Begrudgingly studying Shakespeare is a rite of passage for junior high and high school students. Shakespeare isn't bad, but it's definitely more difficult to appreciate when you're forced to read plays that are hundreds of years old, in language that you need a teacher to help decipher. For the last 23 years, Martie Fishman and Shakespeare in the Park have tackled this problem head on, re-envisioning and re-imagining some of Shakespeare's classics in new and exciting ways.
"I like to call what I do 'Rock 'n' Roll Shakespeare' because it's really current," says Fishman. "There's a real appeal, I think, to younger audience members. It's accessible, it's fun. We don't change a word of Shakespeare but we try and set it in places that people can relate to . . . it's not traditional Shakespeare but I really enjoy the energy."
Last year the festival produced A Midsummer Night's Dream set to Queen music and featured the character Puck as Freddy Mercury. Martie Fishman is hoping to do this play again next year to Pink Floyd. Plays sometimes repeat from year to year because of previous success or as a reflection of the state the city is in.
"I like to pick plays that somehow reflect the mood of the city or alleviate the mood of the city . . . plays like Othello that force you to think about things," explains Fishman, admitting his choices are not always planned. "Plays just pop into my head. It's a mystery."
This year audiences can look forward to watching two old classics, Othello and Much Ado About Nothing, performed by what Fishman thinks is his strongest acting company yet thanks to professionals and emerging artists from all over Canada.
"We've never done Othello before so people are really clamouring to see it and the response has been amazing. Much Ado About Nothing has just gone blockbuster. People are laughing and are really enjoying every second of it," says Fishman.
The real attention grabber of this year's festival, however, has been the newly added Double Falsehood. The authorship of the play has been a matter of debate, but it was recently added to Shakespeare's canon by Arden Shakespeare Publishers. Shakespeare in the Park has the esteemed privilege of showcasing this intriguing work.
Double Falsehood's cast is also composed of purely emerging artists who Fishman encourages to take on larger roles so they can learn and develop. He believes Double Falsehood is important to the students as it gives them an "opportunity to explore and to shine."
Shakespeare in the Park has been in Calgary since 1987 and remains accessible to every Calgarian. It has always been a pay-what-you-can show with a recommended adult donation of $20, but the initiative has also found a way to give back with Shakespeare in the City -- a traveling troupe that visits Calgarians who cannot make it to Prince's Island Park. This year they are performing Shakespeare's in Love at venues like The Kirby Centre and Lougheed House.
"You'll see people at Prince's Island Park that you would never ever see in a traditional theatre," says Fishman, who believes Shakespeare in the Park is "the only place anywhere that you can see a street person and a banker sitting together and watching a play."
It's not surprising that Shakespeare in the Park draws such a diverse crowd. Fishman admits that he doesn't like all of the Bard's plays and acts as an editor, picking the plays he enjoys and knows the audience will enjoy while also considering what plays are suitable for the Prince's Island Park environment.
"There are some plays I can't do . . . just because they are so vicious and so bloody I have to keep in mind that this is a family audience."
With the last month of Shakespeare in the Park already underway, Fishman is hoping for some nicer weather, but is aware that it's all just part of the "joys of outdoor theatre."