The name “William Shakespeare” evokes a sophisticated night out at the National Arts Centre for many of us. In fact, his plays were something like the popular summer blockbusters of their time—especially the comedies. The tradition of Shakespeare in the park is common in many cities as a way of putting on a play without it being too intimidatingly fancy.
A Company of Fools is bringing A Midsummer Night’s Dream to a city park near you. That’s not an exaggeration—with shows ranging from Navan to Stittsville to Manotick to Wakefield, everyone in the greater Ottawa area has a chance to see it. For downtown dwellers, Strathcona Park in Sandy Hill hosts a show every Monday during the full run, July 3 to August 19. All shows start at 7pm.
This is the 15th year that Company of Fools are doing their Torchlight Shakespeare. It’s a family-friendly way to enjoy theatre in the fresh air, and you don’t have be a Shakespeare scholar. Typical picnic or outdoor festival guidelines apply: bring a blanket or lawn chairs, a water bottle if you need it, and some cash for Pay-What-You-Can tickets. Suggested donation is $15 to $20.
If you’re not familiar with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a quick summary: several different groups of people get lost in the woods, and mayhem ensues when the fairies who live there decide to have fun by playing tricks on the humans. Like most comedies, everything more or less works out in the end.
The director, Mary Ellis, and a few members of the cast, Catriona Leger, Geoff McBride, Mahalia Golnosh Tahririha, and Drew Moore, shared their thoughts about what makes Torchlight Shakespeare special.
What’s fun or challenging about staging a play in a park?
Mary Ellis (ME): Having the natural beauty of the park as our environment is fantastic, especially for Midsummer Night’s Dream. There’s something truly magical about it. Being at the mercy of the elements, especially rain, can be challenging.
Catriona Ledger (CL): Fun: The variety and spontaneity that each park allows for – we get to tweak it slightly every night to accommodate the differences between parks. Challenging: Because we build and tear down the stage each night, the body goes through quite a lot of wear and tear and bruising. It looks like it’s all fun and games but our company members are probably the hardest working theatre professionals in Ottawa!
Geoff McBride (GM): Being outdoors is a beautiful way to do a play. It is lovely to perform for an audience that ranges from babies to older adults and everyone in between. We always face the challenge of responding to the environment around us; whether it’s firetrucks arriving at an alarm across the street, or a dog, squirrel or goose that decide they want to make their stage debut, there are always surprises.
Mahalia Golnosh Tahririha (MGT): It’s a wonderful challenge to have to adapt to new surroundings every night! Some days, you get to play in front of a beautiful river, or you might have to sprint 100 meters around the audience, while delivering dialogue, to make your next entrance. It keeps us on our toes!
Drew Moore (DM): It’s both fun and challenging how physical this show is. As soon as it starts I’m constantly running around and quickly changing between characters. A challenging part is making sure everyone can hear me. Since there are no walls for my voice to bounce off of, diction and vocal energy is very important.
What’s especially cool about this year and this play?
ME: This year is the 15th anniversary of Torchlight Shakespeare, and I feel really honoured to be a part of it. And I love this play – it’s joyful and hilarious and moving. It’s probably one of the best known and loved of Shakespeare’s plays.
CL: It’s our 15th anniversary of Torchlight Shakespeare so we wanted to go all out – we have 8 actors in the cast (instead of 5 or 6 most years). Further to that is the design concept – Victorian era inspiration mashed up with touches of 21st Century modernity. It makes for very vibrant visuals with cheeky, maybe even sexy accents.
GM: There are moments in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that the audience delights in (when the male lovers are put under a spell and both fall in love with the same woman, when the Rude Mechanicals put on their play Pyramus and Thisbe). I think it’s cool that these 400 year old comedic bits are still surprising and funny.
MGT: The ensemble of this year’s show is a real dream-team (A Midsummer Night’s Dream team!). It’s a joy to work with everyone, and I think that that joy really translates onstage, and offers the audience a wonderful experience.
DM: It’s amazing to do this play outdoors because most of the story happens outside! It’s pretty cool having a line talking about the moon, and being able to actually see it at the same time.
Favourite Ottawa park?
ME: Hmmm. I love Windsor Park in Old Ottawa South. It’s really beautiful. It’s where we have our closing night. Strathcona Park in Sandy Hill is also great.
CL: Strathcona Park has been the home base of the Fools’ Shakespeare in the Park series ever since the late 90’s. It’s my favourite park for its beauty and for sentimental reasons (plus it’s a short walk from my house!)
GM: The parks along water are some of my favourites. I will always like the willow grove at Strathcona though, the first place I ever played with the Fools.
MGT: I’d have to say our Wakefield location. It’s a real pleasure to perform just steps away from the historic and picturesque covered bridge. It takes all of me to resist going for a dip mid-show.
DM: There’s a lot of great parks in Ottawa, but I have a soft spot for Weston Park. It’s the neighbourhood where I spent my teen years, and it’s where I saw my first Fools show, so it’s very nostalgic.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays at a variety of parks from July 3 to August 19, starting at 7pm. Tickets are $15 to $20 or Pay-What-You-Can, by cash donation. Visit fools.ca for the full schedule.