Shakespeare at the Rock- photo courtesy of Tottering Biped Theatre
Shakespeare at the Rock – photo courtesy of Tottering Biped Theatre

Last year, fans of summer theatre didn’t have to stray all the way to Stratford to be treated to Shakespeare’s epic works. Thanks to Tottering Biped Theatre and the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG), theatregoers didn’t have to go beyond the RBG’s newly renovated Rock Garden to experience Shakespeare under the stars. This year, the tradition continues, with Shakespeare’s epic comedy, Twelfth Night being staged from August 12 – 30. The classic comedy tells the story of shipwrecked Viola, who adopts a male persona that leads to hilarious confusion when she finds herself in the middle of a love triangle.

For Claudia Spadafora, Twelfth Night marks her fourth year with Tottering Biped Theatre. She spent two years as a performer and media manager before moving into an assistant directorship for last summer’s production of MacBeth. Although 2019 marks Spadafora’s first year as the Director of Shakespeare at the Rock, her past experience means she is no stranger to outdoor theatre- both the good and the bad. “Outdoor theatre can sometimes be limiting for design elements,” she said. “props blow in the wind, and your lighting designer is mother nature. On the other hand, it gives us artistic opportunities that would be way harder to pull off indoors. The wind can create beautiful shapes in fabric, and the shift from day to dusk to night works beautifully in taking a plot from large and unfinished to intimate and resolved.”

Summer Shakespeare is a tradition in many communities, as it is frequently perceived to be less formal than attending an indoor theatrical performance. Audiences are generally seated much closer to the actors and to each other, creating a community-like setting. In addition to the challenge of weather, wildlife can also be unpredictable, with the actors occasionally sharing their stage with chipmunks and squireels. Spadafora recalled a pivotal scene in the Merchant of Venice where a mosquito would appear nightly around her scene partner’s eyes. 

Although the play was chosen long before Hamilton Pride and the subsequent questions and challenges that the City of Hamilton is facing in its support for Hamilton’s LGBTQ2S+ community, Spadafora also notes the relevance of performing Twelfth Night at this particular time and that many of the themes in the Bard’s classic tale are still relevant today. “(In Tottering Biped’s Twelfth Night) it is a place where queer communities exist and congregate, but must fight every day for their survival and humanity.” Audience members familiar with the characters of Twelfth Night will notice these questions addressed in the company’s adaptation. “We’ve turned the villain and pariah of the play, Malvolio, into a lesbian cis woman. In this comedic subplot, we explore where casual homophobia stops being “harmless,” and starts being uncomfortable.”  

As a Director, Spadafora also recognizes the inherent challenges with interpreting and adapting the Bard’s work for a new stage, as plays are often lengthy or contain intimidating language. She promises a version that runs a total of 90-minutes that is relatable and meaningful to modern audiences. Instead of in a noble Dukedom, the setting of this Twelfth Night is in a nightclub; where young people are looking for love while taking chances and experimenting with their self-expression.

From August 12 – 30, the Royal Botanical Gardens’ Rock Garden will transform itself into the setting for Twelfth Night, complete with both general and pre-admission seating. The Gardens closes its doors to the general public early on show nights to ensure an intimate atmosphere for audience members. Those wishing to enhance their experience are able to purchase dinner at the Gardens before the show at its Café, or order a picnic basket in advance.

Who: Tottering Biped Theatre
What: Twelfth Night
Where: Royal Botanical Gardens- Rock Gardens (1185 York Blvd)
When: August 12-30, weeknights only
Tickets: https://www.rbg.ca/shakespeare

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