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Friday, April 12, 2024

Lies and love: Shakespeare by the Sea celebrates 30 years with Pinocchio & Romeo and Juliet

Atlantic Canada's longest-running outdoor theatre returns to Halifax's Point Pleasant Park with an original musical based on the tale of the wooden puppet who wishes to be a real boy and Shakespeare's tragic love story.

Atlantic Canada’s longest-running outdoor theatre returns to Halifax’s Point Pleasant Park with an original musical based on the tale of the wooden puppet who wishes to be a real boy and Shakespeare’s tragic love story.

Shakespeare by the Sea has always been an inviting, warm summer embrace, which is why it will be here for another 30 years. – Drew Douris-O’Hara

Celebrating its 30th year in 2023, Shakespeare by the Sea’s (SBTS) managing artistic director, Jesse Maclean, attributes the theatre company’s longevity to the original mandate of the company, which is to provide live theatre to as many people as possible.

“The idea to present the works of Shakespeare outside in the park in an almost casual manner has appealed to people and has continued to grow over the years,” says MacLean. “It continues to be an invitation to come for a walk in the park and have this beautiful cultural experience where it won’t cost you an arm in the leg.”

SBTS associate artistic director Drew Douris-O’Hara agrees.

“We’re still doing what Shakespeare by the Sea did when it started, which is to invite people to an incredibly beautiful place to hear and see incredibly beautiful plays,” says Douris-O’Hara, who will also direct this year’s production of Romeo and Juliet. “The mandate is that simple; Shakespeare by the Sea has always been an inviting, warm summer embrace, which is why it will be here for another 30 years.”

SBTS will present the return of its family-friendly musical Pinocchio and arguably one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Romeo and Juliet, to mark the milestone.

Shakespeare by the Sea's managing artistic director Jesse MacLean looks forward to welcoming audiences to Cambridge Battery this summer.
Shakespeare by the Sea’s managing artistic director Jesse MacLean looks forward to welcoming audiences to Cambridge Battery this summer.

“We last did Pinocchio in 2016, and now we’re going back to that script, updating and adapting to bring it forward and modernizing them a little bit,” says MacLean, who directs the production. “We’re continuing to let these scripts and these stories evolve with us and the company. We want it to be easy for people to come to the theatre, and recognition is sometimes key.”

The choice of Pinocchio couldn’t come at a better time, given the recent revival of the story in 2022 with Disney’s live-action remake starring Tom Hanks and Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion musical version.

“[Our Pinocchio] is not as dark as the Del Toro version, but we certainly lean into some absurdities that you wouldn’t get in the Disney version,” says MacLean.

Pinocchio also marks a different milestone for the company, as it will feature 16-year-old Halifax-based actor Siya Ajay in the title role. Ajay is the first-ever SBTS Studio theatre education program student to feature in its full season.

“Our students at the Studio are one of our greatest sources of inspiration, and Siya is one of the most exciting young actors I have seen in Halifax,” says MacLean. “We are over the moon about Siya taking this monumental step to join the ‘big leagues’.”

This year’s Shakespeare offering, directed by Douris-O’Hara, hasn’t been seen on the SBTS stage for almost twenty years.

“We’ve had Romeo and Juliet circled for our 30th anniversary season for quite some time now,” says Douris-O’Hara. “It’s perhaps Shakespeare’s most enduring and relevant play that has permeated all sort of areas of culture unlike any other story told.”

Despite a story that most are familiar with, it is surprisingly not told on Halifax stages often, with the last production in 2010 by Neptune Theatre.

“What excites me is the opportunity to introduce many new theatregoers to Romeo and Juliet,” says Douris-O’Hara. “It is a story you may think you know, but if you have yet to see it live, it really rocks your world. It’s sometimes like watching a train wreck you know will happen and hoping you can change the ending.”

Drew Douris-O'Hara adapts and directs this year's production of Romeo and Juliet, a play he has been obsessed with most of his life.
Drew Douris-O’Hara adapts and directs this year’s production of Romeo and Juliet, a play he has been obsessed with most of his life.

Claiming an obsession with the play for half of his life, it also has special meaning for Douris-O’Hara and his wife, Jade, who plays the role of Juliet, as both have a quote from the play – My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep – on the inside of their wedding bands.

“It’s from the famous balcony scene and is a quote that has stuck with me since the first time I saw Romeo and Juliet,” says Douris-O’Hara.

Playing Juliet for the first time since she was in high school, Jade Douris-O’Hara is excited to return to the role.

“For me, Juliet is such a wonderfully complex challenge. She is as funny as she is fierce,” says Jade. “Anyone who has talked to me for ten minutes knows that this is my dream role.”

SBTS newcomer Patrick Jeffrey joins Jade as Romeo.

“This is his first season here, and he is an actor we’ve been really excited about for years, and we’re just over the moon that he’s coming out to play in the park with us for the summer,” says Douris O’Hara.

MacLean is just as excited to welcome back audiences to Cambridge Battery this summer.

“If you’re looking for a super fun night out in a beautiful park being entertained by an incredibly talented group of actors, then this is the place to be,” he says. “I can pretty much guarantee you that you’re going to have a fun time.”

In addition to the two main stage shows this year, SBTS will close out its 30th-anniversary season with the return of Unrehearsed Dream, a one-night-only show where SBTS actors take the stage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with absolutely no rehearsal. They will also present The Songs of Shakespeare (By The Sea), a concert celebration of songs featured in SBTS shows over the years.

Hello City will again take over Cambridge Battery on select Mondays with improv from the award-winning comedy troupe, and the Halifax Fringe by the Sea returns in September.

Shakespeare by the Sea presents Pinocchio: The Musical Adventure and Romeo and Juliet in repertory at Cambridge Battery in Halifax’s Point Pleasant Park from July 8 through September 2. Visit shakespearebythesea.ca for tickets and information.

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