As the summer finally starts in Ottawa, you may be thinking the time for theatre is over. I mean who wants to spend the few hot and sunny days we get, inside an air conditioned theatre. Well for the diehard theatre fans out there you can have the best of both worlds! With 2019’s Torchlight Shakespeare Festival you can get your dose of sun and theatre all in one shot.
We chatted with Nicholas Leno, Interim Artistic Director of a Company of Fools and Director for their upcoming performance of Romeo + Juliet in the annual Torchlight Shakespeare series.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: Can you give us a bit of a background on a Company of Fools?
Nicholas Leno: Since 1990, a Company of Fools has been bringing Shakespeare back to life across the National Capital Region and beyond. Over the past 29 years we’ve developed a reputation for a signature style of physical and interactive theatre. Our Foolish approach to storytelling helps audiences discover their love for theatre. In addition to our Torchlight Shakespeare in the Park series, we provide workshops in schools, host a theatrical tradition known as The Ottawa Theatre Challenge, and create new works based on and inspired by the works of William Shakespeare.
What can the audience expect with a Company of Fools’ take on Romeo and Juliet?
Shakespeare like they’ve never seen before! A cast of six actors play over a dozen different character in a 90-minute production that offers something for everyone in the family… I believe that this play invites us to relive our adolescence; the moment in our lives where we question the world around us. In order to bring the feeling of adolescence to the forefront of the production, we’ve used a carnival to inspire the production’s designs. A carnival setting creates the backdrop for the Fools’ fantastical take on the streets of Verona. Swords are paired with water pistols, and live music is played by a carnie barker with a megaphone. Audiences will be invited to relive their teenage angst and be transported to an adolescent paradise of dangerous pleasure. It’s the perfect way to spend a summer’s night.
“Central to our organization is the belief that it doesn’t matter where you live, how much you make, or how old you are: professional theatre should be accessible to everyone.”
Tell us a little bit about the Torchlight Shakespeare Festival?
For the past 17 summers, in our 29 years of existence, the Fools have become something of an Ottawa legend. We are best known for our Torchlight Shakespeare in the Park series, which has become a family tradition for many households across Ottawa and beyond. Every year Torchlight tours 90-minute versions of Shakespeare hits to over 36 community parks during July and August. Audiences have delighted in joining us in the parks, bringing their own seating… chairs, cushions, or blankets… some even bring picnics, making a night of the event… AND we engage some of the best professional actors and theatre staff in the Nation’s Capital to ensure that our audiences experience Shakespeare’s works in the highest possible quality.
The ticket cost for the show is pwyc donation—can you tell us a little bit about what these donations are going to support?
Central to our organization is the belief that it doesn’t matter where you live, how much you make, or how old you are: professional theatre should be accessible to everyone. We ask for donations in lieu of a ticket purchase to help with that. Passing our hats at the end of each performance allows patrons to pay-it-forward for other audience members who might not otherwise have access to the arts. Ultimately, donations (like any ticket sales) will go towards covering our production costs. And while donations don’t cover all of the bills, they do go a long way in helping to ensure that our shows can remain accessible to everyone. We are enormously grateful for all the support we have been given over the years, and our loyal donors only continue to be more generous. This year, we are very excited to be piloting a community outreach program. We have partnered with six charities across Ottawa to offer a preview performance of our touring Torchlight production to shelters, retirement homes, and a settlement service for new Canadians. Our goal is to make arts and culture accessible to patrons from all walks of life.
Romeo + Juliet runs from July 1st to August 17th as part of the Torchlight Shakespeare Festival in parks across Eastern Ontario. Visit a Company of Fools website for the schedule and location information. Tickets are pay-what-you-can with a suggested donation of $20.