Freewill Shakespeare Festival reschedules for 2021

By Liz Nicholls,

Alas, one woe doth tread upon another’s heel.…

The COVID crisis has claimed another arts victim. Not unexpectedly, the 2020 edition of the Freewill Shakespeare Festival, the Bard’s annual summer foray into Hawrelak Park, has been cancelled. And its two alternating productions, Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth, originally slated to open on the Heritage Amphitheatre stage mid-June, have been rescheduled for the summer of 2021, June 15 to July 11.

Yesterday Freewill’s sister festival in Vancouver, Bard on the Beach, announced a similar decision to defer its slate of productions till next year.

As Freewill’s new managing director Nikola Tonn explains, “we looked at every option” and contingency. Postponing dates till later in the summer in a much-used city-owned venue was an unlikely prospect, as was relocating on short notice. The festival’s only excursion into an indoor venue, SUB Theatre, several summers ago, proved financially disastrous.

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“With the current information before us it is the best decision for the safety of crew, cast, volunteers and patrons….”

“Next Monday our stage would be getting built,” says Tonn. “Rehearsals were scheduled to begin the second week of May.” The uncertainties, renewed on two weeks’ notice at every level of government, were untenable. She hopes that directors Dave Horak and Nancy McAlear, who were to have staged this year’s offerings, will be available for the 2021 productions. 

“Trying to balance a budget looks very different now,” says Tonn. “Ticket and concession revenue accounts for about half our budget,” which runs to about $630,000, depending on the productions. The annual artist budget is about $300,000. For the summer, a staff of two becomes 50, including administrators, artists, designers, and crew.

Festival passes and VIP passes for the 2020 festival went on sale at Christmas; refunds or deferments are available. Further announcements of summer activities (plus the introduction of Freewill’s new artistic director) await, slated for Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23.

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