By Andreea Timis, December 1 2023—
The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts opens its doors to its production of Shakespeare in Love from Nov. 24 to Dec. 2 at the Reeve Theatre. Based on the 1998 movie of the same name, Shakespeare in Love is a romantic comedy set in 16th-century London about world-renowned English playwright William Shakespeare and his struggles with writer’s block on what will eventually become one of the greatest love stories of all time, Romeo and Juliet, by experiencing the tragedy of a forbidden romance himself. The play is directed by MFA candidate Steven Conde as part of his graduate thesis.
Conde worked as a theatre director and actor for over 20 years in the Philippines, where he is originally from. In an interview with the Gauntlet, Conde expressed an interest in exploring Western theatre and revealed that he found this play perfect for him to get to know Shakespeare.
“Shakespeare has always been [a] mystery to me,” said Conde. “As a director, [the play] is a good introduction to the world of Shakespeare’s plays. It gives me both the contemporary world of theatre and the classical.”
One of the main challenges when transcribing Shakespeare in Love to the stage was figuring out how to make the story more original. While watching the play, Conde wished for audiences to avoid comparisons to the movie and instead focus on the play’s messages.
Conde knew early on that he was interested in exploring female protagonist Viola’s point of view in the play instead of Shakespeare’s.
“What we follow in the story is Viola’s trajectory,” he said. “Her path, her growth, the boundaries that she overcomes.”
Conde also revealed that they chose not to stick to a purely Elizabethan approach for the play. “The aesthetics are very different, the design is different. It’s really the world of the play that we differentiate.”
He further underlines that the play is much more humorous than the film. For him, this is one of his favourite aspects about it, since it is his first time directing a comedy.
“It’s hilarious from top to bottom,” said Conde. “Because of this element of humour, I feel like [the cast and crew] kept the working conditions light and pleasurable for everybody.”
When asked about impacts on the audience, Conde highlighted the importance of paying equal attention to both the story presented and the theatre aspect of the play.
“I really want the audience to leave the theatre with a newfound respect for theatre artists,” Conde said. “This show, and the way we’re staging it, is primarily a celebration of the theatre, of words and storytelling.”
For Conde, the intangible interaction that occurs between the audience and the performers is the most crucial step in creating a memorable theatre experience for everybody.
“What I love about the theatre is it’s a shared experience,” he explained. “It won’t work if [both] the actors and audience don’t do their job.”
The theatre is nothing without an audience, and if the actors are passionate about their work and showcase that on stage, the audience then responds to that passion. Conde hoped the audience would walk out of Shakespeare in Love feeling like there was so much more to the theatre than they’d previously thought there was.
“The theatre is really quite powerful,” he said. “It can affect people, it can make a difference in people’s lives. It’s not just for entertainment.”
Tickets to Shakespeare in Love, free for students who use the Claim Your Seat program, can be found on the U of C website.