Announcing our New Artistic Director

By | Outdoor theatre, Shakespeare | 2 Comments

My adult life has be characterized by radical geographic change, moving from Montreal to London, then to New York City, and then to Toronto in under ten years. I’ve thrived on shaking it up and seeking re-invention. It’s enabled some incredible adventures and opportunities, but I always sensed that it also left me missing something; a sense of community. When Brendan approached me about re-starting Shakespeare in the Rough (now Ruff), in 2011, I began my journey of finding that sense of community. 

When, over a year ago, Brendan reminded us that we needed to start thinking about a new Artistic Director, I automatically thought, ‘well, I guess I’ll leave too. We’ve had a good run, and after all, I came with Brendan, it only makes sense that I leave with him, five years as the Associate Artistic Director seems like enough.’

My need for re-invention and change kicked in, and then something else kicked in; a realization that my dedication to this company has grown beyond one person and is connected to the community we’re a part of. I realized that I now have that thing in my life that throughout my 20’s I felt was missing. I have learned so much being a part of Ruff, grown, and struggled, and delighted in the successes of everyone involved. Have felt supported in tough times and have met so many wonderful people along the way.

I am not ready to leave Ruff behind. I’m part of a company of people whom I adore and respect and am challenged by, and a Board of Directors who help us make our wildest visions come to life. Shakespeare in the Ruff is a platform to share Shakespeare’s incredible plays and we get to do that with the most generous community of people who join us in Withrow Park every summer. I love Shakespeare. Since reading Hamlet in Grade 11 and dreading the day we got to Act V, knowing he would die, I was hooked. I love seeing his plays, acting in them, and talking about them. I love so much of what Shakespeare’s writing has to offer and also have some serious beef with other elements of it.

I know we are at an advantage; our society makes a lot of room for Shakespeare, so my intention is to consciously populate that space with people who are less commonly offered that megaphone. To look at his plays from a less traditional angle, to defy convention, and to make them our own.

And a large part of addressing this has to do with how we cast our shows; casting at least as many women as men in our shows and having people of colour in lead roles is a priority for me. That may not sound revolutionary (and many companies across this city are doing it!), but until it is a given, until it is done at the highest level, until it is the new norm, viva la revolution!

In a country that is so diverse in culture and in language, where gender equality is being touted on every level, why is theatre, and Shakespeare in particular, an exception? Because it was written that way? I don’t believe that it has survived for 400 years simply because it was written that way. It has survived because it has the quality to be deeply personal, reinvented, twisted into knots, and thrive because of it.

Brendan & Kaitlyn during rehearsals for Macbeth: Walking Shadows

I feel ready to take on this beautiful challenge, in large part because I follow in the footsteps of an incredible leader. Brendan McMurtry-Howlett has an infectious spirit, mobilizing those who have been and those who are Shakespeare in the Ruff. It’s one thing to take the reigns of a company that has a loyal audience base, decent infrastructure, and operating funding, and it’s another things to start something from nothing more than the shadow of a past company and make it into something so vital. Brendan stepping down is something he said he would do from the beginning; ‘I’ve got five years in me, and then I’ve got to move on’. And true to his word, he is. We will miss him very much, but his passion and vision for this company have infected us all. As he transitions into being an Artistic Associate, I know that his creative presence will also play a role in how the company evolves.

So that’s what we’re aiming for and what I want for Ruff moving forward. No small feat and impossible to do alone. Thankfully I’m not; with Eva Barrie, AJ Richardson, and Caitlin Sullivan, we forge on creating the accessible, joyful, challenging work that Ruff is known for, while running our Young Ruffian Apprenticeship Program for teens in tandem.

I’m so excited to share what we have in store for our sixth season, which we’ll be announcing in early May. So here we go…the readiness is all.

-Kaitlyn Riordan

5th Birthday Sonnet

By | Events, original practices, Shakespeare | No Comments

On May 26th, 2016, we celebrated our 5th Birthday by launching our 5th season in Withrow Park. Our Board Chairman, Larry Smith, penned a sonnet for the occasion, in the spirit of William Shakespeare, and Sonnet 155 was born. Not only did he perform it for us, but he did so dressed as an Elizabethan playwright. What a guy!

Sonnet  CLV – by Larry Smith

When birthdays come, and come they tend to do,

With unfailing certainty, year to year.

A time it is to take a look anew,

And question all the reasons you are here.

A few have written countless pleasing plays;

While others have those lines breathed into life.

And managers have toiled away their days

Assuring the world’s stage is without strife.

The playbills of our past, we call to mind

And think about our lines, our casts, our crew.

And wonder, with some fear, if we will find

A play next year with roles for me and you.


This year, what drama your life lacked.

Be thankful that you’ve got another act.


2016 Season Announcement

By | Acting, Events, Outdoor theatre, Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare | 3 Comments

Drum roll please… We are very excited to announce that this summer, Andrea Donaldson will be directing ‘Romeo & Juliet’ in Withrow Park. Both a highly creative mind and an East End resident, Andrea brings a fresh perspective to our landmark fifth season. Some of her most recent work includes ‘Within the Glass’ at The Tarragon Theatre, where she is the Associate Artistic Director, and ‘Mistatim’ at The Young People’s Theatre, starring Ruff’s own Brendan McMurtry-Howlett. Below you’ll get a glimpse of both Andrea’s passion for this play and the strong theatrical potential of our home base, Withrow Park.

“I am interested in creating a beautiful summer evening which is inspired by love, inspired by the environment, inspired by the outdoors. That people can come and lay out a blanket and sit with their kids or their lovers or their friends and go from fights to really beautiful intimate romantic moments to huge moments in scale that can only happen with this huge outdoor environment.

