Megan Watson

Our 2017 Season!

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Shakespeare in the Ruff is thrilled to announce our summer show: A Midsummer Night’s Dream! This is a play that we’ve had our eye on since the beginning, and we’ve finally found our “Dream” Director. We are happy to welcome Megan Watson!

Megan is the Artistic Associate at The Grand Theatre in London. She has run their High School Projects for the last two years (2016: Julius Caesar, 2017: A Shakespeare Mixtape) and is building their new play development program: Compass. In 2018, she will be directing The Glass Menagerie.

Megan on Midsummer:

“For me, both professionally and personally, 2016 rang out as a call to action. A call to be more political, more articulate and more fierce with my intention to create theatre that is part of a solution. The American presidential election has foregrounded hate and fear. As we feel the ripple effect of that in our own communities, we are required to take a closer look. Specifically for me as a theatre artist, this means taking on the systemic gender and racial inequality that our canon and traditions uphold. How do we take Shakespeare’s plays, which on one hand contain an unparalleled expression of the human experience and on the other, when not approached critically, serve as a platform for misogyny and racism? This has always been my struggle when staging Shakespeare and I am more committed than ever to take on that challenge in this volatile social and political climate.

In following Ruff for the last five years, I have seen them cultivate a clearer and sharper sense of who they are and what kind of ‘Shakespeare in the park’ company they strive to be. Reinventing and innovating the classics and specifically Shakespeare seems to be a common endeavour. However, Ruff approaches this with a fearlessness that is unmistakable in their productions. Their practice of taking Shakespeare’s plays and mining them for humanity and beauty – while blowing open and leaving behind the parts that perpetuate archaic and negative stereotypes – is why I am thrilled to join the company this season. I want to stage plays that reflect the world I want to work, live, play and love in.

And so we began the process of selecting the right play for the 2017 season. Kaitlyn and I visited the park together and she shared stories about the Withrow and Ruff community. I thought back on the magical experiences I have had there: setting up my picnic blanket, snuggling in close with loved ones and being transported. Even as we considered Shakespeare’s more overtly political plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream kept surfacing as the right choice. With the barrage of negative media coming at us, it became clear to me that our best offence against all this HATE is to fight back with LOVE. With this in mind, our production of Dream will be a wild celebration of what is possible when we set ourselves free, believe in magic and plumb the depths of our psyche to discover more about who we really are. Suddenly, in 2017 it seems radical to believe in and pursue love, magic and beauty.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs August 15th through September 3rd, 2017 in Withrow Park. All performances are Pay What You Can and more details can be found on our website soon. 


Kaitlin Morrow - The Porter

Now do an improvised clown routine with your ass; or Becoming The Porter

By | Macbeth, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

I’ve lived in fear of improv for most of my life, certainly my adult life. All my buddies are improvisors, I’ve seen hundreds of improv shows, I’ve always secretly wanted to do it, but I’ve always been paralyzed by fear. To the point, that on a regular basis, I would have improv nightmares, where I’m called onstage incorrectly to do an improv show. But then this year, I thought, enough is enough, I will conquer my fear of improv, and have been doing improv shows with Sex-T-Rex  (a comedy group that I’m a member of) all year.


When I heard that I’d be playing The Porter, in Shakespeare in the Ruff’s ‘Macbeth; Walking Shadows’,  I was excited to get the one comedic role of the show. We were in rehearsals and I was working on getting off-book, and was pretty much there, when I received a text message from Brendan (the show’s director) and Zach (the puppet creator) saying that they were thinking of not using the text at all. I was excited about it, because doing a scene and following the beats of it, is a world I’m comfortable playing in. But when I read the text a little further it said ‘we’re hoping for it to be an improvised clown routine’ and I pretty much shit my pants.

Then, when I showed up on that day of rehearsal, and they told me they were thinking of making it the ass puppet, and I was even more terrified. Ingrid Hansen had developed this puppet during Ruff’s Macbeth workshop last December, and I had seen it on a video and thought it was really cute. She put a mask on her butt and put a cloth over the rest of her body, bent over, put her head between her knees, and used her hands sticking out in front as the puppet’s hands. Very contorted, with her feet backwards. It was fine, in theory, but the little I remembered from clown is that you’re supposed to constantly check-in with your audience, and in order to do that with my ass, it was going to be very difficult. So then, for what felt like two hours, though I’m assured is was more like one hour, I was improvising for the cast; it became an exercise in not panicking. 

