Red Deer College creative arts students are delving into a brand new season with William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead.
Audiences are invited to take a step back into the Elizabethan era.
When the Queen of England seeks refuge at the Globe Theatre from the plague, life at the playhouse takes a turn for the worse. William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead is described as a witty and humourous play that uses many famous lines from Shakespeare’s repertoire to set the scene for battling plague-infested zombies.
Penned by John Heimbuch and directed by Kelly Reay, the production, which features a cast of 18 second-year students, opens Oct. 9th in Studio A. Curtain is 7:30 p.m.
Performances run Oct. 9th to 11th and 14th-18th. There are also Saturday matinees Oct. 11th and 18th at 1 p.m. Another highlight will be ‘Zombie Night’ on Oct. 10th – dress up like a zombie and win prizes.
“It’s kind of like the ultimate fantasy ‘what if’ scenario. An alternate retelling of a period of Shakespeare’s life which takes place in 1599,” explains guest director Reay, who runs the Calgary-based Sage Theatre. “When we join the play, Shakespeare and his acting company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, have just opened performances of Henry Vth.
“They’re coming off opening night ready to celebrate and basically as they are on their way to the pub, they get detained by what they think is an outbreak of the plague. They get trapped – quarantined – inside their theatre. As the play goes on, the stakes get higher – and the situation much more dangerous. So it becomes a survival tale,” he said.
“But it’s also a thriller and surprisingly it’s a very touching tale about friendship.”
It also touches on just who was William Shakespeare and on ongoing theories of did he really write all of his plays. “What was his relationship like with his players – some of the more well-known historical figures like Will Kemp and Richard Burbage? It explores what those relationships might have been.”
And of course, there’s an appearance by Queen Elizabeth – so the story also taps into the politics of the era as well. “So at its core, it’s a survival tale but there are so many other layers in there. If you’re not into zombies, that’s okay as there is so much more to this play,” he adds with a laugh.
“If you are a fan of Shakespeare, a fan of history – and it’s also very funny in spots; very tongue-in-cheek at times. There will be some good laughs – it never takes itself too seriously,” he added.
For Reay, guiding a production along begins with a solid – but moldable – vision.
“I always have a fairly clear vision (for a production) but for me, that’s always just the starting point. One of the things I love so much about theatre is that it is such a collaborative medium. So for me as a director, it’s important to have that starting point but once I get into the rehearsal it’s about the collaboration. There’s always great collaboration that enhances and emboldens the original vision that I had.
“Always, for me, it’s about creating the strongest production possible.”
Reay graduated from the Red Deer College theatre studies program in 1999.
“It’s really great to be back here on the other end of the table working with the great students and instructors here,” he said. “It’s no secret the facilities here at Red Deer College are top notch – some of the best in the province. So it’s great to be back.”
As for Heimbuch’s literary approach, Reay describes the language as being a ‘heightened dialogue.’ “It has the flavour of Old English while still being accessible to our audience.”
Meanwhile, Sage Theatre was founded in 1998 under the leadership of Rob Moffat. Immediately making an impact on Calgary’s arts scene, the company quickly established a presence as an innovative and risk-taking theatre company. Moffat remained with the company until 2004 when Reay took the helm.
For Reay, being back in Red Deer has provided him with a rich and memorable experience. “I’ve always tried to keep in touch with the next generation of theatre artists,” he said. “They are the next generation and the new voices in theatre, so it’s really great to be able to work with them and help steer them down the right path as they start their careers.”
Tickets for William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead are available online at www.bkticketcentre.ca or by calling 403-755-6626.