Bard on Bower plans a delayed return to the outdoor stage at Bower Ponds with two Shakespearean plays and other festive entertainment in August.
Two light-hearted comedies will anchor the upcoming Prime Stock Theatre summer season because people need a laugh, said artistic director Thomas Usher. “We wanted to avoid tragedy — there’s already been too much,” added Usher, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Much Ado About Nothing and The Comedy of Errors are planned to respectively open on Aug. 12 and Aug. 17, and run in repertoire until Aug. 29 — along with other theatrical entertainment.
As with other live entertainment events, the 2020 Bard on Bower season had to be cancelled to prevent community transmission. But now that Alberta is moving into re-opening stages, Usher has applied to the City of Red Deer to lease the outdoor stage in August, instead of July for extra leeway.
He’s crossing his fingers and hoping for the best when it comes to the continued lifting of health restrictions.
Usher said he plans to invite other local theatre groups — including Bull Skit, Central Alberta Theatre and Red Deer Players — to stage improvisations or scenes that promote their upcoming seasons to run as openers to Prime Stock’s Shakespearean productions.
“I am kind of hoping they will put something together so it will be more of a festival thing,” he said.
Live entertainment was among the hardest hit by pandemic restrictions, so Usher envisions a creative outpouring in August, “with maybe some dance, some heritage stuff, and musicians as well…”
This summer’s Shakespearean comedies will be staged with a smaller than usual nine-actor ensemble. They will be directed by Richard Beaune (Much Ado) and Jake Tkaczyk (Comedy of Errors). Additionally, director Andres Moreno is planning Shakespeare-themed Bard in a Box improvs with four actors to take around local parks as pop-up presentations.
While Moreno and Tkaczyk are seasoned members of Prime Stock Theatre, Beaune will be a first-time director for the Red Deer troupe — and Usher is thrilled to have him on board.
Beaune has assistant directing experience at Ontario’s Stratford and Shaw Festivals, and plans to bring a fun 1950s perspective to Shakespeare’s comedy about two confirmed singletons — Benedict and Beatrice — who are deceived into falling in love with each other in Much Ado About Nothing.
Beaune, who moved to Red Deer for family reasons after two decades in Ontario, said he opted for the mid-century modern time frame for the play because “I wanted something fun, bright, frivolous and kind of groovy.”
With great stories, characters and language, performing Shakespeare outdoors feels very “rock and roll,” said Beaune. “It’s like playing a big power chord,” so he plans a production that feels like a rock concert, “with a hint of the ’60s counter-culture revolution that’s to come.”
Rehearsals will begin the first week in July — with the first one planned by Zoom, to be on the safe side, said Usher.
In this first year back, the company is dealing with some losses, including the cancellation of a fundraising casino as well as the supportive Red Deer College Theatre program, which was permanently shuttered due to low enrolment at the start of the pandemic.
Prime Stock is still hoping to land a city grant, but already has talented local people in the community lined up to construct costumes and sets.
Usher is hopeful entertainment-starved crowds will return in August to support Bard on Bower. “We are hoping people show up and donate” to help the struggling local arts scene get back on its feet again, he added.