So whenever we came to The Porter scene in rehearsals, I was filled with dread. Not only was I contorted, but to be contorted for that length of time, and it was hot, and I literally felt like an ass. No one was laughing, I didn’t know what it looked like, I was stumbling around thinking ‘this isn’t funny and I literally have to make up what I’m doing on the spot’. Then they gave me these arms, which were really heavy, and then the keys, which were ever heavier. There was one day, when I went off with Zach to work on The Porter, but all we did was talk about my anxiety and didn’t actually do any work. When we came back, I felt so unprepared and I just tried to smile through it, because what else am I going to do? I was expecting to conquer my fear of improv, but come on! As a clown, with my ass, that IS my nightmare (laughs). 


But then one day, really close to the end of the process, Brendan sent everyone off with their Young Ruffians (the teenagers in Ruff’s apprenticeship program), except for mine: Amie & Cheyenne, which he told to stay and watch me do The Porter. ‘Oh great’, I thought, ‘any respect that have/may have had for me will immediately be gone, so that’s great’. But it went alright, and they giggled throughout as Brendan and Zach yelled instructions of things to do with him. It was sort of the first time I had had an audience and was starting to get a sense of what was funny and what wasn’t. 

And then, my big ‘aha moment’ was when they asked to put the puppet on. My first reaction was, why on earth would you want to? But they were so into it and both really wanting to do it and then the wonderful thing that happened was, that it was the first time I saw what it looked like. I was able to ask it to do the things that I had been asked to do, and I finally saw what worked and what didn’t and the words that Zach and Brendan said to me finally made sense. ‘It looks really funny when the arms are in the air’, or ‘the faster the feet move the better’. Just all of these things that were theoretical, I was finally watching happen, and realized that The Porter is actually quite delightful. And so it was a complete 180; I was inspired but their keenness, they didn’t have the hang ups that I had and I thought ‘oh my gosh, this is just a silly puppet’ and now when I go to do it, I have a better picture in my mind of what it looks like. And for me, being a puppeteer first, the picture is really important and you can’t do that with The Porter, even with a mirror, you’re looking at it upside-down and backwards. 

STEP 3:Kaitlin Morrow-Puppet

Now that the show is running, it’s less improvised, there are beats, but it’s still loose. Getting to this point was all improv. Because this was so terrifying for me, but I’m doing it and it’s going well, it’s been huge, it’s been such a huge step. If it wasn’t going well, it would still be huge, but it would be a different journey.

And, I’ve heard from lots of people saying it’s funny. There was a tweet recently saying ‘I finally laughed at The Porter’ and I thought YES! That was my whole goal, but I didn’t think I’d achieve it this way. I’m really really happy that people like it, that they’re laughing and responding, I mean doing comedy, that’s all that matters, silence is death. Especially doing comedy with your ass. I’ve seen and done bad improv and I’m just glad that this isn’t one of those experiences.

-Kaitlin Morrow 


From Volunteer to Lady Macbeth

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With two more weeks of performances (final show is August 30th, 2015), we are looking for more Front of House volunteers. A free show, a night under the stars, and you get to wear a Ruff! A bonus for some… Tara Koehler, currently in the cast of ‘Macbeth: Walking Shadows’, met us as a volunteer in 2013.

My first contact with Shakespeare in the Ruff was as a front of house volunteer. To be honest, I did it mostly so I could see a show for free! But I was immediately hooked: their production was so impressive, and the company members so genuine, smart, and lovely. They’re a company that really strives to create community, and it shows.

We kept in touch, and last year they asked me to come on board as a guest director for their Young Ruffian Apprenticeship Program, as well as to assistant direct Cymbeline’s Reign. These were novel experiences for me but I plunged in, learned a ton, and loved being involved. And this year they ended up inviting me to play Lady Macbeth as a puppet—again a completely novel opportunity! I’ve really grown as an artist through my contact with this adventurous company, and their passion is infectious. These are the kind of people you want to volunteer for!

