Shakespeare lab in the Glebe!

By Bryan Morris

Bryan Morris as Kent, holding Rod Hagglund as the dying Lear, who cradles Jennifer Hurd as Cordelia, dead. Photo: Nick Surges

Last month’s issue of the Glebe Report demonstrates the depth of interest in Shakespeare in the Glebe. Professional and dedicated amateur players from the Glebe and other neighbourhoods in downtown Ottawa work together to provide a rich theatre experience for our local audiences. Over the last few years, Glebe Neighbourhood Activitives Group (GNAG) Theatre has produced three Shakespearean classics: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night and King Lear. Each play included 30 or more local teen and adult actors, and found enthusiastic and appreciative audiences from the Glebe.

People still marvel at last year’s production of King Lear for its excellent acting and production values. For Lear, GNAG’s Mary Tsai Davies and Paul O’Donnell brought in top professional fight directors Chris McLeod and John Brogan. Teen and adult actors were coached and choreographed in Stratford-quality fight scenes. The cast received high praise from Brogan. In his judgment, GNAG’s fight scenes were the best Lear fights he’d seen or choreographed. Rod Hagglund, who played the title role of Lear, recalls one vivid scene. “There’s a moment in the big battle scene when two soldiers are fighting hand-to-hand, and at a critical point all the noise suddenly stops, and there is a “crack” as one soldier breaks the other’s neck, and the audience for just that split second gasps collectively. They completely forget that this is acting.”

Professional actors see Shakespeare performances as extremely challenging. They require enormous discipline during rehearsal. The language is difficult to learn and demanding to deliver, to say nothing of the need to know how to wield a rapier, broadsword or fan while moving realistically in period dress! But how does it fit with a day job? Director Eleanor Crowder is no longer surprised by the talent, dedication and discipline of the local amateur actors, and marvels at what they achieve.

Anna Lewis as Rosalind is menaced by Eleanor Crowder as Duke Phyllis in Bear & Co. production of As You Like It. Photo: Tim Oberholzer

Angela Pelly finds the hard work rewarding and absorbing. She says, “If I can persuade an audience member to realize, for example, that Goneril (from King Lear) is not only an evil and unnatural daughter, but also a daughter exasperated by her aging autocrat of a father, I feel doubly rewarded.” For her, bringing the complexity of the stage world to life is well worth the work of animating a character.

Steve Gluck, who played the physically challenging role of Edgar/Tom O’Bedlam in King Lear, adds, “I enjoy the challenge of taking on these roles and find that the characters become part of the family. A few weeks in, mumbling the lines while doing dishes, I find my kids completing sentences that I’m still struggling with. How else would my kids develop their vocabulary with words like ‘flibbertigibbet’?”

The neighbourhood’s pleasure and enthusiasm for Shakespeare spills over to the outdoors, too. The Glebe is host to two professional companies, A Company of Fools and Bear & Co., that bring outdoor performances to Central Park. Glebe audiences respond with gusto to these performances, making the park a fixture on the companies’ summer schedules. This summer, you’ll be able to see the Fool’s inimitable clowning in the Merry Wives of Windsor, and Bear & Co.’s Anna Lewis will transport A Comedy of Errors to the “wild west.”

Bear & Co. launches a bigger experiment in April and May. Director Eleanor Crowder says, “the game here is to play Shakespeare as Shakespeare and his actors played it. Guys only!” An all-male company will bring The Taming of the Shrew to life at the nearby Gladstone Theatre for a three-week run April 19 to May 5. Leading the cast is Scott Florence (from the Company of Fools) as Petruchio. Crowder says, The Company of Fools’ own ‘big fool’ is absolutely in the Shakespeare tradition as the swaggering hero. We love Petruchio, but we expect him to be twisty and witty. He’s playing out the crazy for all of us. Scott is brilliant in buffoonery. It’s going to be an amazing performance.” And Kate? Well, if you saw Bear & Co’s As You Like It last summer, you’ll recall the big guy who played the wrestler… Crowder says, “He has a very sweet smile.” She’s been waiting a long time to put the guys in skirts.

Information for the groups and performances mentioned can be found at www.fools.ca; www.bearandcompany.ca; www.gnag.ca; www.gladstonetheatre.ca.

Bryan Morris acted in GNAG’s productions of Twelfth Night and King Lear.

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