A big piece of my interest in working outside is operating under the notion that the space in and of itself holds so much information and opportunity. The limitations that is poses are also opportunities in disguise. Having to locate where sundown is going to happen, having to imagine how the trees that I’m looking at right now, in the winter, will look when they’re perfectly green and lush. How do we use the space, how do we enjoy the field that is 60 feet long, when in a theatre we typically only have 20-30 feet in depth. All of these things feel like huge gifts for me and actually a real source of inspiration as a starting point to ask – what are all the things we can do outside that we can’t possibly do inside with four walls and a ceiling?

While I don’t know what that evening’s going to look like really precisely yet, the things I do know is that it’s going to be really beautiful. I know that this Romeo & Juliet wants to be a story about two really unlikely young people who aren’t drawn to each other because they should be, but because they can’t help it. There’s an inexplicable force that’s connecting the two of them that doesn’t make sense in their world. I think that that’s truly what love is, the force of love, the power of love, and the power of healing that love can have.”

Puppets + Shakespeare = The Canadian Way?

By | NAC, Shakespeare | No Comments

People keep asking what possessed us to combine Shakespeare and puppetry; as we head into the final week of rehearsals for ‘Macbeth: Walking Shadows’ (Aug 13th-30th), we thought we’d pass the buck, and ask someone else that very question. When we heard about Jillian Keiley’s decision to bring puppets to the world of ‘Twelfth Night’, next season at the NAC, we were very excited (and relieved), that we weren’t the only ones who thought puppets and Shakespeare would make a great combination. We’ll get around to answering this question ourselves, but for now, back to rehearsal. -SitR

Programming Shakespeare at Canada’s National Theatre – by Jillian Keiley

Even though I was raised on and have directed, acted in or assistant directed eight different Shakespearian productions, I have always felt kind of politicized about the sheer amount of Shakespeare that Canadians produce. Don’t get me wrong – I love Shakespeare. But I’m also a nationalist. And it strikes me odd that the primary storyteller in our theatres is a man from another continent who had never dreamed of knowing Canada.

I believe in that good kind of nationhood: shared ideals, pride of place, together we are better. And so I believe that when a Hannah Moscovitch play slays a new audience or when Robert Lepage makes the world believe that Canada (or at least a part of Canada) is at the cutting edge of the craft – I think that’s good for us, not just as an arts loving community but as a country: our stories, well told. So I do believe that Canadians and Canadian artistry should have priority in our National Arts Centre space.

However, when I took over the reins at the NAC I didn’t want to restrict the programming to only Canadian writers. I am from the school that believes that the writer is a very important key creator in identifying the ‘nationality’ of a play, but I also believe that the director or ensemble of artists can interpret a play in such a way that is so unique to that artist or to that community that the play becomes a Canadian expression, if not an entirely Canadian play. I think Raoul Bhaneja’s Hamlet is uniquely his version. I believe The Electric Company’s No Exit was as much about the art of that company as it was about Sartre. I saw Modern Times’ Macbeth several years ago and it was as unique a piece as I could imagine, using Shakespeare’s Macbeth as the primary of many layers.  Chris Abraham’s gay wedding Midsummer Night’s Dream belonged more to the backyards of Toronto than anywhere else.

At the NAC, we have two ways of programming. We select six or seven shows a year to present from the multitude that we see live or on video. For our in-house productions, we bring together a group of actors from across the country to build that year’s Ensemble. The Ensemble inspires the choice of plays for the season.   Often times, even though the Associate Artistic Director Sarah Garton Stanley and I pride ourselves on knowing as much as we can about the Canadian canon, we hit on a combination of people that seem to call for a classic which happens to be from somewhere else.

This coming season, for example, we happen to have the perfect alchemy of artists to do Twelfth Night. (Incidentally the other five shows for the Ensemble this year are Canadian.) I was very interested in how they would tell that story and hear that music. But also I wanted to see it envisioned by uniquely Canadian dreamers.   So I went to a team of the most unique Canadian dreamers I know – The Old Trout Puppet Workshop. This group visiting-trout_lof guys, who started out in a shed south of Calgary performing for Hutterites, had the kind of vision that could engage visually with all of the textual delights in Twelfth Night. So we moved forward with the plan to do a Shakespeare as imagined by The Old Trouts. It won’t be with marionettes or hand puppets so much as it will be visually animated using the Old Trouts’ signature style.   The Old Trouts for years have done interpretive works that have blended quite animate inanimate objects with quite animated humans to great effect.

The last Shakespeare the NAC produced (outside of presenting the visiting Raoul Bhaneja’s Hamlet) was Peter Hinton’s all Indigenous King Lear. It too was a very Canadian interpretation. I believe this Twelfth Night in the hands of the great artists in our Ensemble and the Old Trout Puppet Workshop, will offer audiences an entirely new theatrical experience; and a uniquely Canadian one at that.

Twelfth Night runs January 20th-February 6th, 2016, in Ottawa at The National Arts Centre.

Cymbeline Series-BONUS Edition

By | Cymbeline, Outdoor theatre, Shakespeare, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

We are so thankful to directors Anita Rochon, Dawn McCaugherty, and Antoni Cimolino, who have shared their take on Cymbeline with us over the past month in our Cymbeline Series. Now that Ruff’s production is up and running, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, our Artistic Director and director of Cymbeline’s Reign, tackles the same three questions we put to these thoughtful and generous theatre practitioners.

1. For a title character, King Cymbeline has very little time on stage and no time alone with the audience. How did you ensure that audiences would connect with him? Do you think the play would be better served by a different title?

Well, we did change the title of the play. And I guess this is as good a place as any to discuss our adaptation – what we did to the original script and why.

Shakespeare’s original script is an epic and intricately woven story filled with beauty, compassion, and morbid humour. Every seemingly insignificant detail laced into this story ends up playing a key role in the play’s famous final scene where everything is resolved in what can only be described as a miracle. The original, with all of the myriad plot details, would run at about three hours which is just not possible for us in our park setting, so cuts and edits are required.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, the moment you cut one word from Shakespeare, you are creating an adaptation – you are making decisions about what to focus on for your own individual production for your own specific audience. In an attempt to “do justice” to the play, often cuts are made evenly across the board to keep every element of the original in the edited script while reducing the content to roughly half of the original. What I’ve often experienced in these cases is that although a gesture of all of the play’s original elements are included in the edited version, what remains resembles more an excavated medical cadaver than a living and breathing play.

