Saskatoon summers are marked with festivals of all kinds. However, few are as unique as Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan. The annual theatre festival is held on the bank of the South Saskatchewan River, and it is a great festival for taking in scenery and culture, as well as for experiencing an unforgettable live play in a unique setting.
Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1985 and has been a staple of the Saskatoon summer ever since. This year’s productions are the renowned comedy, Twelfth Night, and the infamous historical play, Richard III, and they run until Aug. 20 and 19, respectively.
Skye Brandon has been a long-time contributor to Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, joining as an actor in 2006. He has been on the artistic advisory board for the past three years, and this year was asked to direct the production of Richard III. This is his first time directing a Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan production.
“Since moving back [to Saskatoon] a couple [of] years ago, I have started to direct Shakespeare a little bit. I’ve done some local independent work, doing kind of small cast versions of the productions, but this is the first time I’ve directed for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, ” Brandon said.
Since receiving his bachelor of fine arts degree in acting at the University of Saskatchewan, Brandon has been passionate about the works of Shakespeare and has devoted much of his professional career to Shakespearean productions.
“I really enjoy them — not just being in them, but when I’m watching a Shakespeare play and things click and it just comes off the page,” Brandon said.
Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan productions are always well done, but producing a performance is not without its challenges, especially with the unusual setting for a theatre production.
“It’s an outdoor festival in a tent in the summertime. So sometimes [it means] just physically taking care of yourself, making sure that you’re not dehydrated when you’re having to do a matinee on a day where it’s 31 degrees, and competing with noises of motorcycles and boats on the river,” Brandon said.
Although the festival poses such challenges, Brandon ultimately feels rewarded by working with the cast and crew to put on productions that so many people enjoy.
“This whole process as a director has been amazing from start to finish. It’s not just your show, because it’s two plays in repertoire, so everything that we do we have to do together, because Will Brooks, the director of Twelfth Night, has specific needs for his show and I have specific needs for my show, yet we have to come up with a cast of 12 actors who can serve both productions… We’ve been on the same page and very accommodating to each other the whole time, so I’ve found the whole process wonderful,” Brandon said.
Despite the fact that these plays are four hundred years old, Brandon insists that they remain just as relatable to today’s audiences.
“Maybe we don’t have leaders of our countries calling for someone’s head to be chopped off, but the political maneuvering is still very much the same,” Brandon said. “I think people would be surprised at how relevant some of the stuff is — and being Shakespeare, it’s still very entertaining.”
Richard III will be running until Aug. 19, and details about dates and tickets can be found at shakespearesask.com.