puppets was fascinating. The puppets were created by Zach Fraser who made the puppets from bones and found materials from Withrow Park. Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, the Artistic Director of Ruff, explained that each puppet ‘auditioned’ to be in the production by determining by the way the materials Zach incorporated into the puppet’s face which role they were suited for. What was interesting about the way the puppets were used was that each actor was not strictly matched to one puppet, many of the puppets except for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were controlled by various actors throughout the course of the play. The puppets were used in a variety of interesting ways; because the puppets were not fully formed and the limbs of the puppets were detachable the actors were able to create interesting silhouettes, such as when Lady Macbeth is calling upon the spirits to unsex her, limbs began to touch her and form an almost spider-like picture, illustrating that she has called upon the supernatural. There were also several times throughout the play where an entire body of a puppet would be created by the coming together of several actors. The most visually powerful use of the puppets was when at the close of the play, after the death of Macbeth, the actors playing Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, walked off-stage holding hands. This illuminated the idea that the actors (who the audience can see the entire time), were the spirits or souls that controlled the characters of the play, and even in death, the spirit of Lady M and Macbeth live on. Though the audience was focused on the puppets, the actor’s control of the puppets and their ability to embody several different personas throughout the performance was spot on. Kaitlin Morrow played many of the minor characters but was an audience favourite due to her use of accents and her ability to use her entire body, and that of the puppet’s, to provide essential comedic relief to the production. She and Seann Murray provided essential comedic relief and by playing numerous characters throughout the play helped drive the plot forward. Andrew Joseph Richardson, also provided much needed comedic relief in his scenes as Banquo where he would reprimand his son Fleance. His use of improv in these scenes not only demonstrated his spot-on comedic timing, but also demonstrated the trust that he and Kaitlyn Riordan, who was playing Fleance, have developed over their years of working together in Ruff productions. Alexander Crowther as Macbeth, was fantastic. Though the puppets were not able to show emotion, all of the actors ‘were able to bring an enormous amount of emotional depth to their performances, this was especially true of Crowther and Tara Koehler, who played Lady Macbeth.
Ruff is truly a part of the community in which they perform, not only did they use materials from the park to create the puppets, but they built the puppets in the park. They also always use the park to create their plays. They are also part of the community in the fact that they offer talk-backs at the end of the performances that take place around a campfire. I attended the talkback on the night I saw the play, and it is clear how much the company loves the community they are a part of. After the talkback was over the cast and many of those who attended the play sang campfire songs and got to know each other. The accessibility that community based companies like Ruff bring to their communities is integral and essential.
Shakespeare Bash’d’s Staged Reading of Marlowe’s Edward II was mesmerizing. Though there was no set, and though the actor’s read their lines, the audience was still transported through the actors’ performances. With this performance, Bash’d continued to test the boundaries of minimal staging. In their production of The Merry Wives of Windsor in July, they staged their performance at the front of a bar with a clothes rack and a clothes chest, and basket being the major set pieces they used. With Edward II they took this even further, the only major set piece that was used in the production was the table on which Tim Welham’s Edward II was executed. The stage was also obscured by reading podiums, so the audience could rarely even see the actor’s entire body. Despite all this, there was never a dull moment throughout the play, and the actors never lost the audience’s attention. The costuming was also incredibly simplistic but used effectively. Most of the actors wore black and when switching between characters would change their hat or put on another simple article of clothing. Or, in the case of Bailey Green, put her hair up, or let it down. The cast of this performance was incredible, it brought together many of the top indie Shakespeare actors in Toronto. Tim Welham was an engaging and regal Edward II. He was able to do so much with the tilt of his head or a move of his hand. Julia Nish-Lapidus captured perfectly the multidimensional, sometimes helpless, sometimes powerful Queen Isabella. She was able to retain the audience’s support and sympathy throughout the play, which is a feat considering the overpowering personality and rhetorical ability that Marlowe created in the character of Edward II. Kelly Penner was a great Gaveston, he was able to demonstrate both why the other nobles hated him, as well as why Edward was so enamored. Nate Britton was a strong and dynamic Mortimer, he had an incredible stage presence. I was so impressed by all of the actors’s performances. I had never attended a staged reading before, but, if they’re all like this one I will definitely go to another!
Spur of the Moment Shakespeare Collective is about to begin their 2015 season. This year they will be performing in several hospitals in Toronto. Spur of the Moment’s aim is to make Shakespeare accessible and relevant for audiences that normally would not have access to it. Last year they put on an incredible all-female version of Julius Caesar set in a women’s prison, at the 2014 Fringe Festival and then performed it in Toronto women’s shelters. They are doing fantastic work for the Toronto community and I encourage you to support them and their vision. SOTMSC are also fundraising geniuses, as they bring together many of the major Toronto Shakespeare companies for Shakesbeers Showdown every year. They held their launch party at the Football Factory on Sunday September 6th and it was an awesome time! After 100 drinks were consumed, Torey revealed that the theme for this year will be ‘what makes someone human.’ Shakespeare is chalk-full of meditation on the human condition, so they will have a ton of scenes to choose from. If there theme makes you as curious as it does me, or you just want to help support a fantastic group of actors and this incredible cause, make sure you attend their “Shakespeare In-Hospitals Cabaret” on September 24 and 25th at the Imperial Pub. They will be showcasing their 2015 program and discussing the impact performing with Spur of the Moment has had on both performers and audiences, before they begin performing at various hospitals and shelters across the city. Check out their Facebook page for more details and make sure to come out and support this inspiring group of performers and organizers.
That’s it for now! Check back soon for more about Spur of the Moment and much more!