Lady Macbeth - Tara Koehler

Lady Macbeth – Tara Koehler, Photo credit – Karl Ang

2015 Season Announcement

By | Macbeth, Uncategorized

Macbeth + Puppets = MacWhat??????  

Ruff’s Artistic Director, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, explains our most adventurous production yet.

I love Macbeth. It’s one of my favourite plays to read, to speak, or to perform in (I played Malcolm under the direction of Nick Hutchinson in theatre school). The visceral imagery that Shakespeare uses in his writing is unparalleled anywhere else – it’s incredible. And now, this coming summer, I couldn’t be more excited to be directing it with Shakespeare in the Ruff. But ironically, as an audience member, I’ve often had a hard time watching it. The play asks us to watch the fall of a tyrannical, blood-thirsty, Evil-with-a-capital-E madman. I’m often unsure if I’m meant to enjoy the blood bath as I would in a horror flick or be disgusted by the tyrant’s inhumanity. In either case the result is that I disassociate with Macbeth’s character, and lose the point of the play. So what are we going to do differently? ENTER THE PUPPETS!

My first introduction to puppetry was 8 years ago, by a great man named Zach Fraser who directed me in a show about WWII called “…and stockings for the ladies” by the ever inventive RustWerk Company. One component of the show featured three puppets speaking to their survival of the concentration camps. Yes, I was thinking the same thing: puppets + concentration camp = this is not going to go well. But their moving monologues were what the audience connected with most. Something about the simplicity, fragility, and naivety inherent in those puppets made them immediately sympathetic. A puppet, unlike a human actor, is clinging to life every moment they are on stage. The audience is directly responsible for that puppet’s existence – it’s their imagination that allows the puppet to live, and a unique bond is formed between them. Kind of like watching your child take its first steps. 

It’s this aspect of puppetry that I want to explore with the story of Macbeth. I’m interested in a figuratively and literally fragile Macbeth built of wood and paper. A man, filled with naivety, exposing his doubts and fears to an audience who is responsible for giving him life. I would be more willing to go on a journey with Macbeth if I could see both his emotional and corporal fragility through everything he does. That’s exactly what we get with puppets. 

And I haven’t even mentioned all of the supernatural stuff in the play that’s way more fun in the world of puppetry. Puppets aren’t bound by the laws of physics, and so can do all sorts of inhuman things. Witch puppets?! Are you kidding me?!

The real challenge is going to be bringing together the worlds of puppetry and Shakespearean text. Luckily we got to spend a week developing ideas thanks to funding from the Ontario Arts Council. We already have some exciting things up our puppet sleeves and we’ve embarked on a rather drastic adapting process, letting the aesthetic choice of working with puppetry guide our approach to the text. 

And the secret weapon that I’m most excited about: I’ve brought on Zach Fraser, the man who taught me everything I know about puppetry, to build our puppets and work with us as a puppet choreographer throughout rehearsals. 

And now, a word from the man himself:

Ok. Confession.  I don’t always understand Shakespeare!

His words can be poetic & powerful, but at times, I get over-whelmed by the language. Through the years, I’ve seen many Shakespeare-in-the-Park productions. In Toronto… In Montreal… In Halifax… Each has its own charm. But I often leave the performance feeling like I don’t understand the story as well as I should.

This summer, with Shakespeare in the Ruff, we intend to create a truly accessible, visceral production that touches the soul and transports the spirit…

…using puppets.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a production of Shakespeare as unique in its vision as that which we are venturing to create this summer in Withrow Park. Shakespeare’s language can be exquisite. The plight of puppets can be absurd, splendid, and heart-wrenching. Puppets are the masters of high comedy & deepest drama, so partnering them up with Shakespeare makes perfect sense to us.

There’s a reason why most theatre companies avoid puppetry: they add a LOT of extra work to a production. But there’s also a reason why some of us keep getting drawn back to puppets; because they are spellbinding, seductive, magical, and they have the power to win our hearts instantaneously! They appear to be naïve, but their power is great.

