“Who do they think they are”: Shakespeare at CBU by Todd Hiscock

Hamlet

Hamlet

“Who do they think they are?” In a 2008 interview, Harry Boardmore recalls hearing this comment about the CBU Dramagroup’s 1982 stage production of Hamlet. Why would a university drama group think that they would be capable of staging such a large production by the world’s best playwright using a bunch of inexperienced student actors? Well, as it turns out, for many good reasons. Harry and Liz Boardmore understood the educational value of producing Shakespearean plays for everyone involved — actors, stage crew, and audience. University student actors (and sometimes faculty) were able to study their roles in ways that they could not in a classroom setting. The opportunity for these nascent actors to speak the lines in the dramatic context for which they were written deepened their understanding of both the character’s dilemma and the play’s overall purpose. The high school audience, some of whom also acted, were able to come to the playhouse to experience characters they were studying in class. To hear the lines spoken out loud and to watch the characters develop throughout a performance opened the full meaning of the play. There have been many “AHA!” moments, for both the actors and audience, during the playhouse’s 35 years of producing plays by William Shakespeare.

In total, there have been 21 productions of a Shakespeare play from 1981 to 2014. Harry Boardmore set the standard for the quality of these productions, using extensive set design and elaborate costuming (both modern and period dress). For those of us under the tutelage of the Boardmores, it was a chance to learn about key elements of stage directing. Staging a battle scene with 25 actors wielding swords and shields took a great deal of careful planning and execution, with a keen eye for the overall stage picture. These lessons served us well as we moved from acting to directing, taking the lead in staging the Annual Shakespeare production – Gary Walsh, Rod Nichols, and I all took on the challenge of delivering worthy productions during the early 1990’s. Ken Chisholm also met the challenge with his version of Macbeth. Later, Shakespeare productions were taken up by John Lingard, Todd Pettigrew and Scott Sharplin, all bringing their extensive academic research of Shakespeare into their productions over the past 15 years.

Arguably, the Cape Breton audience, from all backgrounds, has benefitted the most from the CBU productions of Shakespeare. The opportunity to watch a live production of a Shakespeare play is a rarity. To be able to see one almost every year is remarkable. Over the course of the past 35 years, close to 30,000 university, junior and senior high school students (not to mention the general public) have seen a Shakespeare play at the Playhouse. This opportunity has given teachers and students greater insight into some of the greatest dramatic texts ever written. Furthermore, audiences in general have become more critical viewers of live theatre productions. They have learned the value of “the stage picture.”

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

For all involved, the production of plays by William Shakespeare at the CBU Boardmore Playhouse over the past 35 years has been a worthwhile venture. The many actors and directors have developed their theatrical skills while wrestling with these often complicated scripts. Audiences have enjoyed the spectacle that comes with such grand productions. Students now understand the poignancy of Juliet’s “Wherefore art thou Romeo.” And it continues during the Boardmore Theatre’s 45th Season of Plays. This year, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death (1616 – 2016), a new adaptation of Hamlet by Scott Sharplin will be staged in late February on the Boardmore stage: “Go, bid the soldiers shoot.” Also on stage are two comedies, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and Shakespeare’s Dog, along with the Let’s Talk Speaker’s Series in conjunction with Hamlet.

 

35 years of Shakespeare at the Boardmore

1981 MacBeth Harry Boardmore
1982 Hamlet Harry Boardmore
1983 The Merchant Of Venice Harry Boardmore
1984 Julius Caesar Harry Boardmore
1985 Romeo And Juliet Harry Boardmore
1989 The Tempest Harry Boardmore
1990 Henry IV, Part I Harry Boardmore
1991 Twelfth Night Gary Walsh
1992 Macbeth Gary Walsh
1993 King Lear Rod Nicholls
1994 The Taming of the Shrew Todd Hiscock
1997 Much Ado About Nothing John Lingard
1999 Romeo And Juliet Todd Hiscock
2000 The Comedy Of Errors Todd Hiscock
2001 A Midsummer Night’s Dream Todd Pettigrew
2003 Macbeth Ken Chisolm
2005 The Merchant of Venice Todd Pettigrew
2007 The Taming of the Shrew Todd Pettigrew
2009 Romeo and Juliet Todd Pettigrew
2011 The Tempest Scott Sharplin
2014 Twelfth Night Todd Pettigrew

Todd Hiscock is the Theatre Director at the Boardmore Playhouse.

This blog originally appeared in the Cape Breton Post’s, Community Post.