Southwest Shakespeare Festival

Cast member Zac Oliver sits on the hood of the 1968 Chevrolet Biscayne of Lawrence Carr, seen holding the steering wheel, while the vehicle is pushed to the tent in Riverside Park, July 9. The vehicle will be used as part of the set for the outdoor production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The excitement is building among the cast and production team for the inaugural production of the Lyric Theatre's first season of The Great Southwest Shakespeare Festival.

The group of around 30 volunteers, including a cast of 13 actors and a production team of about eight people, are preparing for the 15-show run of William Shakespeare’s popular work, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The outdoor performances will take place from July 26 to Aug. 17 in a large blue and white tent between the trees at Riverside Park.

The actors moved their rehearsals into the tent since July 9 to get into the mood for their performances during the festival.

Lyric Theatre Artistic Director Gordon McCall, who was the founder and first artistic director of Saskatoon’s Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan Festival, said the excitement is partly due to the fact that this will be the start of a major new theatrical initiative for Swift Current and the entire region.

“This is very important,” he noted. “This is a landmark that we’re launching and everybody that’s associated with it this first time, they’re going to carry these memories forward forever. … The excitement is palpable. Everybody’s pumped. The rehearsals are high energy. We know that we’ve got a really special opportunity here.”

The performances in the tent will have a unique atmosphere that will be enhanced by the lighting and other decorations.

“It’s going to be very accessible to the community, and it’s like going on a picnic,” he said. “It’s a real feeling of being outdoors, being in the elements. … It’s a feeling that you’re really connected to these actors. You’re only a few feet away. The feeling is informal, but the play of course has a great structure and journey to it. So, they’ll be entertained. They’ll laugh a lot I think, and I also think they’ll be moved at times by some of what happens in the play.”

McCall is huge admirer of the works of Shakespeare, who he considers to be the greatest writer of the English language.

“I have the pleasure of teaching Shakespeare over the years, and it’s very close to my heart,” he said. “So I am thrilled to be able to start our very own Shakespeare festival here, because if we get off to a good start we could have this here for a long time, and not only will it be great for the families to come to here in Swift, but also tourists off the No. 1 Highway. That’s the goal and the whole region. We’re not far away from a lot of things, even Medicine Hat, Regina, down to Fargo. We’re in a good spot in the province for this.”

This production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will remain true to the words, characters and story of Shakespeare, but it will present a contemporary vision.

“We`re calling it a prairie dream,” he said. “When I do Shakespeare, I do it with a notion that we view it through a contemporary lens, but we’re entirely respectful to the language. We don't change the language at all. We try to do what Shakespeare said. Hold up a mirror to nature and say that’s what it was back then, but these same things are still at work in our society today.”

The nobility will therefore be called the country club set in this interpretation and the “mechanicals” in the original play will become mechanics, who are restoring old cars.

“And the fairies we’re saying come from the prairie late at night, and we’re calling them the dust people,” he explained. “They are kind of a whimsical version of the fairies, and we are inspired by the wildlife that's out on the prairies, and also just the notion that underneath everything here in the prairie is the earth, it’s the prairie itself.”

A 1968 Chevrolet Biscayne is part of the set for this production. This vehicle is provided by local resident Lawrence Carr, and on July 9 members of the cast and crew helped to push it from his home over a distance of about a kilometre to the tent in Riverside Park.

The pushing of the car was part of various efforts by the cast and production team to raise awareness in the community about the upcoming production.

“It’s really getting out and shaking everybody’s hand, and saying we’re part of your community and our community, and we want you to come out and share in this experience and let people know,” McCall said.

The festival’s launch overlaps with the Western Canada Summer Games in Swift Current, which is done intentionally.

“I decided to start the festival the same time as the Games, because we’re going to have a critical mass of people in town,” he said. “We could have our population swell up to five or eight thousand people for the Games, and they are looking for entertainment in the evenings. There’s the cultural festival at the fairgrounds and there’s us here.”

There will be seating for up to 100 people in the tent, and as part of the informal nature of the event those who are planning to attend are asked to bring their own lawn or camping chairs (No gravity chairs, long lounge chairs or high-back chairs due to limited space).

Festival show dates are July 26-31, August 1-3, 6-8, and 13-17. All show times are 8 p.m. Tickets are available at Pharmasave at a cost of $20 for an adult and $5 for children 12 and under.

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