Ruff is an ambitious, motivated, slick young company of talented & bold artists. I applaud the company for their willingness to respect, revere, and yet reinvent Shakespeare’s plays. It’s an honour to join forces with these Ruffians this summer.

Zach Fraser

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.

Ptarmigan-playing August 30th

Highlights from ‘Between the Trees’: Ruff’s Pre-show Music Series

By | Cymbeline, Outdoor theatre, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Ptarmigan (playing August 30th)


Highlights from ‘Between the Trees’ running Aug 12th-31st

by General Manager and Resident Musician, Brooklyn Doran

Our production of Cymbeline’s Reign begins tomorrow night and our pre-show music series is going to be off the hook! The ‘Between the Trees’ pre-show music series sees local and emerging musicians share in our evening of magic by performing a half-hour of music before our mainstage production. This year we are inviting back some seasoned veterans and familiar faces, as well as welcoming some brand new emerging talents to the stage and we couldn’t be happier!

Every musician featured this year is mega-talented! If you’re in the neighbourhood, I’d suggest coming back to the park every evening to feast your ears on some of these artists’ offerings. It’s an incredible way to find out about new music, and experience the magic of Shakespeare in the park at the same time! If you like what you’re hearing, many of them will have their music for sale at our Box Office . 

Three Seasons and the Move

Here is a little preview of some of the artists who’ll be joining us this year. All three of these feature a little bit of banjo!

Familiar Faces: Three Seasons And The Move (August 15th)

This year we’re excited to welcome back Three Seasons and The Move who played opening night for our production of Richard III last year. Three Seasons and The Move is an eclectic group of musicians who straddle folk, pop and rock genres. Their music is funky, danceable, timeless and Canadian. If you didn’t catch them last year between the trees, now is definitely the time. Your toes will be tapping and your hearts will be soaring. Preview track here

First Time Favourites: Crooked House Road (August 29th)

Crooked House Road is a Toronto­-based indie, folk, pop outfit comprised of Shaina Silver­-Baird (lead vocals/violin), Mirian Kay (vocals/guitar) and Tom Mifflin (vocals/piano), joined by Derek Gray (percussion), Darren Eedens (banjo) and Matthew Riggs (bass).

 Folk music wrapped in delicious harmony, Crooked House Road helmed by Shaina Silver-Baird’s powerhouse vocals is a band to watch out for. Foot-stompin’ fun- Crooked House Road will get you dancing up out of your seats and revved up for an evening in the park. The raw power and emotion of the vocals paired with the incredible musicianship of this band makes for a sweet, sweet set that is not to be missed. 
Don’t believe me? Check the evidence:

[youtube_video] KwzCgCysI_A [/youtube_video]

All In The Family: 

Ptarmigan (August 30th)

Ruff Artistic Director, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, isn’t the only one in the McMurtry clan overflowing with talent. We’re thrilled that cousin Peter McMurtry’s band, Ptarmigan, is returning this summer to bless our ears with their music! 

If you haven’t heard of Ptarmigan yet, I suggest you come to Withrow Park on August 30th to bask in the glory that is their catchy, brilliantly-crafted folk music. It is the perfect score for watching the last rays of sun drain from the summer sky before the park is lit with the explosive performances in our production of Cymbeline’s Reign. Preview track here

Can’t make any of the above dates? Don’t fret! Every single evening is sure to please with music that is equally impressive and beautiful. The full list of our ‘Between the Trees” performers can be found HERE.

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.


Gala Top 10-Jesse Griffiths

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The annual Shakespeare in the Ruff Elizabethan Gala is the company’s major fundraising initiative.  We rent a space, in this case the Enoch Turner School House, load up on the food and drink and plan a packed program from beginning to end.  The event is months in the making and like a firework in the sky, it is over before you know it. 

For those of you unable to attend this year, fear ye not. I have comprised a comprehensive list of the greatest things about the Gala.

Guests-Gala '141. OUR GUESTS- If you build it they will come. You hope. So we built it…and people came! The support of our community was a truly humbling experience and we could not be more grateful. Thank you to everyone who attended.  Did you miss out? Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to receive info on next year’s event.