In our approach, we opted to fully embrace the spirit of adaptation and, as such, changed the name of the play to let our audiences know that what they would be seeing was not the original Shakespeare script, but rather our artists’ creation specifically for our audience and setting. I’m proud to say that it’s a world premiere of an original Shakespeare play.

Another aspect we focused on in our decision to adapt were elements in the original that were key social issues of the day when Shakespeare wrote the play in 1610-1611 – mainly the notion of needing a male heir of royal blood in order for security and harmony to be reestablished in the kingdom. In the original script this is done through the reemergence of Imogen’s missing brothers, which allows Imogen to marry an orphan boy without her family losing the throne. I could go into all the political reasons as to why this element was crucial to Shakespeare’s era when he wrote the play, but the basic fact is, the notion of maintaining a class system led by men, is contrary to the kind of society we all wish to live in today.

By no means is this the only thing we’re left with at the end of this play. It could be argued that in a modern production, this element may not even be noticed by audiences and, therefore, could be argued to be irrelevant. But I firmly believe that as artists and storytellers, we need to take full responsibility for what we put out into the world. I didn’t feel it would responsible considering my feminist upbringing to put that kind of story into the world – my mother would disown me.

Now, just to be clear we had no interest in creating a polemic rant against male-centric hierarchy (although a good rant now and again doesn’t hurt). We wanted to focus on the miracle of compassion and acceptance which I believe is truly at the heart of Shakespeare’s original, so we opted to simply remove the male-heir-restoring-harmony element.

In our extensive research on this play (which surprisingly uncovered a long history of derision and dismissal of this play from over a century of critics) we discovered many fascinating adaptations along the way. George Bernard Shaw felt so affronted by what he deemed the ridiculous nature of Shakespeare’s final scene in this play that he decided to re-write the whole 5th act – if you’re curious, click HERE to read it.

The most exciting thing we found was an adaptation written in 1779 by British poet Henry Brooke. He rewrote the entire play, using Shakespeare’s characters and basic premise but taking it in quite a different direction (spoiler alert: there’s an insane human sacrifice scene at the end). The most interesting thing that Brooke did was completely remove the plot line of the missing brothers in the cave and instead focused in on the journey of Posthumus and Imogen. This was one possible approach we had already been discussing and took the uncovering of Brooke’s script as a sign to continue. Brooke also fleshed out the story of the Queen’s plot to usurp the throne, which we found intriguing. Plus, who doesn’t want an excuse to have that amazing character on stage more!

Inspired by Brooke’s play, we took pieces of his text and pieces of text from what must be more than a dozen of Shakespeare’s other plays to remove the brothers plot line and fill in the many holes that their removal created. Instead, we sharpened the focus on Imogen’s journey and renamed the play Cymbeline’s Reign to highlight the idea that although King Cymbeline isn’t the main character in our play, everything stems from the decisions he makes. He is both the first and last obstacle put between lovers Imogen and Posthumus. (If anyone is curious to read Henry Brooke’s script, send us an email and we’ll point you in the right direction!)

2. Most deus ex machina (god from the machine) moments are vital to the story. Jupiter’s descent on the back of an eagle in Cymbeline is often cut and feels less integrated than many similar interventions by the Gods in other plays. What was your take on this moment and how important a role did the unseen whims of the deities play?

Researching this play, reading and re-reading it along with all of Shakespeare’s other “Romances” (Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, Two Noble Kinsmen), it’s clear these late-career plays took a sharp turn away from the great tragedies for which Shakespeare is known. The main difference that I noted was that the driving action of the play is propelled by individual characters’ thoughts and actions and how they influence the world around them, for better or for worse. We follow one, or a few main characters’ psychological journeys as they cope with the decisions they make and the consequences that arise from those decisions. But in the “Romances”, Shakespeare seemed far more interested in how a character’s journey was shaped by external elements outside of their control that pulled or pushed them through the action of the play. The main characters are more like swallows in a strong headwind, rather than the great engines in his earlier plays.  Reading Dan Falk’s recent blog post connected a lot of dots for me based on what I was seeing in these plays  – at the time of Shakespeare’s shift into the Romances, there was a huge change happening in science and society where, because of Galileo’s discovery of Jupiter’s four moons, humans started to really understand the notion that planet Earth, and therefore all humans, were not at the centre of the universe, but are just a miniscule part of something much larger.

In Cymbeline, as well as in Pericles and Two Noble Kinsmen, Shakespeare uses the metaphor of the Roman and Greek Gods, to represent those external elements. In Shakespeare’s original script, the final moment of the play is a deciphering of a tablet left for Posthumus by the god Jupiter, which essentially tells all of the mortals that all of the fantastical and unbelievable things that happened to them over the course of the play were in fact all coordinated by Jupiter himself (and his pet eagle).

Jupiter’s decent on the back of an eagle before Posthumus is the physical manifestation of the idea that Posthumus doesn’t have all the answers. Although he attempts to control his destiny in his quest for death, this moment reminds him that he doesn’t necessarily have control over his own life, which in this case, turns out to be a good thing. In our adaptation, we have not cut Jupiter, but have actually heightened the moment of intervention that exists in Shakespeare’s original and made it more direct.

3. Cymbeline isn’t produced very often, especially in Canada; is it just the ebb and flow of fashion, or are people are afraid to do it? And if so, why? 

It’s a hell of a thing to produce – fight sequences, figuring out what to do with Jupiter, worrying that the audience might get lost in the labyrinthine plot twists. But I think more than the logistical nightmare it poses, this play, more than his others, doesn’t have much life on the page. It reads more like an entire season’s worth of soap opera plots condensed into one play. I found it incredibly hard at first to figure out what was actually at the heart of each scene and what characters wanted from each other moment to moment.

