Call it the Clash of the Shakespeares. A Bardic Battle Royale. Verily, a veritable fight to the death - even comparable to the noble Battle of Agincourt!
Well, perhaps that last one is a bit of an exaggeration.
In one corner, we have the venerable Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival. This battle-scarred veteran, celebrating its 10th season, stages the Bard on the bucolic grounds of Camosun College every summer - sometimes competing for space with curious deer.
The festival opens next week with a two-fisted attack: a First World-Warstyle Much Ado About Nothing and a 1930s-carnival-flavoured As You Like It, both continuing to Aug. 18.
And then, in another corner, the mysterious new kid on the block. Robert Light, a transplanted Vancouverite, will mount A Midsummer's Night Dream Aug. 14 to Sept. 2 under a tent at Holland Point Park (the 500block of Dallas Road). Light, operating under the sobriquet "Victoria's Shakespeare by the Sea," convinced Victoria's parks department to lend him the seaside site. He hopes his project will evolve into a professional Shakespeare festival similar to Vancouver's Bard on the Beach.
There's also another contender. Victoria's newish KeepItSimple Theatre Productions is poised to stage Henry IV (Part 1) at the Metro Studio Aug. 10 to 18. This production is overseen by David Christopher, who recently completed an MA in theatre history at UVic.
The question is, is Victoria big enough for three overlapping Shakespeare ventures in the summer?
Are there sufficient citizens salivating for a taste o' the Bard? Will the trio survive and flourish into the future - or will the ground be littered with theatrical corpses? As Shakespeare himself might say: "We must have bloody noses and crack'd crowns!"
Sorry. Got carried away again.
Michael Glover, artistic director for the Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival, says he chatted early on with Light about Victoria's Shakespeare by the Sea. He warned him staging Shakespeare is no easy route to riches (i.e., "all that glisters is not gold").
"It's fool's gold," Glover told me this week. "I try to tell people that. It's a lot of work."
For overseeing the festival, Glover receives a modest honorarium. He figures he earns 50 cents an hour all told. Upon first meeting with Light, he advised: "You don't want to come into this. Why would you want to? - We said, 'You shouldn't do it, you're crazy.' "
Was he warning the new guy off his decade-old Shakespearean turf? Probably not. For starters, Light make it clear to Glover he doesn't intend to compete. He even obligingly shifted the timeline of Victoria's Shakespeare by the Sea, so its opening doesn't overlap with Glover's festival.
For his part, Glover just wanted to explain to the new guy Shakespeare in this city isn't easy. He says it takes years to get established, so that (a) people know about it, and (b) actually want to come.
"You have to prove yourself to people in Victoria," he said.
The Camosun festival, performed mostly by upand-coming actors, has so far attracted modest audiences. The total crowd for the last couple of seasons was less than 4,000 annually, although the festival hopes to surpass that this year.
Shakespeare seems a natural for Victoria, being a popular tourist destination with a Ye Olde England history. Yet a fully realized professional festival - Ã la Bard on the Beach (which draws 90,000 annually) - has so far eluded us. A past contender was Theatre Inconnu's Victoria Shakespeare Festival. Operating under a big tent at the Inner Harbour, it drew 5,000 people in the mid-1990s. But by 2002, that Shakespeare festival had called it quits, citing rising costs and scanty government funding. (Theatre Inconnu continues today with contemporary plays in its Fernwood theatre.)
Victoria's Shakespeare by the Sea, operating on a $20,000 budget, will happen under a 60-seat tent with a postcard view of the Olympic Mountains. Light, who has acted and directed professionally in Vancouver and holds a Master of Fine Arts in drama from York University, is directing a 20-member cast for A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's a contemporary revival with Puck sporting a hockey jersey, and fairies in hippie garb.
Light again stressed he's not in competition with the Camosun festival, noting: "We don't want to interfere with them." Indeed, he hopes the two events will be "complementary." He suggested young performers from that festival could graduate to Shakespeare by the Sea after it becomes a professional outfit paying equity wages.
KeepItSimple Theatre Productions debuted last July with Henry V, staged at UVic's Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. Artistic director David Christopher admits audiences were sparse for that one. ("I made some marketing mistakes.") But he's hopeful about his upcoming Henry IV (Part I) at Metro Studio, with Wendy Merk directing a local cast.
I brought up my notion of the Battle of the Shakespeares and the competition for a limited audience in Victoria. Christopher, who hopes to stage Shakespeare's history plays annually, obligingly got into the spirit of this discussion.
"I think these three companies are going to claw and scratch for the audiences that are available," he declared. "And one of us will fall."
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