The Herald (AJ)-Gala '14

2. THE HERALD- Our company member AJ did a marvelous job welcoming our guests to the party. The days of formally announcing a guest’s arrival are unfortunately behind us. Unless of course you actually work for a King or Queen. In which case I say, are they hiring?

Swords-Gala '14

Jen-Gala '14

3. PLAYING WITH SWORDS- We know kids like to play make believe but I don’t think anything brought more joy to my heart than watching a group of adults learn the basics of sword fighting. They looked like kids in a candy shop.

4. LEARNING TO JUGGLE-I take it back, learning to juggle was pretty joyous too.Juggler-Gala '14


Live Auction (Jesse)-Gala '14

Live Auction (BMH)-Gala '14

5. LIVE AUCTION- We took the phrase ‘live auction’ quite literally. A winning bet would garner you four hours of time with your auction “item”. Want that grass cut? Jesse will do it. Need a personal shopper? Brendan is on it. How about the service of the entire company to cook, clean and serve your next house party.


Food-Gala '14

Drink-Gala '14

6. THE FOOD & THE DRINK – I think there were a few people who spent the entire night at the food station and to those folks I say good on ya!  And what better way to wash down a scrumptious feast than with a nice glass of Barefoot wine?  When in doubt an ice cold Sleeman’s Honey Brown will always do the trick.

Silent Auction-Gala '14

7. SILENT AUCTION- Toronto Maple Leafs tickets, restaurant gift cards and original pieces of artwork. All donated. All incredible.

Gala Performance 2014

8. THE PERFORMANCE- Capping off the night we held a mini performance in the actual turn-of-the-century School House with our guests squeezing into the wooden desks like so many students had done decades ago.

Paula Fletcher Gala '14

9. CELEBRITY APPEARANCE- We were overjoyed to welcome the Queen of the East – the Councilor of Ward 30 – Mrs. Paula Fletcher herself.  After she offered some wonderful words of welcome she made herself right at home partaking in the refreshments, placing some bids and enjoying the company of those in attendance.

BMH Speech-Gala '14

10. TOUCHING WORDS – An excerpt from the closing speech by Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, SitR Artistic Director ”… the foundation laid by your financial support allows us to chart a course forward into the unknown and challenge our own creative limits. In the past two years we have found out what we are capable of and with your support, we are able to push our potential and challenge the limit of what we think we’re capable of. Your donations become the very kernel that brings us together for that moment of theatre where even the trees hold their breath.”

The Company Gala 2014

The Benefits of Giving to Shakespeare in the Ruff can be found here

For more information, contact Jesse Griffiths at: development@shakespeareintheruff.com

Thanks to our guests for their generous support, from all of us at Ruff (Brendan, AJ, Lois, Jesse, Brooklyn & Kaitlyn)


“Meant To Be Said; Not Read” by Shawn Rocheleau

By | Education, Shakespeare, Uncategorized | One Comment

Shawn Rocheleau is a remarkable teacher who teachers high school Drama in the Toronto region. We were fortunate enough to meet Shawn a couple of years ago and our paths have continued to cross. We hope you’ll learn as much from Shawn as we have as you explore his philosophy of teaching Shakespeare and sample lesson plan, a beautiful way to introduce students to the rhythm, shape and movement of Shakespeare’s text.

I  fell  in  love  with  Shakespeare  early.  I  can  remember  reading (although  not  understanding)  The Taming  of  the  Shrew  in  late elementary  school,  and  even  though  most  of  it  flew  right  over  my head,  I  loved  the  language.  Even  my  monotonous  Grade  9  and 10 English  teacher’s  readings  of Romeo  and  Juliet  and  The  Merchant of  Venice  couldn’t  kill  my  love  of  the  Bard.  I  played  a dubious Claudius  in  Grade  11.  After  the  privilege  of  participating  in  a student  weekend  at  the Stratford  Festival  in  Grade  13,  and  the disaster  that  was  Introduction  to  Shakespeare,  I  managed to  get myself  through  Teacher’s  College  and  into  my  own  English  and Drama  classrooms.