I don’t think that it’s an accident that many generations of critics haven’t had many positive things to say about this play – it’s not a piece that holds up to academic and literary analysis and lacks the poetic language of Shakespeare’s better-known plays. It only truly comes alive at full-speed. The scenes and each character’s drive starts to make a lot more sense when you remove any time to think; all of the characters act and react from pure impulse. None of the characters really think anything through; they simply don’t have time with all of the elements of their world applying pressure on them.

In rehearsals I told all of the actors that this play wouldn’t make much sense until we got it up to speed. I kept encouraging them to speak and do faster than they could think. The recurring questions of, “why does Imogen do this bizarre thing in this moment? Why does Posthumus make this insane decision here?” started getting answered when we removed the characters’ time for deep analysis of their situation. When the actors started to act from the gut, they found that the choices their characters made responded far more to their emotional state than to any kind of deep psychology. I found myself learning far more about the scenes and the play watching the actors in action than I did from reading the play two dozen times on my own.

When reading it the first time, one can get a very simplistic view of the play and these characters, reducing them to archetypes without much depth, but when you put them into action, they come alive. You’ve got to have a lot of courage and trust in Shakespeare to believe that what you read on the page is just the very beginning of this “beautiful mountain” as Antoni Cimolino so aptly put it.

Shakespeare, Galileo, & Cymbeline by Dan Falk

By | Cymbeline, Education, Shakespeare

There’s no getting around it:  Cymbeline is an odd play.  The plot is labyrinthine, even by Shakespearean standards, with at least three intertwined stories; texture and mood seem to change with the wind.  It’s also a bit of a hodge-podge, containing , as Jonathan Bate of Oxford has noted, an “array of favourite Shakespearian motifs: the cross-dressed heroine, the move from court to country, obsessive sexual jealousy, malicious Machiavellian plotting, the interrogation of Roman values.”  It’s as though Shakespeare, nearing the end of his career, put every possible dramatic ingredient into the pot, and stirred.

But there is another reason, often overlooked, for putting Cymbeline in a class by itself.  The play might – depending on one’s interpretation – offer a glimpse into the changing world-view that was underway when it was created.  More specifically, it may allude to one of the most important scientific developments in history, one that unfolded in a northern Italian university town in the months before Cymbeline was written.

Looking Up

People have been gazing at the night sky since the dawn of humankind, but until the early 17th century, they had only their own eyes to provide the image.  But in the autumn of 1609, a new optical device, invented in Holland, found its way into the hands of an ambitious Italian mathematician, Galileo Galilei.  Before long, Galileo had improved on the original Dutch invention.  From his workshop in Padua, Galileo turned this novelty into a scientific instrument.

Moon drawings from Galileo

Moon drawings from Galileo

Galileo aimed his telescope at the night sky – and was amazed at what he saw.  He found the moon to be covered with mountains and craters, contrary to the established teachings of the day.  His telescope revealed thousands of stars, too dim to be seen with the unaided eye.  But the biggest surprise came when he peered at Jupiter: Alongside the planet he observed “three starlets – small indeed, but very bright.”  Observing in “amazement” over several nights, he concluded that there were in fact four of these objects – “four wanderers [which] complete their revolution about Jupiter.”  We now call them the “Galilean moons” after their discoverer.

Galileo described his discoveries in a slim book called Siderius Nuncius (The Starry Messenger), published in Venice in March of 1610.  Although written in Latin, anyone could grasp the message:  Here was a blow-by-blow account of the wonders of the night sky revealed by Galileo’s telescope, sights “never seen from the creation of the world up to our own time.”  It was an instant bestseller.

It had been nearly 70 years since Copernicus had published his theory that the earth moves around the sun, rather than vice-versa – but it was a highly abstract, mathematical work, and few took notice at the time.  But Galileo’s telescopic discoveries finally seemed to give Copernicus his due:  Everything he saw through the telescope seemed to accord with the Copernican model of the universe.  Jupiter, for example, behaved like a miniature solar system:  If Jupiter had moons of its own, how could anyone say that the Earth was the centre of the universe?

The usual view is that these discoveries, announced in the spring of 1610, come too late to have had much of an impact on Shakespeare’s work.  But perhaps we shouldn’t be so hasty.  Shakespeare was not quite ready to retire in 1610:  He would write at least two more plays on his own, plus a few more with collaborators.  It is among these final plays that we find Cymbeline.

The Symbols in Cymbeline

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t encountered Cymbeline yet:  Since my book The Science of Shakespeare came out this spring, I’ve been asking audiences, by show of hands, who has either read or seen the play; only rarely does a hand go up.  (Those of you in the Toronto area should definitely catch Shakespeare in the Ruff’s production this summer!)  Let me summarize just one of the play’s three parallel plots:  King Cymbeline is angry because his daughter, Imogen, has secretly married a commoner named Posthumus Leonatus.  Cymbeline banishes Posthumus, who heads for Rome; there, he argues with an Italian nobleman named Jachimo over which of their native countries has the most faithful women.  Jachimo wagers that when he travels to England, he will be able to seduce Imogen.  (For the sake of suspense, I won’t reveal just how far he gets.)  

There is much more to the play, of course, but let’s skip ahead to Act 5: Posthumus, having been convinced of Imogen’s infidelity, orders her killed; later he learns of her innocence, but mistakenly thinks his orders have been carried out.  He had been travelling with the Roman army, but now switches sides and fights valiantly for Britain; the Roman forces are defeated.  Believing Imogen dead, however, he yearns for his own death, and puts on Roman garb to hasten his demise.  Instead, he is taken prisoner.  While in jail, something very peculiar happens.

