It was supposed to happen a year ago.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Shadows and Dreams Theatre Company’s annual Shakespeare in the Park production got put on temporary hold.
“Nobody knew – maybe it was just a lockdown for like a month,” recalls Kerri Norris, one of the founders of the company.
What transpired instead was perhaps the longest and strangest year in memory for performing artists everywhere, as theatres went dark and live events became a distant memory. So when the City of New Westminster reached out this spring to see whether Shadows and Dreams was still around, and whether they might be interested in a new performing opportunity, the New West theatre group jumped at the chance.
“Seeing a play live again, and getting to share space with people … we are incredibly grateful to the city for remembering us, our little group, and for giving us this opportunity,” Norris says.
Shadows and Dreams is bringing its 15th anniversary production to the stage at Queen’s Park this summer – with, fittingly, the same show it launched its Shakespeare In the Park series with all the way back in 2006: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
As has always been the case, the show will be a family affair. The Elcheshen-Norris and Brooke clans founded the company together 15 years ago, and they’ve been producing and acting in the shows together ever since, welcoming new young thespians into the fold as children came along over those years.
Two of the tiny children from that very first production – one a toddling two-year-old; the other a baby who took naps in a suitcase backstage – are returning as the young lovers, Lysander and Hermia, for this year’s show.
The two families are being joined by a number of returning friends and regular cast members from seasons past. With extremely limited rehearsal time, Norris notes, the group decided to do something they’ve never done before: act with scripts in hand.
As to what roles they’ll play? Well, that will be decided at showtime, a few minutes before each performance.
“All the adults are going to pull out of a hat and say, ‘Guess what I’m playing today?’” Norris says with a laugh.
But audiences need not fear they’ll get a less-than-full performance experience.
Norris notes all the actors involved are intimately acquainted with the play from many years of work in live theatre and teaching, and everyone will learn all the blocking.
For costuming, Norris is zeroing in on one or two key items that best convey each character’s essence – such as, of course, the necessary donkey’s head for Bottom (which Norris, being a self-professed “costume hoarder,” was fortunate to find in her stash from five years ago).
And all the script challenges that may arise along the way? No worries.
“What I’ve said is, ‘Let’s not solve any of the script problems.’ We want it to be that kind of visceral, live, you’re seeing us solve things. Audiences love it when actors make mistakes on stage and have to solve things on stage,” Norris says.
“It’s going to be crazy chaos, but good crazy chaos. We’re all so excited to play with each other again.”
NEW STAGE AT THE FARM
This year’s production won’t take place in its usual location at the bandshell, but rather in the newly created performance space in what used to be the Queen’s Park petting farm. No, there are no animals (which is almost too bad, Norris muses, as surely some goats would have added to the fun), but the city has added lights and flower baskets, power washed everything and created a clean, raked space for the audience.
It’s free, but audience members just need to book ahead to stick to capacity restrictions – and bring their own chairs (or blankets, if they don’t mind laying blankets on dirt). And Norris stresses that, as always, it’s an all-ages, family-friendly production.
“We’re going to have fun, and we want the audience to have fun,” Norris says. “That’s always been our watchword, but we need that especially this year.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is onstage July 31, Aug. 1, Aug. 7 and Aug. 8 at 2 p.m. Tickets are free but need to be reserved ahead through the city’s online booking system.Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
Email Julie, email@example.com.