Sunday, May 29, 2022

Cinderella and Hamlet share the stage at this year’s Shakespeare by the Sea

Shakespeare by the Sea presents Cinderelly! The Musical and Hamlet at Cambridge Battery in Halifax's Point Pleasant Park this summer.

You couldn’t ask for two more different productions than what Halifax’s Shakespeare by the Sea (SBTS) is about to deliver this summer in Point Pleasant Park.

It’s just a rollicking fun and silly story for the whole family. – Drew Douris-O’Hara on the original musical Cinderelly!

Opening the Cambridge Battery this year is SBTS’ family show, Cinderelly! The Musical. Set in the fictional rural town of Rattlesnake Gulch, the original musical, written as a collective creation by SBTS, is a wacky take on the classic fairy tale. It is what the company’s artistic associate Drew Douris-O’Hara says is part of their mandate to “come back with a bang” following a pandemic cancelled 2020 season and a reduced season in 2021.

It is also a show on SBTS’ radar for a remount following a 2004 school tour and full productions in 2008 and 2014.

“Every time the show gets produced, it gets better and better,” says Douris-O’Hara. “It’s just a rollicking fun and silly story for the whole family. It’s also exciting for me personally, as it marks my return to the stage after three years of not performing.”

The second half of the “bang” for SBTS comes from one of Shakespeare’s most famous and often-produced works, Hamlet.

“I’ve been dreaming of a production of Hamlet in the park for years now, and when the mandate came down, I pitched Hamlet right away,” says Douris-O’Hara, who does double duty as director of the show.

“As a Shakespeare company, Hamlet is never that far from our brains, and as a director dreaming up my production of Hamlet in the Cambridge Battery has been on my mind since I started here.”

Set in 2022, Douris-O’Hara’s vision for his production of Hamlet comes from the timeless nature of the play.

“I want to put that to the test and place it very much in the here and now to focus the show on the family drama,” he says. “It will be a fast-paced, action-packed, and intimate family drama.”

While the year may be current, Douris-O’Hara will retain the play’s Denmark setting. “But using a very sort of Canadian lens with my greatest hope that our audience comes and sees themselves on stage,” he says.

Douris-O’Hara’s take on The Bard’s tragedy would be one reason Halifax actor Deivan Steele got excited about playing the title role, one that he last played at theatre school.

“It was a more traditional production [at school], and it was quite long compared to this one because theatre school is more to help people learn,” says Steele. “But here we’re trying to condense the story to make it clear, make it about the family, make it about here, and make it about now.”

Clarity of story is also paramount for Douris-O’Hara, who has distilled Shakespeare’s longest play from three and a half hours to 90-minutes.

“The process of cutting a Shakespeare play and adapting it excites me most as a director,” says Douris-O’Hara. “To choose the exact story you want to tell and refining that through-line is both a challenge and a joy.”

Steele agrees the cuts were inevitable given Douris-O’Hara’s focus, even at a cost to his stage time. “There are some things we can let go of and some things that don’t make sense, and that’s okay. To tell this story, it was inevitable there would be some cuts to Hamlet’s lines,” says Steele with a laugh

Less dialogue as Hamlet also gives Steele some breathing room as he does double-duty as both the Prince of Denmark and as part of a two-person band in Cinderelly! The Musical.

“That is the attraction of this job,” says Steele. “It is always a treat as an actor to do two and sometimes three roles in different places, different worlds. That’s what’s really exciting.”

Also exciting for Steele is being able to put his spin on a character that has seen many famous actors before him take on the iconic role.

“It’s funny, in Hamlet, there’s the ghost of his father, but there are also hundreds of ghosts of all the actors who have played Hamlet, watching you over your shoulder,” he says. “And as much as I try to be conscious of those things, I also try to move forward. You don’t want to do what the last person did.”

Steele says that making Hamlet his own for this production is about making things fresh and simple, something he says Shakespeare by the Sea does so well.

There’s not a huge scenery budget. We don’t have a revolving set. We don’t have light changes. So we just tell the story with the words that Shakespeare gave us, and it is that simple, clean storytelling, those words that people come back for. – Deivan Steele on Shakespeare by the Sea’s production of Hamlet.

“There’s not a huge scenery budget. We don’t have a revolving set. We don’t have light changes. So we just tell the story with the words that Shakespeare gave us, and it is that simple, clean storytelling, those words that people come back for,” he says. “That’s why we keep doing it over and over again, because we love the words that Hamlet uses, and we just want to bring that to the audience.”

In addition to the two mainstage productions, Shakespeare by the Sea also welcomes Halifax improv group Hello City back to Cambridge Battery on Monday nights.

“It is so exciting for us to have other groups use our space and see what they do,” says Douris-O’Hara. “Hello City is such an amazing improv troop and we are so happy to have them back after selling out every show they had last year. Tickets to their shows this year are on sale now and are selling very quickly.”

Halifax Fringe will then take over Cambridge Battery following the close of Shakespeare by the Sea’s season in September.

“There’ll probably be about a dozen different shows that will take place over the week of Fringe,” he says. “All of that information will be available when the Fringe announces their shows.”

Shakespeare by the Sea presents Cinderelly! The Musical July 15 through September 4 and Hamlet August 5 through September 3. Visit shakespearebythesea.ca for tickets and information.

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