In Scene 4, we find Posthumus in his prison cell, where he collapses in slumber.  He then has a dream involving the ghosts of four dead family members – relatives who he never knew in life.  The spirits are those of his mother, father, and two brothers.  As he lies in a daze, the ghosts move around him in a circle.  (The stage direction says, They circle Posthumus round as he lies sleeping.)  Feeling Posthumus’s anguish, they appeal to the Roman god, Jupiter, to come to his aid – and Jupiter obliges.  The stage direction reads, Jupiter descends in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle.  He throws a thunderbolt. The ghosts fall on their knees.  Jupiter chastises the ghosts, and then gives them a book, and instructs them to give it to Posthumus.  When he is done, he ascends back to heaven.

Although Shakespeare’s characters often call on the gods for help, Jupiter’s appearance in Cymbeline is unique; there is nothing else like it in the entire canon.  Scholars have examined the scene from various angles, but only recently have they begun to look at a possible Galileo connection.  Granted, in Shakespeare’s play it’s the god Jupiter that we see, not the planet – but still, the details of the scene are compelling.  Notice that we have exactly four ghosts, and that they move in a circle (why should they move at all?).  Could the ghosts represent the four moons of Jupiter, newly discovered by Galileo?  Certainly the timeline seems to hold up: Cymbeline is thought to date from the summer or fall of 1610 – in other words, it was written within the first few months (or at most half a year) after the publication of The Starry Messenger.

A New Look at an Old Play

About a decade ago, three scholars, working independently, hit on the idea of a Cymbeline-Galileo connection at about the same time:  Scott Maisano, of the University of Massachusetts in Boston; John Pitcher, at Oxford; and a retired American astronomer named Peter Usher.

Usher is best know for his controversial (many would say far-fetched) theory of Hamlet, which he interprets the action in Shakespeare’s best-known play as an allegory about competing views of the cosmos.  What he says about Cymbeline, however, is quite reasonable: Writing in the Shakespeare Newsletter, Usher summarizes the bizarre happenings of the play’s fifth act, noting the descent of Jupiter and the appearance of the ghosts:  “These ghosts happen to be four in number, equal to the number of the Galilean moons.”  And what about the book that Jupiter gives to Posthumus, via the ghosts?  Its identity is never specified, but Usher believes we ought to see it as Galileo’s Starry Messenger.

Maisano and Pitcher agree that the appearance of Jupiter, and the unidentified book, likely allude to The Starry Messenger.  Maisano describes Cymbeline as a “scientific romance” – a work that urges the reader to question his or her understanding of nature.  Toward the end of the play, as the various loose ends are tied up, a startled King Cymbeline asks: “Does the world go round?”  Maisano notes that this is “the only such utterance in Shakespeare’s plays,” and it just happens that this very question “was part of intellectual discussion all across Europe in 1610.”

Like Maisano, Pitcher sees Cymbeline as Shakespeare’s attempt to come to grips with a changing world, a universe opened wide by the scientific discoveries of the day (an idea he discusses at length in the Introduction to the recent Penguin edition of the play).  The transformation began with Copernicus writing about the revolutions in the sky; soon, Pitcher suggests, there will be revolutions of a more dangerous kind, with political and religious orders turned on their heads.

It is a rare treat to enjoy a production of Cymbeline under the stars.  After the show, take a moment to glance upward:  The play you have just seen might just bear witness to a dramatic turn in our conception of the universe.


Dan PalkDan Falk is a science journalist based in Toronto.  His most recent book is The Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright’s Universe.


10 Easy Steps to Ruff by Sheila Macdonald

By | Cymbeline, Outdoor theatre, Shakespeare | No Comments

Shakespeare in the Ruff’s production of Cymbeline’s Reign ran in Withrow Park during the summer of 2014

1. Gather friends/family/children/dogs

Everyone is welcome. The more the merrier! Ruff performs an abbreviated version of Shakespeare’s best that is easy to follow and an excellent introduction for the uninitiated.

2. Head to Withrow Park by 6:30

The performance officially starts at 7:30, but if you want to get the best seating, you should plan on coming around 6:30. There is plenty of time before the show starts to enjoy a picnic and some music (see below).

3. Bring a picnic

Outdoors on a summer’s night in beautiful Withrow Park is the perfect setting for a picnic. Enjoy nature in the heart of the city. Pack up those sandwiches and pickles and come to nosh!

4. Bring a blanket or some lawn chairs

The Ruff “stage” is between two trees at the bottom of a small hill with an aisle up through the middle of the audience. You can sit on the hill on a blanket or at the top of the hill in lawn chairs. Either way you are right in the middle of the action. We have extra blankets and chairs for rent, but bring your own to avoid disappointment.

5. Pay the nice volunteers what you can 

We don’t want to turn anyone away, so Ruff is a “Pay What You Can” (PWYC) admission. If you’re not sure, we suggest $15 per person is fair. All monies collected go towards producing the performance which includes paying our actors, who invest so much into this company with very little financial return. So, show them some love and pay what you can, if you can.

6. Eateth, drinketh and be merryeth

While you are enjoying your picnic and waiting for the play to begin, enjoy the musical guests who perform almost every night from 7:00pm. We showcase local musicians who are friends of Ruff or members of the Withrow Park community. 

As a special treat, the night of August 16th, the Young Ruffians will perform. These are high school students who have completed the Young Ruffian Apprenticeship Program, an intensive program with an emphasis on performing Shakespeare where participants learn and work alongside our professional company. Read more about the Young Ruffians.

7. Sit back and enjoy the performanceRUFF_EAGLE1

 Cymbeline’s Reign is being directed by Ruff’s Artistic Director Brendan McMurtry-Howlett who states “Cymbeline = Crazy-Amounts-Of-Fun” and “…it is a piece created as an exploration of new forms of storytelling…” Read all Brendan has to say.

8. Share your experience with more friends/family

Ruff is a small theatre company and only in its third year. We don’t have the budget to advertise so we count on you, our community and our fans, to help us get the word out. Please tell everyone about your experience and encourage them to join us in Withrow Park this August.

