As You Like It, Me B'y
Director Jillian Keiley sets Shakespeare's "love letter to the pastoral" in her native Newfoundland
Why was Shakespeare one of the most popular playwrights of his day? Partly because he gave his audience what they wanted. And it seems that what they wanted around 1598-1602 was comedy. The titles of both As You Like It and Twelfth Night, or What You Will, written during that time, suggest that Shakespeare was giving his audience what they had asked for and was inviting them to receive it in whatever way pleased them best.
Jillian Keiley, the director of this season's production of As You Like It, concurs. "I think Shakespeare conceived it as a populist piece," she says. "It's as if he's saying: 'Here's more of what you like - the cross-dressing heroine, the clown, the music.' It was his gift to the people."
In As You Like It, the heroine of the play, Rosalind, escapes the court of her villainous uncle (with the clown Touchstone in tow) and flees to the wilderness, disguised as a precocious boy. When it turns out that her crush, Orlando, just so happens to have fled to the forest as well (in order to escape his own villainous relative!), she convinces him to participate in an imaginary courtship that ends in marriage.
The play had broad appeal in Shakespeare's day, and Ms Keiley certainly intends that to be the case today. She is setting it circa 1985 in her native Newfoundland, where, in the contrast between that province's traditional rural culture and the oil-wealthy big-city life of its capital, St. John's, she sees a modern-day parallel to the two worlds of the play: Duke Frederick's court and the Forest of Arden.
"There had always been a tension between the urban and rural in Newfoundland," she says, "and in the 1980s, the tide began to change in the desired identity of the island. In a very short time, traditional Newfoundland customs, dances, music, humour were embraced instead of hidden, and it became a place that by the 2000s people wanted to come in droves to, not leave in droves from."
As You Like It is Shakespeare's love letter to the pastoral," she says. "It starts in the court, which is all about backstabbing and the rat race. But when they go out to the country, even though they have to think about survival, everyone relaxes: they sing songs and write poetry." It is a joyous, accessible play about love, family, foolishness and the power of transformation.
It is also full of music, which in this production runs the gamut from '80s-style arena rock at court to traditional Celtic music in the forest. The music will be composed by none other than Bob Hallet, a member of one of Newfoundland's most famous bands, Great Big Sea.
If you've ever wanted to be a part of an East Coast "kitchen party," you will get your chance in this production! Immediately prior to the performances, a select number of audience members will be invited to learn a traditional Newfoundland set dance (much like a square dance) and then to perform it on stage with the cast. "At one point in the play," explains Ms Keiley, "[the character] Jaques utters an incantation to draw people into a circle. This production will be about that: drawing people into a circle and saying, let's play together."
Those who have seen Ms Keiley's previous Festival productions, The Diary of Anne Frankand Alice Through the Looking-Glass, won't be surprised to learn that she plans to engage the audience in this light-hearted comedy in unconventional ways.
"I want the audience to feel like we're creating this show together. I want them to be delighted and to have so much fun and so much love for life - and for each other." She elaborates: "Designer Bretta Gerecke and I have concocted a world where the audience engages not just as the observer, but as those with whom we work to make the play."
Upon entering the theatre, audience members will be given a bag (which they get to keep!) that contains such things as tree branches, paper fans, hats and flowers, letters, clothespins, light-up stars, etc. From these simple items, audiences on the orchestra level, wearing their green paper crowns, will help create an image of a meadow or the forest floor for example. Light-up stars in the balcony will illuminate the night sky. Gigantic mirrors on the stage will enable the audience to see the picture they are creating. Audience members are encouraged to wear white or light-coloured clothing to enable the theatre lighting to incorporate them into the landscape of the play. Whilst in the forest of Arden, the young hero of the play, Orlando, writes love poetry to the object of his affection, Rosalind, which he hangs on branches of trees throughout the forest. Young people are being requested to submit these poems, which will be used as props in the play.
"It starts in the court, which is all about backstabbing and the rat race. But when they go out to the country, even though they have to think about survival, everyone relaxes: they sing songs and write poetry."
"I want the audience to feel like we're creating this show together. I want them to be delighted and to have so much fun and so much love for life - and for each other."
These are only some of the ways that audiences can embrace the welcoming and engaging nature of this production, which exemplifies the idea expressed in the most famous line in the play: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." Come be a part of this most magical stage and enjoy the best of Shakespearean comedy - as you like it! More details on how to "play your part" and get the most out of this engaging production below.
Dance on the Festival stage: Learn "Running the Goat," a traditional Newfoundland set dance, and be invited to perform it on stage during the show. School groups can book space in our Prologues (11 a.m. before most student matinées). Students will learn the dance and a select few will be invited to perform it during the show!
Calling all young poets: Aged 8 to 14? Orlando needs your help to woo Rosalind! In the play, he writes love poems to Rosalind and sticks them on trees in the forest. We'd like to use your poems to decorate our "forest"! Your poems must:
• Be hand-written on a piece of paper half the size of an 8½ by 11" sheet. You can also cut it out in any shape you like - be creative!
• Use the word "Rosalind"
• Be anonymous (unsigned)