A delicious summer theatre menu

By Monica Prendergast, July/August 2015

Shakespeare, queer, the Goose, the Fringe and more.

The summer months mean the chance to catch a show staged in the great outdoors. There are a number of such local productions you might want to add to your calendar. Or, you might prefer some recommendations for summer theatre in a comfortable indoor seat, thank you very much. Fortunately, summer theatre offerings around town this year provide the choice to view a show either way.

Let’s begin with the great outdoors. The Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival is marking its 25th anniversary with Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The directors this season are very experienced, former Bard on the Beach Artistic Associate (now teaching at the Canadian College of the Performing Arts) Christopher Weddell for R&J and popular local director Britt Small for Dream. In their capable hands, these are likely to be strong outings. Both shows run in repertory from July 8 to August 8 outdoors at Camosun College’s Lansdowne Campus.

An upstart rival to this longstanding festival is Shakespeare by the Sea. Artistic Director Robert Light is mounting his third season of two plays at Clover Point Park on Dallas Road. This season features Hamlet and The Tempest. The shows run from July 2 to August 2. 

Four Shakespeare productions running in two locations is a bit risky in terms of attracting healthy sized audiences in a town the size of ours, but if these festivals can lure tourists seeking a good night out along with local theatregoers, it is a win-win for the local arts scene. Both of these Shakespeare festivals feature student, amateur and more experienced artists working together to create enthusiastic productions that are easy to appreciate in the atmosphere of a Victoria summer’s eve. Take your mosquito repellent, a blanket or two, and enjoy.

Theatre SKAM has two options for outdoor theatre this summer. First up is their new incarnation of the popular Bike Ride. SKAMpede is a festival of short performances along a four-kilometre stretch of the Galloping Goose, beginning at Cecilia Ravine Park. There are 12 shows in the line-up this year and audiences are led by “wranglers” in small groups to four shows at a time along the trail. To see all of the shows takes about three hours in total and you can walk, bike, scoot, skateboard or roller blade your way for each tour (walkers with walkers and bikers with bikers in separate groups). This is a creative and popular family-friendly event that runs from July 10-12.

Another outdoor production I am looking forward to is Theatre SKAM’s remount of a hit show from quite early in its 20-year history, Lieutenant Nun by Elaine Avila. The play tells the true story of a 16th- century Spanish nun who chose to escape from her convent and disguise her gender. She lived out her life in both Europe and the New World as a ship’s boy, servant, page, soldier and, eventually, a decorated lieutenant. I saw the original 2003 production that was wonderfully staged in Macaulay Point Park in Esquimalt. The production this year will be in the same location and directed by Kathleen Greenfield, associate director of SNAFU Theatre, whose recent work has been with William Head on Stage. Running in tandem with the Victoria Fringe Festival, you can catch Lieutenant Nun from August 26 to September 6. 

Speaking of Fringe, and moving indoors, that festival of “un-juried and uncensored” independent theatre is on August 27 to September 6 and is the highlight of many a Fringe fan’s year. This year there are shows coming from as far away as Australia, Japan, Germany and the UK. There are also many from across Canada and from the States. Get your badge, line-up to hear the buzz on the best shows to catch, and celebrate the end of summer Fringe-style!

Intrepid Theatre, the company that produces the Fringe Festival, is launching a new festival earlier in the summer called OUTstages. This festival of queer theatre runs from July 5 to 12 and promises four engaging and challenging productions from across the country that address issues such as gay conversion therapy, club culture, homophobic violence and the celebration of living OUT. There are also a couple of playreadings, a chance to dress-up and walk as a community member or ally in the annual Pride Parade on July 5, and a closing musical cabaret. It is wonderful to see this festival happen; some of the most vital theatre-making these days is emerging from the queer community. 

British playwright Noël Coward might be considered one of the forefathers of today’s LGBTQ theatre artists. Blue Bridge Theatre is producing Coward’s witty comedy Private Lives from July 7 to 26. Coward lived in different times and never publicly disclosed his homosexuality, although it was common knowledge. But, as Blue Bridge Theatre Artistic Director Brian Richmond points out, “Coward was a true trail-blazer in terms of his championing alternative approaches to sexuality and marriage and, in Private Lives, he created a classic portrait of the joys and trials of modern day marriage.” This production, directed by Richmond, features a cast of talented young professionals, including Amanda Lisman and Victor Dolhai, alongside recent theatre graduates from UVic. 

BOOM by Rick Miller is on at the Belfry Theatre from August 4 to 23. Rick Miller’s one-man shows are theatre festival and touring favourites for his inventive use of video and his unique sense of theatricality. I saw his show Bigger Than Jesus a few years back and was compelled by the delicate balance Miller and co-creator Daniel Brooks managed between reverence and irreverence. BOOM is Miller’s new work that looks at the Boomer generation through its cultural artefacts (music, movies, icons) and politics. This is our chance to see a very busy and productive Canadian theatre artist as he begins touring this one across the country. 

If your wish for summer theatrical fare takes you beyond Greater Victoria, you might want to look at Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach summer-long line-up. I usually get to one or two Bard productions each summer and find them to be pretty solid, if a bit on the safe side. Many of Vancouver’s best actors are in the company, though, and the tent setting in Vanier Park is a delight (despite the thudding music that often plays in the background from passing boats in the harbour). My money is on their co-production of King Lear with Theatre Calgary, starring Benedict Campbell and featuring some of my favourite Vancouver actors: Craig Erickson, Jennifer Lines, David Marr and Colleen Wheeler. Directed by Theatre Calgary’s Dennis Garnhum, this will be one to suffer the busy summer ferry ride to get to. 

From Shakespeare to modern classics to avant-garde festivals and showcases of new works, this summer has it all, inside and out. 

Monica has recently published a co-edited collection on drama/theatre education in Canada for the Canadian Association for Teacher Education. She will launch this book and also share some of her other research and writing projects in Singapore at the triennial International Drama in Education Research Institute in July.