Bard on Bower is adding new parks to the show schedule for their eighth season this summer.
“This year we wanted to bring the theatre to the people, right out their front doors,” said Thomas Usher, artistic director of Prime Stock Theatre.
In mid-June, a month prior to the official start of main stage productions in Bower Ponds, the company will put on a mini touring Bard festival. A smaller troupe will travel to parks around the city to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream at block parties or anywhere they are requested.
The traveling cast will perform a condensed version of the original script, a 45-minute version.
Usher said they hope the early park showings will get people in the mood for more Shakespeare in the Park and encourage them to head over to Bower for the full script productions offered free of charge.
Casting for all three Bard on Bower productions began on March 16th. This year the company is doing Romeo and Juliet, Henry V as well as a shortened version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
There is quite a range in the people that come out to audition.
Usher said they see three main categories of skill level: professional actors from Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer, local actors that have done community theatre and Red Deer College theatre students looking to get their feet wet.
“We like that mix, it’s very healthy for us,” said Usher.
Daniel Vasquez is a returning thespian who auditioned for all three productions again this year.
A regular improviser with Bull Skit Comedy and acting president of Prime Stock Theatre, he played Benzolio, ‘Romeo’s bro’ in the 2012 Bard on Bower season.
“As a returning actor it’s actually pretty relaxed, I’ve done it a couple of times,” he said.
Despite being heavily involved in the Red Deer theatre scene, Vasquez said acting is not his main source of income. He works for the City’s parks department and spends most of his days operating a skid steer.
“Being in Red Deer, it’s pretty rare to make a living at acting,” he said.
The casts of the Bard on Bower plays are only paid by donation. But he doesn’t mind, as he enjoys working with performers from all over Alberta with diverse backgrounds.
“Every show has its own kind of combined flavour and every season feels really unique,” Vasquez said.
He said his ideal role for this season would be Tybalt, Juliet’s hotheaded Capulet relative.
“Tybalt is the emotional personification of the conflict between the two families,” Vasquez said.
The specific role he lands is not what matters for him. After ten years on Red Deer stages, Vasquez looks forward to the experience of performing the classic shows outside in the park.
“It’s really gorgeous to be able to perform Shakespeare in Bower Ponds when the sun is setting,” he said.
The Prime Stock Theatre artistic director shares Vasquez’s sentiment.
Usher said that sometimes the weather itself strikes right on cue. He recalled a bolt of lightning shooting down at a pivotal scene and in another show where the audience had to take cover on stage when rain turned to hail.
“Rain or shine we keep going and the audience sits it out with us,” Usher said.
When it came to auditions the last two weekends, Usher and guest director David Owen were looking for a few specifics.
“As always, more than anything else, we’re looking for an ensemble that can work well together,” Usher said.
They also need actors that can handle the unique challenges of the outdoor venue.
Performers also need to be versatile and have a clear understanding of the script.
They also have to have the gumption to make bold choices and the energy to fill the large space.
Now in its eight season, Bard on Bower is starting to enjoy people returning year after year.
“They are now planning their summers around seeing us—we’re really hoping to make this a much more vital thing,” Usher said.
Initial auditions were held in Edmonton on March 16th and in Red Deer on March 17th. The company did call backs on Sunday. This week they will announce another round of auditions.
The company hopes to have the cast assembled in early April.