The Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival celebrates 25 years with two favourite plays, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both performed on an open-air stage at Camosun College’s Lansdowne Campus.
Director Christopher Weddell, an instructor at Oak Bay’s Canadian College of Performing Arts, offers a modern telling of the tragic Romeo and Juliet, opening tonight (Wednesday, July 8). The whimsical Dream, directed by Britt Small, opens Thursday (July 9) and both continue on alternating evenings through Aug. 8.
Whether audiences prefer comedy or tragedy, they’re in for a treat this summer, says festival Artistic Director Karen Lee Pickett.
“Midsummer Night’s Dream we haven’t done since 2005 and it’s a favourite, certainly. The production in 2005 was the first year we were at Camosun, so it seemed appropriate for our 25th season,” Pickett reflects.
It was also a play Small wanted to produce, so it was a good fit all around, she adds.
The story and humour continue to capture people’s attention centuries after it was first performed.
“It’s funny, it’s really, really funny, and there’s so much in Dream that’s funny now. Plus it’s so magical and compelling – that line between what’s real and what’s not – and I think it presents that overlap of worlds we’re really interested in,” Picket says.
Add to that a sweet love story and A Midsummer Night’s Dream has all the makings for a perfect summer production.
Romeo and Juliet, while it also has some humourous elements, is far more tragic, and in Weddell’s interpretation is influenced by the recent Occupy movement. In this case, the Montagues, a family of activists are contrasted with the wealthy Capulets, setting the scene for conflict between the “haves and the have-nots,” Pickett says.
“That brings a really interesting texture to the play.”
What has kept the festival at the forefront of must-attend summer events?
“I think a Shakespeare festival is a cornerstone of any city’s artistic life,” Pickett says of the festival’s longevity, noting that many North American cities of any size have a festival. “I think there’s something about presenting these plays in an outside venue that many people respond to. (An outdoor stage) does hearken back to the way the plays were originally presented. But there’s also something about being in nature that makes the plays really illuminated in a way.”
Through its quarter-century, the festival has nurtured a variety of local theatrical talent.
“The festival has been the testing ground for so many great Victoria artists who have gone on to work both locally and internationally,” Pickett says, pointing to Festival alums like Ian Case who participated in the first year of the festival in 1991 and went on to found Giggling Iguana Productions, serve as general manager for Intrepid Theatre and the Victoria Fringe for 10 years, and is now director of the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium.
“We have such a rich history of artists who started their careers with us. Many UVic theatre grads had early career experiences working at the Festival,” she says. “In recent years, the Festival has hosted many artists from UVic and the Canadian College of Performing Arts and we’re excited to see their careers taking off.”
In the past two years, the Festival has made a concerted effort to cultivate this important professional development component through the development of a mentorship system, moving from a more community-based method of production.
The season’s lead roles are anchored by mentor actors, who also provide teaching and mentorship to the rest of the company. The company actors have the opportunity to experience a repertory schedule and to learn from the mentor actors, the directors and each other.
“We’re so proud to see the artists we work with go on to such exciting careers and to know we’ve played a role in mentoring their success,” Pickett says.