Shakespeare is art, not science, so it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s no formula behind the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival’s decision to stage a show for the third time in 18 seasons.
Festival artistic director Richard Sheridan Willis recently announced the lineup for next year’s season, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Henry V, a combination that will be called “Magic and Majesty.”
This will be the third time the Prescott festival stages Dream, but, as Willis noted in a subsequent interview, one can indeed desire too much of a good thing.
“Midsummer Night’s Dream is the perfect outdoor show,” said Willis, adding: “It just seemed the right time.”
Willis said he tries to gauge the atmosphere around the festival before choosing a production, but “it’s always been instinctive.”
While Dream, which Willis will direct, is a returning production, Henry V is a first: A history play at the Prescott festival.
“It’s a brilliant play,” he said, adding he did not choose Henry out of any immediate desire to mirror geopolitical realities.
The announcement comes as the festival’s 17th season is done, with performances of The Winter’s Tale and Cyrano de Bergerac (continuing a tradition of non-Shakespeare plays every other year).
It was too early to discuss box office figures this week, but Willis has a good feeling.
“It was a huge improvement over last year,” he said, adding the weather only forced the loss of half a show all season.
From his on-stage perspective, Willis believes the season was popular, and noted Winter’s Tale, a more nuanced play that is less often staged, seems to have grown on some viewers.
“There were people who were unsure of it at the beginning who grew to love it at the end,” said Willis.
With its main stage season now done, the festival is also getting a good response to its season-ending community musical, he added.
The company’s presentation of Cabaret opened Thursday and continues through Saturday in the Kirk Hall at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.
The church hall has been transformed into the Kit Kat Club of 1930s Berlin, for a show that includes a live orchestra of 11, a festival first.
The multi-generational team, led by Willis, includes choreographer Josh Craig, costume designer Karen Koivumaki, musical director Kayla Droppo, assistant director Lisa Flanagan and stage manager Rev. Tracey Smith.
Tickets have been selling fast, said the artistic director, who added he appreciates the chance the annual production gives him to get to know the community.
“It’s turned out to be one of the most pleasant things I’ve done here,” said Willis.
More information on Cabaret is available at the festival’s website, at www.stlawrenceshakespeare.ca/2019-season.