9. Stay in touch

We want to hear from you and would love it if you’d agree to hear from us. Please subscribe to our email list, “Like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram. You’ll hear all about our plans, performances and events and we will get to learn what you thought of the performance, so get in touch.

10. Repeat 

The beauty of live theatre is that it’s different every night, and with the sunsets, music series, and passersby, you can bet that an evening with us will never be the same twice, so please do join us again. Now go to #1.

Sheila Macdonald is one of Ruff’s dedicated Board Members as well as an avid theatregoer. We’ve learned that trusting Sheila’s advice gets us far, so you should too.

Cymbeline Series-Part III

By | Cymbeline, Shakespeare, Uncategorized | No Comments

Cymbeline doesn’t land on most people’s lists of Top 10 Shakespeare plays, maybe not even Top 20. For this reason, we spoke to three people who have directed this play to get their take on a few questions that we’ve tackled since deciding to produce it. 

The final instalment of the series comes via Antoni Cimolino, who directed a widely acclaimed production at The Stratford Festival in 2012.

1. For a title character, King Cymbeline has very little time on stage and no time alone with the audience. How did you ensure that audiences would connect with him? Do you think the play would be better served by a different title?

“The King is Britain – literally and figuratively. At the beginning of the play he is sick – poisoned, we find out later, by his second wife, who longs to rule and install her son Cloten as King. Cymbeline has lost his two sons, abducted as infants, and with them he has lost himself. Like the two princes imprisoned in the Tower of London during Richard III’s reign, Cymbeline’s sons represent legitimacy and good government. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, a patriotic and romantic dream surrounded the princes in the Tower: that perhaps they had not been killed but had heirs living among the people. Shakespeare echoes that legend in Cymbeline, bringing about a reunion of children with their father that still touches us today.

Yanna McIntosh (The Queen), Geraint Wyn Davies (Cymbeline) & Mike Shara (Cloten)

Yanna McIntosh (The Queen), Geraint Wyn Davies (Cymbeline) & Mike Shara (Cloten)

As Cymbeline defeats the Roman army, he finds himself re-energized. He is made victorious by Posthumus, the poor soldier, and by his imagined enemy Belarius and his sons. The very people that he has banished give him back his kingdom. In the final moments, King Cymbeline decides to pay tribute to Rome despite his victory. He not only signals Britain’s voluntary participation in the Pax Romana, the new and long era of peace, he also renders unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. While Caesar may have his coins in tribute, Cymbeline once more has the love of his children and Britain.”

2. Most deus ex machina (god from the machine) moments are vital to the story. Jupiter’s descent on the back of an eagle in Cymbeline is often cut and feels less integrated than many similar interventions by the Gods in other plays. What was your take on this moment and how important a role did the unseen whims of the deities play?

“This moment is normally cut or changed, but I thought, ‘How often do you get to bring a giant eagle on stage?’ Our eagle had a head about 2 feet wide and 5 feet long with red eyes that lit up as it came out of the dark. It had wings that spread about 20 feet and flapped by way of a pulley. These body parts were fixed on a rolling step ladder of the kind found in larger libraries. On its back Jupiter was mounted lit from below. With a giant bird shriek, smoke and the sound of enormous wings beating the audiences was surprised and transfixed. And with a flash of lighting and a crack of thunder it was gone. I’m pretty sure our eagle was very like that Shakespeare used. Except we added electricity.

Posthumus’ dream is vital because it reunites the orphan child with his parents, at least in spirit. These family members strongly petition Jupiter on Posthumus’ behalf and find that the god is testing their son. Their anger at this ancient god and his cruelty seems to call out for a God of Love. King Cymbeline, of course, ruled during the time of Christ’s birth. The love of his family brings Posthumus a sense of wholeness, love and courage that is vital to the story.”

3. Cymbeline isn’t produced very often, especially in Canada; is it just the ebb and flow of fashion, or are people are afraid to do it? And if so, why? 

“The bad experiences I’ve had in seeing Cymbeline performed have been ones where the director and cast didn’t have faith in Shakespeare’s play. Consequently they try to “fix” it by cutting it, toning it down or ironically sending it up. What might be gained by such treatment is a speck compared to the beautiful mountain Shakespeare has created. Cymbeline is a great and powerful play that brings audiences understanding, laughter and tears. Tennyson, at his own insistence, was buried with a copy of it. Cymbeline merits our study and our creative powers – what it gives us in return is enormous.”


Cimolino_AntoniAntoni Cimolino is the Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival, where this season he directed King Lear and The Beaux’ Stratagem. Stratford: Directing credits include Mary Stuart; The Merchant of Venice; Cymbeline; The Grapes of Wrath; Bartholomew Fair; Coriolanus, with Colm Feore and Martha Henry; As You Like It, featuring original music by Barenaked Ladies; King John; Love’s Labour’s Lost, with Brian Bedford; Twelfth Night, with William Hutt; The Night of the Iguana; and Filumena, with Richard Monette. Among his other accomplishments, Mr. Cimolino was instrumental in establishing the Festival’s Endowment Foundation, which has raised more than $50 million to date, as well as in the renovation of its Avon Theatre and the creation of its Studio Theatre. Elsewhere: The Canadian première of ENRON (Theatre Calgary); Twelfth Night (Attic Theatre, Detroit); A Woman of No Importance (Hilberry Theater, Detroit). A champion of the arts and culture, Mr. Cimolino serves as the National Chair of Culture Days, a nation-wide celebration of arts and culture in Canada. He has initiated collaborations with several prestigious theatre companies, including Montreal’s Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, New York’s Lincoln Center and City Center, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. He also spearheaded the Festival’s involvement in a joint project with CUSO International, Canada’s international volunteer co-operation agency, to establish a performing arts and educational centre in the city of Suchitoto, El Salvador.

