While there is a place for classical theatre in traditional venues, there is perhaps no theatrical tradition as loved as outdoor summer Shakespeare. Around the world, annual performances bring hundreds of thousands- if not millions- of theatre-goers to public spaces to enjoy some of the Bard’s finest work, often at pay-what-you-can prices.

For Tottering Biped Theatre, the dream of delivering this experience to Hamilton audiences is almost a reality. The company has been a longtime partner of the Royal Botanical Gardens, where they’ve spent several years as the attraction’s summer centerpiece at a steep ticket price. However, after exploring the future of the event, it was decided that the partnership was at its end. To Tottering Biped, this presented an incredible opportunity to return to a longtime vision of what- and where- Shakespeare in the summer could be.

“I’ve had Dundurn Castle in my mind for years and years.” Tottering Biped’s Artistic Director Trevor Copp acknowledged. “The location is perfect.”

Copp has done his research. He’s already identified the performance space on the Castle grounds for his performances. The Cockpit Theatre (the building that looks like a white chapel) was previously utilized as a performance space in the 1970s and 1980s, hosting outdoor theatrical events- much like what Tottering Biped has planned.

There is also a Shakespearean connection between Dundurn Castle and the famous playwright. Sir Allen MacNab, the original owner of the Castle, was a collector of Shakespearean memorabilia, including copies of the Bard’s original works. It is fitting then, to bring Shakespeare not just to the Castle, but to the city that MacNab called home.

Like their productions at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Tottering Biped’s Shakespeare at the Castle will feature a fully professional cast, paid at equity rates. However, unlike the RBG productions, ticket prices will be pay-what-you-can. With no set ticket price, any interested individual is able to attend the production without worrying about cost- something Copp sees as being aligned with other summer Shakespeare events, but also the work of Tottering Biped.

“Social justice is central to our [Tottering Biped’s] mandate.” says Copp. “For us, the perception of Shakespeare belonging to the wealthy is something we want to dismantle. It’s for anyone from any class. By doing PWYC, it’s just about loving the language, loving the words and loving the stories. I’m excited to welcome people who aren’t able to come to theatre without worrying about how far they can sit in the back.”

Copp acknowledges that the company’s first year at Dundurn Castle will be a challenge. The company’s business model for the production was based on receiving seed funding from the Royal Botanical Gardens, which were then paid back through ticket sales. This seed funding allowed Tottering Biped to pay its artists a living wage during the rehearsal process. However, as the two organizations did not decide to part company until the winter, Tottering Biped lost out on the opportunity to apply for funding that may have provided this assistance.

Instead, Tottering Biped has turned to the Hamilton community in the hopes that a one-time crowd-funding campaign will provide the needed seed-funding for one year.

“If we can raise the money once, in advance, to pay for the show, we can then take the funds that we make from the show and use it to fund future shows.” Copp explained. “Money raised this summer will transform into sustainable income for the project.”

The Hamilton Community Foundation has already contributed ten thousand dollars, and Copp hopes for the crowd-funding campaign to contribute an additional fifteen thousand. To date, they’ve raised just over half of their goal.

Shakespeare at the Castle and the crowd-funding campaign was announced prior to the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic; something Tottering Biped is already making contingency plans for. Should the 2020 production have to be cancelled, the company is already working on plans for 2021, using the funds already raised for this year’s production. However, Copp is hopeful that won’t happen.

“Everything is being cancelled right now.” Copp noted. “There is an appreciation and awareness that this is hitting artists hard, but Shakespeare at Dundurn Castle is a way for us to contribute together and give us something to look forward to again.”

To contribute to Tottering Biped’s crowd-funding campaign, please visit Indiegogo.
Feature photo courtesy of Tottering Biped Theatre.

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