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Shakespeare by the Bow explores the brave new world of The Tempest

By Emilie Medland-Marchen, August 6 2015 —

Shakespeare by the Bow, Theatre Calgary’s popular annual event, returns to Prince’s Island Park this summer. The troupe is performing one of the Bard’s last and most acclaimed plays, The Tempest. Using the setting of Prince’s Island Park as a backdrop, the show will be a spectacle to behold.

Unlike most plays Theatre Calgary has brought to Prince’s Island Park in recent years, The Tempest isn’t a comedy. Instead, it’s a tragicomedy offering a dreamlike setting and whimsical narrative. And a live performance, especially one in an outdoor setting, is the best way to view it.

The Tempest relies heavily on setting to determine mood and provide narrative momentum. The play is set on a remote island somewhere between Italy and Africa, where the play’s protagonist and the ex-duchess of Milan, Prospera, resides as a powerful wizard, accompanied by her daughter, Miranda. They become shipwrecked and discover Caliban, a half-beast half-human slave. What follows is a play rife with romance, intrigue and
suppressed violence.

While Prospera is the main character in The Tempest, Caliban is both the play’s primary antagonist and its emotional anchor, vital to the play’s exploration of injustice and servitude. In Theatre Calgary’s performance, Caliban is played by Ahad Mir, who recently graduated from the University of Calgary’s drama program.

“After I read the play, I was very set on Caliban because I felt like that was the role that I personally connected with the most,” Mir says. “In rehearsal, there was some darker stuff that I had to get into and that was a bit of a challenge because it’s so not me.”

Mir says performing at Prince’s Island Park is different from traditional theatre.

“Anything can happen. It’s a very different social setting and I think that kind of keeps us all on edge,” Mir says. “Being outside, it feels more like you have to bring the audience in. And I know we do that in the theatre, but there are so many distractions [outside], so those things are important to consider.”

In Theatre Calgary’s production, many of the star male characters are genderbent. Mir says one of the best things about theatre is that changing the gender of characters doesn’t affect the power of the story.

“Shakespeare is so cool because gender doesn’t matter. I think that’s the beauty of theatre, that it doesn’t matter. And I think the decision to genderbend has been a smart one because it keeps the cast equal,” Mir says. “But at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s a big deal. I think we could have a genderbent Romeo and Juliet, and it wouldn’t even matter.”

Shakespeare by the Bow intends to integrate recent post-secondary graduates into the world of professional theatre. The entire acting cast of The Tempest are recent graduates. For some, this is their first experience with a large-scale theatre production.

“It’s really scary. There’s a lot of responsibility you have to put on yourself. When you’re in university, they have your back a little more. They’re still mentoring you and helping you out,” Mir says. “I think that’s gotten me ready for this because there’s [still] a lot of independence when you’re at U of C. But here is the test.”

Productions of The Tempest will continue most nights until mid-August. Bring a blanket to Prince’s Island Park and prepare to be enchanted.

For more information on Shakespeare by the Bow, visit theatrecalgary.com

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