Shakespeare-in-the-Park returns after two years, adapts to new challenges

Repercussion Theatre discuss their All Shall Be Well tour and impacts of climate change

Cast members of Repercussion Theatre perform outdoors. Photo Courtesy Repercussion Theatre

Founded in 1988, Repercussion Theatre is best known for its annual Shakespeare-in-the-Park performances.

Traditionally, a cast of 10 to 12 actors have toured around Montréal every summer to put on a Shakespeare play in various green spaces.

This year was different. After cancelling Shakespeare-in-the-Park two years in a row due to COVID-19, the theatre returned with a smaller cast and a completely different set. From July 14 to Aug. 6, Repercussion Theatre toured 18 different parks to perform the original Shakespeare-inspired play All Shall Be Well free of charge.

Amanda Kellock, the artistic director for Repercussion Theatre, explained that All Shall Be Well rose from biweekly conversations she had with other directors, actors and scholars. According to cast member Anton May, this original piece by Kellock “covers all the grounds of what we as a community, especially here in Montréal, experience during the pandemic.” 

For the first year and a half of the pandemic, Kellock met biweekly with individuals from across Canada for what they called “The Candid Covid Canon Conversations”. They would read a different Shakespeare play in between each meeting, and discuss every other week as a group what striked them about it as readers living in a pandemic.

“The conversations […] became a life raft during a really challenging time, and we still send emails to each other to check-in,” Kellock said. “We actually still have a couple plays left to read that we haven’t gotten to.”

Jeremy Smith, the artistic director and founder of Driftwood Theatre, an outdoor theatre company that tours around Ontario, said that these meetings “helped me feel connected to a group of peers at a time when professionally, I wasn’t feeling connected to much of anything.”

He added that these conversations were lively and were “about connecting with this material that we all love as makers of classical theatre.”

“It was important in helping me keep my sanity throughout most of the pandemic, even if I couldn’t be at every single meeting,” Smith said. 

The difference between All Shall Be Well and previous productions of Shakespeare-in-the-Park—aside from the reduced cast size of five performers—was that it included only about “10 per cent Shakespeare,” said May. The other 90 per cent were various skits written by the creative team in conjunction with the actors. According to Kellock, these skits were still being refined during rehearsals.

“This is basically a show which really allows a performer to showcase their range,” described May. “Because it’s a mashup of pieces of Shakespeare and different texts, it’s really a chance for me to dip into all these different types of characters that I probably won’t ever get to play as a queer black man,” he laughed.

Having such a small cast—for reasons partly due to the pandemic and partly due to scarce funding—also presents its challenges, May added, since everyone is almost always on stage and very little time is allocated to costume changes.

“It’s very very demanding and challenging but it’s so so fun,” he concluded.

As for what Repercussion Theatre will do next summer, Kellock said the theatre has “a lot of figuring out to do in terms of finances.” Normally, their cast consists of 10 to 12 actors, but she doesn’t believe this will be possible next year.

For Smith, this year wasn’t so much about recovering from an ongoing pandemic but “dealing with it,” he said, adding that throughout the pandemic, Driftwood relied entirely on support from the provincial and the federal governments. Their earned revenue had fallen to zero because they couldn’t sell any tickets through their pay-what-you-can service.  

“Although everyone talks about audiences being back in full force, that hasn’t always been our experience,” Smith said. “It’s been harder to connect with audiences in some ways because we’ve been away from them for two years.”

Kellock described the past two seasons as having been a roller coaster, with crew members getting COVID-19 and needing to isolate as well as with pandemic-related delays in production. 

“It’s been a long process with all kinds of different elements to it,” said Kellock, “but it’s been wonderful to create the play and then share it with an audience and have immediate feedback on it." 

She then added that although she’s very proud of this year’s shows and the positive feedback they’ve received, she’s becoming increasingly aware of the precarious state of outdoor theatre in the midst of climate change.

“I’m split between being proud [of this season and being] aware of how challenging it is to be doing outdoor theatre in the midst of climate change and how it’s so brutally hot,” Kellock said.

Smith explained that the unpredictability of summer weather “will require us to be more and more careful about the way that we plan seasons.” For about 90% of tour locations, he added, Driftwood has an indoor back-up venue.

He said that if summer months continue offering hot and unpredictable weather, outdoor theatre will need to be rethought, and perhaps brought earlier or later during the year, which would change audience dynamics.

“It’s a really strange time to be doing outdoor theatre because I feel like it’s on the one hand so needed and so good for people’s souls and on the other hand, I legitimately don't know how long it can survive,” Kellock admitted.