As a bonus to The Cymbeline Series, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, director of our upcoming production, will weigh in with his perspective on (to borrow a phrase from Antoni) “the beautiful mountain that Shakespeare has created”. Stay tuned to our blog for Brendan’s take on the play.
Shakespeare in the Ruff’s, Cymbeline’s Reign, runs August 12th-31st in Withrow Park.

Cymbeline Series-Part II

By | Cymbeline, Outdoor theatre, Shakespeare, Uncategorized | One Comment

Cymbeline doesn’t land on most people’s lists of Top 10 Shakespeare plays, maybe not even Top 20. For this reason, we spoke to three people who have directed this play to get their take on a few questions that we’ve tackled since deciding to produce it. 

Second up in our series, is the founding director of Shakespeare in the Rough, the company that provided the inspiration for Ruff, Dawn McCaugherty. The company was founded in 1994, and their first production was Cymbeline.  

Cymbeline was the first full length Shakespeare I directed and is still dear to my heart. I’ve always been drawn to the ‘fairy tale elements’ of the story – the evil queen, idiot stepson, true and honest servant, lecherous cad, sleeping beauty a.k.a Imogen and, in this case, the three ‘dwarves’ living in the cave in the forest (I take liberties with this assessment). It’s a bit like a roller coaster ride – you leap in at the start, hold on tight through the middle and jump off a little dizzy, though elated, at the end. Of course, it also challenges us to consider faithfulness in the face of deception and jealousy, murderous vengeance and the relative merits of Britain vs. Rome. Never a dull moment!

In the spring of 1994, I was preparing to leave TO at the end of the summer and return to Alberta for a few months before heading off to Vancouver to accept a semester of teaching in UBC’s BFA Acting program. I had been teaching at York and have a memory of being at an end of term party speaking with Roy Lewis of how great it would be to work together before I headed out – and, surprisingly, him agreeing. Now, this is twenty years ago; there is a lot of water under many bridges since then and I never trust my memory much at the best of times, but history is determined to some degree by those who record it – and I’ve been asked to write of the origins of Shakespeare in the Rough. I knew I wanted to do Shakespeare and was excited right away at the possibility of doing an outdoor production in a very simple setting, having a frolicking good time with friends in a park somewhere. Little did I know what a labour of love it would become, for all of the brave souls that became involved. I spoke early on with good friends Sally Szuster and David Caron, and the three of us eventually became the co-founders of that first incarnation of Shakespeare in the Rough, though it didn’t become clear until after Cymbeline closed that there was desire on the part of many, if not most company members, to continue.That launched the company on a trajectory through several evolutions, happily leading most recently to the re-birth as Shakespeare in the Ruff.

Todd Sandomirsky, Michelle Martin, & Roy Lewis

Todd Sandomirsky, Michelle Martin, & Roy Lewis

There was a lot to sort out in a big hurry that year. I honestly can’t recall at what point or why Cymbeline leapt to the front of the selection line. I’m sure the ensemble nature of the piece, a balance of interesting roles, and the fact that the play is seldom performed made it irresistible. Almost everyone in the cast that year was a good friend, which could well be why they agreed so readily to be involved. There certainly wasn’t any remuneration to speak of. I don’t think at the time many of us were Equity, though I might have that wrong. The company included (in no particular order) Roy Lewis, Michelle Martin, Todd Sandomirsky, Richard Vaillancourt, Paulino Nunes, Brad Borbridge, Rick Howland, Stephanie Moore, Mark Ellis, Catherine McNally, Robert Kennedy, Roddy Muir, Fred Matern, Fight Choreography – Simon Fon, Stage Management – Shanna Miller, Costumes/Props – Charmaine Peters. We also had the backing of many good friends and supporters, including Michael Kelly (Shakespeare in Action) and David Smukler. (I know I’ve missed some people and hope they will forgive me. I’m blaming my terrible memory and inability to find a program in my files). The early rehearsals held in my kitchen or backyard (tiny) patio, focused mainly on the text work, before moving into the park. As the actors and I unraveled the text, Sally, David and others were arranging insurance, contacts with city officials, support for the project and city approval, publicity and marketing, searching for indoor rehearsal space near the site and all the other myriad tasks that producing requires. It was exciting and terrifying, that sense of running uphill as the scree slid down, with no doubt that we would reach the summit.

That first year we wound up in Riverdale Park, on a piece that wasn’t too sloped, the audience facing out towards the Don Valley Parkway. Our playing area was completely exposed to environmental sounds – aircraft, traffic – and all the elements. The sheeting we had chosen to use as a backdrop for our scenes, and to block the view of the traffic downhill, worked like a charm – until the wind picked up. I have vivid, hilarious memories of one particular performance where every actor not out in a scene, as well as my visiting father and I, was behind, braced and hunched with fingers hooked into the sheeting in the struggle to keep the wind from blowing it into the audience. One of my favourite aspects of Shakespeare in the Rough once we moved into Withrow Park was the vista it afforded to introduce relationships and observe entrances and exits at a distance behind the action of the written scenes. In fact, when we moved to Withrow, there was a sense of winning the lottery!

1. For a title character, King Cymbeline has very little time on stage and no time alone with the audience. How did you ensure that audiences would connect with him? Do you think the play would be better served by a different title?

“I guess I’d have to say that I’ve never considered this the story of Cymbeline. For me, it is Imogen’s story; it is her trials we follow and through her loyalty and determination we learn something of love. Perhaps, though, the title is meant to draw attention to events occurring during this reign. The play takes place in ancient Britain, at a time after Rome has invaded and is requiring tributes paid to the conqueror. The name Posthumous indicates Roman heritage and when exiled, he returns to Italy. But when he returns with the Roman forces, he abandons them to fight on the side of the British, who ultimately win the battle. I wonder if, in titling the play as he has, Shakespeare is not drawing our attention to the supremacy of the British, adding to the sense of order and justice being restored at the end of the play, and placing the story in a broader context than simply a love story.”