My  love  of  Shakespeare  became  somewhat  of  a  crusade  when  I realised  that  my  fundamental premise  behind  teaching Shakespeare -­  it’s  meant  to  be  said,  not  read  -­  was  not  a universal  truth. While  lip  service  was  paid  to  “performing” Shakespearean  plays,  most  of  the  lessons  I  was handed  involved  a lot  of  textual  analysis  and  literary  inquiry; very  little  of  it  was  on-­your-­feet exploration.  I  was  even  told  by  a  vice  principal  that  I was  “using  too  much  Drama  in  my Shakespeare  unit.”

The  best  way  to  get  students  -­  any  student,  of  any  level  -­  to “get”  Shakespeare  is  to  get  them  on their  feet.  Get  them  moving. Give  them  the  tools  that  Shakespeare  himself  built  into  the  text and take  the  fear  out  of  the  words.  Because  it  is  those  words  that make  Shakespeare  so  special  and alive  to  audiences.

The  first  thing  I  do,  to  dispel  the  fear  of  the  story,  is  to  tell  it. Not  read  it.  Not  show  it  to  them  in  a video.  Tell  it.  I  use  some snippets  of  text  here  and  there,  where  I  remember  it,  and  I  tell it from beginning  to  end.  I  leave  some  things  out,  and  I  try  not  to editorialise  or  assign  value,  I  just  tell them  what  they  are  going to see,  hear,  and  eventually,  be.

Then  I  give  them  the  tools  of  the  trade.  We  talk  about  the rhythm,  the  meter,  the  rhyme  schemes, the  words  -­  all  of  the structural  pieces  that  Shakespeare  used  to,  well,  to  tell  the  story. We  play with  passages  from  the  script  we’re  working  on,  move around  the  room and  see  what  story  the punctuation  tells.

Shawn RocheleauBy  the  time  we’re  done,  students  have  been  playing  with  the  text and  have  enough  familiarity with  it,  so  we  can  get  down  to  the reading.  I  never  send  students  home  to  read  the  text.  We  do  it in class,  on  our  feet,  with  the  desks  cleared  away,  as  if  we  were  on a  stage.  If  we  can  get  a stage,  or  if  this  is  a  Drama  course,  all the  better.  I  treat  it  like  a  performance  text  (which  of course,  it is)  and  I  talk  to  them  like  they  are  actors.  What  did  you  just say?  Who  did  you  say  it to?  Why  did  you  say  it?  What  does  it mean?  Just  lots  of  questions,  and  everyone  can  answer.

Then  it’s  their  turn.  They  get  to  play  with  the  text  on  their  own, explore  the  meanings  and  the words,  and  eventually  create  their own  interpretation  of  Shakespeare’s  works.  They  must  use the text, and  they  can’t  alter  the  fundamental  storyline,  but  otherwise,  the world  is  their  stage. They adapt, they create and eventually, they perform.

And  then,  if  we  can,  we’ll  go  see  a  play,  be  it  the  one  we  have studied  or  another.  Watching students  react  to  something  they have  worked  on  and  performed  is  more  magical  than  watching the  play  -­  I  always  make  sure  I  sit  behind  them  so  I  can  watch their  reactions.  My  favourite moments  are  when  they  come  to  a new  realisation  or  understanding  of  the  text  -­  the  eureka moment where  you  know  that  their  understanding  of  the  world  just  got  a little  bit  broader.

There  are  a  ton  of  activities  and  exercises  we  can  use  to  get students  to  understand  and appreciate  Shakespeare.  The  Stratford Festival,  Royal  Shakespeare  Company,  Shakespeare’s Globe,  the Folger  Library  -­  all  of  these  places  have  fantastic  resources  for educators  who  want to  do  more  than  just  have  students  read silently  and  answer  questions.  In  my  opinion  -­  and  in  my practice  -­  anything  that  gets  them  off  their  seats,  on  their  feet, with  a  script  in  their  hand  and  an idea  in  their  head is  golden.

Shawn’s lesson plan: The Shape of Shakespeare can downloaded here. Some fabulous ideas, thank for sharing Shawn.