There will be villainy afoot, sword play, deception, superstition and treachery as Shakespeare in the Park celebrates its eighth year by presenting “the Scottish play” this summer in Galt Gardens.
“Macbeth” opens Thursday, July 4 and runs until Aug. 9 pretty much every Thursday and Friday in Galt Gardens except July 12 during Street Wheelers weekend when the local Shakespeare troupe hits the road for a performance at the Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod that day. They also return to Nanton at the Coutts Centre, July 21, and, new for the troupe, are in High River at Town Centre July 27.
“That will be a busy week for us,” said producer Kate Connolly, who is delighted that director Monique Danielle has set “Macbeth” in the 11th century.
“It’s a very traditional version. It is the period Shakespeare drew from to write the play and when the actual Lord Macbeth lived,” Connolly continued, noting it is a departure from forays into the future with last year’s interplanetary space-themed “Tempest” and the recent past of “A Comedy of Errors,” which was set in 19th-century Alberta.
“It’s going to be very exciting,” she said, adding the cast have undergone extensive fight training to ensure fight, murder and duels are as realistic as possible while also being as safe as possible.
“We are lucky to have two really talented fight choreographers — Garrett Mallory Scott, who choreographed all of the fights, and he appointed Keith Miller as fight captain, who also plays MacDuff,” Connolly said.
“It’s set amongst the gloomy castles and haunted heaths of Scotland where Macbeth meets the three witches. It depicts the raw brutality of the age. It’s very exciting. But it’s appropriate for all ages. There’s blood and gore, but no adult language or suggestive scenes,” Connolly advised.
She noted Shakespeare and the Park has received generous assistance from a variety of sponsors including Young Insurance, a Heart of the City Activity grant and Jaded Body Arts as well as the Allied Arts Council.
The cast features some Shakespeare in the Park veterans as well as several newcomers playing some of Shakespeare’s most iconic roles.
DJ Gellatly is excited to return to the fold as Macbeth. He has performed in three Shakespeare in the Park productions and directed two others.
He is honoured to play Macbeth.
“A lot of very talented men have played Macbeth, so it really is fun to step into those shoes. It really is an honour,” Gellatly said, noting Macbeth starts out an honourable man, but is seduced by power inspired by the three witches and slowly descends into violence and madness.
“It is very relatable the way Macbeth is seduced by power. Banquo starts out as his companion and friend, but Macbeth really goes to some really dark places inspired by that greed and desire for power,” Gellatly said.
“So it has been really interesting to go there.”
“I hope the audience comes away from the show being entertained,” he said, adding he has been enjoying the sword-fighting battles
Director Monique Danielle returns home to Lethbridge from Toronto, where she has been studying and acting, to direct “Macbeth.”
She is excited to set the play in the 11th century.
“The board wanted to do a traditional Shakespeare play and ‘Macbeth’ has always been one of my favourite plays. So I just love that it is set in the 11th century which is where Shakespeare drew his inspiration from. It’s just such a cool time period,” she said, adding she wanted to bring out the themes of masculinity and gender roles, parenthood and power in the play. She also wanted to explore the theme of feminine power with Lady Macbeth and the three witches.
“Lady Macbeth is a powerful female character,” Danielle said. “She questions Macbeth’s masculinity, but she gives up her femininity for more masculine traits to get power.”
“So I wanted to explore some of those themes,” she said, adding the witches exemplify the female empowerment theme.
“I was interested in their motivation. So I’ve turned them into Greek fates who are angry about being forgotten as people were turning to worship God and Christianity, so I wanted to play with that idea of female rage,” Danielle said.
The three witches are all new to Shakespeare in the Park.
Megan Fennell, who plays Clotho (witch 2) said she was dared into auditioning by her friend.
“I’ve been trying to do things that scare me this year like petting a snake and singing karaoke for the first time. So my friend dared me to audition,” said Fennell, who is also a dancer, a Taiko drummer, a science-fiction author and an artist who is a familiar face at Paint and Sip every month at the Owl.
“I told them I was interested in a minor role, like one of the witches. But they totally called me on it and said the witches are not minor roles. So I play the baby witch, Clothos,” she chuckled, adding she has really enjoyed the rehearsal process.
“On Tuesdays, when we don’t rehearse, I miss it,” she said.
“Macbeth has a reputation” for bad luck in the theatre community, so it is often referred to as “the Scottish play,” a fact not lost on Kayla Turnbull, who plays the witch Atropos.
“I’m pretty superstitious. It has a reputation as a cursed play.So I was wondering how that would affect the performance, but nothing bad has happened yet,” she mused as all three witches knocked on the wooded table to be used in the play. Just to make sure.
“I’ve learned so much,” added Anastasia Sicheac, who plays Lachesis. She puts her own stamp on her character by reciting one of the spells in her first language of Russian.
“Megan suggested we should do one of the spells in a different language, so I googled the speech in Russian because I thought it might make it easier for me to understand. And I found a Russian translation of ‘Macbeth’ and it worked,” she enthused.
They were also excited to explore the idea of feminine power as the witches.
“There really is an idea of feminine rage. We’re angry as the Fates and don’t want to be forgotten. We’re dangerous and sexy and will f— you up,” Fennell grinned.
Danielle is impressed with her cast.
“They have been wonderful. We didn’t get a lot of people out for auditions, but they made up for lack of numbers with quality,” she said, adding the cast includes Shakespeare in the Park veterans from the community and university. It includes familiar faces like Chris Peterson, DJ Gellatly, Dan Perryman and Jeff Graham, to name a few, and a lot of talented newcomers.
“We have both returning and new people,” she said, adding she has been impressed with the fight choreography.
“We have people who have done fight choreography before and those who haven’t, but they’ve mastered it,” Danielle said.
“Garrett Mallory Scott has 10 years experience in stage fighting. He chose Keith Miller as our fight captain and he has a lot of experience, too,” she said.
Danielle is excited about opening night.
“I hope audiences will come away questioning gender roles and the hierarchy and appreciate classical theatre. But mostly I hope they come away being thoroughly entertained. Because it really is a cool show,” she said.
Performances are at 7 p.m. each Thursday and Friday in Galt Gardens and at 7:30 p.m. in Fort Macleod at the Empress, July 12. The High River performance is at 2 p.m., at the Town Centre, Saturday, July 27. The Coutts performance is also at 2 p.m., Sunday, July 21. They are also at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens at 7 p.m. July 17.
There are also a couple of Wednesday night performances, July 31 and Aug. 7. Admission to all the Galt Gardens performances are by donation.