Backyard Bard, live and on demand: the Freewill Shakespeare Festival brings the plays to you

By Liz Nicholls,

You can have a fling with Shakespeare this summer. And, hey, he’ll come to your place to hang out.

As they announced on Will’s 457th birthday April 23, the Freewill Shakespeare Festival has had to take their famous resident playwright off his usual Edmonton stage, the Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park. Big-cast full-length productions with all the al fresco trimmings (like intermission) are not in the cards in the unpredictable landscape of a second pandemic summer.

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Instead, for their 32nd season, Freewill will pack up their costumes and props, and come to you. They’ll bring inventively condensed, adrenalized, small-cast 70-minute adaptations of Macbeth and the great mid-period comedy Much Ado About Nothing to your backyard or community — wherever you are. This, as you will glean, pretty much redefines accessible Shakespeare.

In Macbeth and Much Ado, Freewill has stuck with the alternating tragedy and comedy originally planned for the season. Both plays are reimagined for two small fleet-footed multi-tasking casts of local professional actors. Freewill artistic director Dave Horak directs both ensembles.

Macbeth is performed by an all-female cast of three, in a version licensed from the U.K.’s Splendid Productions, which specializes in bold, accessible condensations. “We have permission to make it particularly ‘Edmonton’,” says Horak, “and adjust it to fit whatever COVID protocols are in place.”

A cast of five takes on more than 20 roles in the version of Much Ado About Nothing created by Horak himself.

The two productions are available Aug. 10 to 29. The suggested fee per performance is $500 (and the company is open to discussing payment options in these parlous times). To request a performance, email managing director Nikola Tonn:

They do but stay your pleasure.

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