Talent from the faculty, staff and student body at the University of Saskatchewan will play a major role at this summer’s Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan festival.
Mikael Steponchev, a fifth year drama student at the U of S, will appear in both Othello and Much Ado About Nothing on the mainstage. He is undeniably thrilled to be involved.
“The day I got the call, I nearly dropped my phone,” Steponchev said. “Being a part of two Shakespeare shows at once is a dream come true for me.”
Steponchev learned about the audition from one of his professors, Pamela Haig Bartley, who is a professional director, actor and 25 year veteran professor with the U of S drama department. Haig Bartley is the director of Much Ado About Nothing and promises patrons an updated version of the classic comedy. The show has been uprooted from Renaissance England and re-situated in a post-Second World War setting.
“The play stipulates that, at the top of the show, the men are returning from war. I needed to choose a contemporary war at the end of which characters would be celebrating,” she said.
Much Ado About Nothing also includes a female character involved in a traditional and male-dominated courtly romance contrasted with a firecracker heroine unwilling to accept marriage without equality. For this reason, Haig Bartley said she felt that “the time period needed to be one in which the status of women was on the cusp of changing in significant ways.”
Haig Bartley is also hopeful that her semi-modernization of Much Ado About Nothing will help to make Shakespeare more accessible and appealing to the general public. She is passionate about Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, crediting it as being a crucial part of exposing audience members to live theatre, sometimes for the first time.
“They discover that they enjoy the unique immediacy and shared vitality,” Haig Bartley said. “They begin to seek it elsewhere … thus, the festival builds a sense of community, as well as inspiring generations of new, up-and-coming aspiring theatre artists.”
Steponchev is one such artist. He commends the professionalism of the company and though his involvement has kept him busy, he is far from complaining.
“I’m learning valuable lessons, forging strong friendships and waking up in the morning ready to take on the world,” Steponchev said.
Steponchev is also enjoying the challenge of performing two shows during the same period of time. While the plays offered on the mainstage have different directors, they share their casts — meaning the actors have to perform parts in both shows. Steponchev plays two characters in each show, so his acting training comes in handy while he works hard to maintain the integrity of each character.
“In Much Ado, I play Balthasar and Borachio. These two couldn’t be more opposite,” Steponchev said. “Balthasar is a humble soldier with a big heart … Borachio, on the other hand, is a blue-collar schemer who wants to leech his way to success.”
Steponchev has a lot on his plate this summer but it doesn’t look like he will have much time to rest before he’s back to auditioning for Greystone Theatre’s 2015-16 productions.
Although money has been tight in the drama department, Haig Bartley said they have chosen to stay positive and produce three shows instead of the two that they offered in their 2014-15 season.
Haig Bartley will direct Les Belles Soeurs, by Michael Tremblay. Greystone will also perform Caucasian Chalk Circle by acclaimed playwright Bertolt Brecht and a comedy by Steve Martin — “yes, that Steve Martin,” — that Haig Bartley thinks will be a crowd-pleaser.
Haig Bartley and Steponchev have in common their obvious enthusiasm for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan and theatre in general. Both Shakespeare plays offered at the festival this year have a twist that Haig Bartley hopes will convert the public into fans.
There’s something for everyone this summer under the beautiful tents on the river, with the added bonus of local U of S talent.
Much Ado About Nothing and Othello will be at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan until August 23, 2015. For more information and to purchase tickets visit shakespeareonthesaskatchewan.com
Photo: Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan / Supplied