Summer in Fredericton = Theatre
Len Falkenstein, guest blogger
On Sunday at Memorial Hall, UNB, two gangs of young men and women viciously attacked each other with weapons that included flashlights, police batons, a framing square, a taser, a longboard, and a can of spray paint turned flamethrower with the aid of a lighter. Later in the evening, strains of gypsy jazz filled the air as a couple performed a sensual dance that culminates in the two of them trying to set each other’s rear ends on fire, while others performed intricate swing dance lifts, two jugglers plied their trade, and two young women tossed each other around the room in a series of wrestling throws, before everything wrapped up with a rousing group rendition of a Hungarian folk song.
So, in short, it was just another typical day of rehearsal for Bard in the Barracks, Fredericton’s outdoor Shakespeare theatre company. We’re celebrating our tenth anniversary this season, and for the occasion are staging an expanded lineup of two productions, Romeo and Juliet in Barracks Square (hence the vicious street fight) and a remount of our gypsy caravan-set Hamlet in Odell Park from last year (hence the carnival-like sequence of music, dance, athletics, and tricks). The plays will be performed between June 19 and July 5, alternating between downtown and Odell Park.
I have the pleasure of being Artistic Director for both Bard in the Barracks and the NotaBle Acts Theatre Company, now preparing for its fourteenth annual Summer Theatre Festival, which will run from July 22nd through August 2nd. All of the plays staged by NotaBle Acts every year (usually 12-15 or so) is a brand new play by a playwright from New Brunswick. Fourteen years in, there have now been over 140 of those new plays, by over 90 different writers (just consider those numbers for a second), and a great many of them have been astonishingly good, recognized for their merit not just here but across the country. The plays at the festival happen in venues like the Fredericton Playhouse and the Black Box and Memorial Hall theatres at STU and UNB, but also in Barracks Square and on unexpected downtown street corners. You might wander into one later this summer, while innocently out for a walk.
As Artistic Director of the companies, my title is slightly grand, but often I feel more like Ring Master of a many-ringed circus, an enabler who creates the conditions that allow many talented people to bring and show their crazy talents to our city, rather than any sort of auteur creating on my own. The thrilling street brawl in Romeo and Juliet, for example, is the brainchild of Jean-Michel Cliche, an emerging actor with fearsome talents as a fight choreographer. The wildly entertaining gypsy carnival that happens at intermission of Hamlet was researched and created by the actors involved in the show, under the guidance of Crystal Chettiar, a multi-talented local actor, singer, and theatre administrator who is off to the National Theatre School this fall to become a professional stage manager. For the NotaBle Acts festival, fourteen different casts and creative teams will fill every room of Memorial Hall and many public streets and squares rehearsing busily through July, preparing our mad little creations to unveil at the festival.
When I moved to Fredericton in 1999, summer theatre in the city was the Calithumpians, and that was it. All modesty aside, it’s safe to say that Bard and NotaBle Acts have totally transformed and exponentially multiplied the summer theatre scene. And it’s not just productions by these companies themselves that are happening, but multiple others by artists who have met through these companies and spun off to do their own work, and yet others who have simply been inspired to add their own small-scale and innovative work to the scene.
For all of us, summer in Fredericton means theatre, and we invite you to come play with us soon.