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Every two years, we give the High Park Amphitheatre over to its two graduating candidates of the York University MFA program in Stage Direction in collaboration with Canadian Stage. After two years of intensive work, study and creative refinement, Alistair Newton and Tanja Jacobs prepare to make their directorial debuts on our historic outdoor stage.

 

What is your vision for the work?

Alistair Newton, King Lear: The production opens with the image of a confused old woman, enthroned on an empty stage, attended by a crossed-dressed Fool; she might be your grandmother, your sister, your spouse, or indeed, yourself. Lear's journey is re-imagined as a fever-dream inspired by the final days of Elizabeth I, the most iconic Queen in Western history.

Tanja Jacobs, Twelfth Night: In my version, the setting of the stalled and enchanted world of Illyria will be a hotel. The hotel allows an individual to be anyone they like. It is a place where time may be suspended, where the past can be denied and where its guests may be placed under a spell. As a theatrical setting, the hotel has a long and legitimate tradition in comedy. It offers bottomless possibilities for seriously comic desperation.

What inspired your play selection?

AN: I was inspired by two quite brilliant people: Samuel Beckett — Lear kept reverberating at the back of my mind as I dug through his oeuvre during the season I participated in the Director's Project at the Shaw Festival — and Diane D'Aquila, who I first encountered working on The Ark with Peter Hinton at the National Arts Centre a decade ago, and who I consider to be ideally equipped to climb this Mount Everest (Olympus?) of a role.

TJ: I am inspired by the comedies of Billy Wilder - they are a little bit subversive and deeply humane. I also have fondness for the texture of celebrity culture of the 1970s; it appears to us now so hopelessly naïve compared to the toxic possibilities of the current climate. There is something fragile about it that is ideal for comedy.

Twelfth Night has more songs than any other Shakespeare play. I was equally inspired by the magnificent music of my own adolescence: American Soul Music from the late 1960s and early 1970s. This choice to ground my production in this era evokes a cultural moment that many people — me included — associate with erotic optimism; a nostalgia for a budding romantic time of hope.

Your Shakespeare in High Park productions are born out of two years of work at York. What themes are you exploring through your thesis, which will culminate onstage at High Park?

AN: Lear excavates the depths of the human experience, managing to comment with heartbreaking clarity on hubris, madness, loyalty, honour, love, familial trauma, the absurdity of manmade conventions and institutions, the dangers of absolutist beliefs, and perhaps above all, that redemption is possible. My concept for the play adds an investigation of the relationship between gender and power, and the redeeming power of femininity in a male-dominated world. The written component to my thesis is titled Every Inch a Queen: reckoning with misogyny/reclaiming the feminine in Shakespeare’s King Lear, and conducting the appropriate research made a significant impact on my conceptual thinking.

TJ: Twelfth Night, or What You Will is Shakespeare's only play with two titles. The actions of this play reflect not only an idea of "doubleness", but they also frame a central preoccupation with uncertainty. The play continually exposes the unreliability of knowledge — of oneself, of others, of the world — and so it exposes its characters to danger. I'm interested in how, despite beginning in sorrow and ending in a minor key, this subversive comedy fortifies us with humility in the face of love.

 

Shakespeare in High Park begins its 35th season under the stars June 29.


PHOTO: NATHAN KELLY

"My concept for the play adds an investigation of the relationship between gender and power, and the redeeming power of femininity in a male-dominated world."





PHOTO: NATHAN KELLY

"The play continually exposes the unreliability of knowledge — of oneself, of others, of the world — and so it exposes its characters to danger."