2. Most deus ex machina (god from the machine) moments are vital to the story. Jupiter’s descent on the back of an eagle in Cymbeline is often cut and feels less integrated than many similar interventions by the Gods in other plays. What was your take on this moment and how important a role did the unseen whims of the deities play?

“I regret to say I have absolutely no recollection of how we handled that. I know it was not cut as I seldom cut significantly when directing Shakespeare. I suppose I like the challenge of puzzling out how it can work if everything is left in, as close as possible to the text produced during the playwright’s time. But what brilliant stage mechanics we executed from behind our sheet background may be forever lost to the annals of theatre history. Perhaps one of the founding company members might be able to offer this information?”

3. Cymbeline isn’t produced very often, especially in Canada; is it just the ebb and flow of fashion, or are people are afraid to do it? And if so, why? 

“What a great question. It is a script that poses challenges, no doubt, and is not without problems. Co-authorship may be a possibility, as some of the text seems not of Shakespeare’s quality. The characters at times verge to stereotypes and the plot twists can be serpentine. I think, though, these issues are no more pronounced than in some in the oft produced works. Perhaps what prevents companies from tackling this play is the schism between what might seem sections of broad melodrama or comedy, such as those featuring Cloten, and the dramatic more tragic sequences, as Imogen’s struggles once she learns of the death threat. It resists falling comfortably into one style or category and requires boldness in approach. Maybe it hasn’t been seen as ‘serious enough’ to be a contender for production when measured alongside the great tragedies, resounding histories or whimsical comedies. But the play stands on its own merit and plays well to audiences. I am encouraged that in 2014 there have been several productions: Bard on the Beach (Vancouver), the Folger Shakespeare Library (Washington), Portland Center Stage, Raleigh North Carolina and the film starring Ethan Hawke is due for release soon. And, of course, Ruff is doing it! I only wish I could be there. Have fun, all, I’m sure it will be a fantastic run!”

Next week we speak to someone who had the resources to hire actors to play every part in the play. Including Jupiter and his eagle, we assume.


Cymbeline Series Part I

By | Cymbeline, Shakespeare | No Comments

Cymbeline doesn’t land on most people’s lists of Top 10 Shakespeare plays, maybe not even Top 20. For this reason, we spoke to three people who have directed this play to get their take on a few questions that we’ve tackled since deciding to produce it. 

First up in this blog series, is Anita Rochon, who directed the play for Bard on the Beach, in Vancouver mere weeks ago. If you’re on the west coast, don’t miss it.

1-For a title character, King Cymbeline has very little time on stage and no time alone with the audience. How did you ensure that audiences would connect with him? Do you think the play would be better served by a different title?

“You know, I didn’t do anything more than the play suggested. I had to trust that the structure and amount of exposure that we had to the king would be enough. Off the top, I created an opening monologue for the actor playing Imogen,  pieced together from the original opening scene, and that gave a lay of the land, where the king and queen were highlighted. I think our idea of king and queen is so entrenched that we can easily identify them and are interested in who they are by virtue of their position. As for the title, gosh, I can’t really think of another name that would suit it better. He really is connected to all the plot lines and at the end, is the one who can either stay the way he’s been, or change and forgive.”

2-Most deus ex machina (god from the machine) moments are vital to the story. Jupiter’s descent on the back of an eagle in Cymbeline is often cut and feels less integrated than many similar interventions by the Gods in other plays. What was your take on this moment and how important a role did the unseen whims of the deities play?

“Our version had quite a small cast and was very character/plot-driven. I cut Jupiter, but did not cut the scene. That scene is there for a reason and is essential to Posthumous’ journey, and the audience’s journey as well. I think Shakespeare felt that we needed to have access to something mysterious and divine before that big cathartic last scene. So, rather than Posthumous’ dead family and Jupiter paying a visit while he’s in prison, I had him go to sleep, then see Imogen as an apparition (whether it’s a dream or something from the gods is up to the audience to decide). She’s singing a song with the words borrowed from “Fear No More”. If I were to direct this piece again, with a different set up in a different place, I may indeed stage it as written. It could be very powerful and awe-inspiring.”

Photo by David Blue
Cymbeline Photo by David Blue

3-Cymbeline isn’t produced very often, especially in Canada; is it just the ebb and flow of fashion, or are people are afraid to do it? And if so, why? 

“I have no idea! At Bard on the Beach, I’ve been skulking around the audiences before the play and at intermission, because I always like to hear what people are saying to their friends, to learn about who’s coming to see the show and hopefully, I can eavesdrop on what they think about this production. I’ve heard a lot of people on the way in saying it’s their favorite Shakespeare play. And then other people on their way out saying ‘How did I not know this play before!?!’. In my research I’ve read about a lot of productions that have been put up in the U.S. and in England in the past few years. I’m not sure why not in Canada. Maybe producers don’t want to take a box office chance on a lesser-known play? The gender politics in it are not the easiest to tackle either, so maybe people don’t want to take that on?”

Anita RochonAnita Rochon artistic co-directs The Chop in Vancouver with Emelia Symington Fedy, which has produced numerous new works including “KISMET one to one hundred” and “How to Disappear Completely” which continues to tour internationally. She frequently collaborates with some of the city’s most celebrated companies including Theatre Replacement, Théâtre la Seizième, Vancouver Opera and Electric Company Theatre. She is a graduate of Studio 58 (Acting) and the National Theatre School of Canada (Directing). She was awarded the Ray Michal Prize for an Outstanding Body of Work by a New Director, the Siminovitch Protégé prize and a Mayor’s Arts Award.

The next director we will speak to is Dawn McCaugherty who started Shakespeare in the Rough in 1994 – the company’s first production was Cymbeline in Riverdale Park. Shakespeare in the Ruff’s production runs from Aug 12th-Aug 31st in Withrow Park.