Summer Shakespeare, the much-loved summer tradition of watching performances of William Shakespeare’s plays under the stars will return to Western’s campus from July 19 to 23 with this year’s production of the comedy Much Ado About Nothing.
The play will be performed at the Beryl Ivey Garden behind University College. Directed by Western graduate Alexandra Rizkallah, the 90-minute show has a full female/gender non-conforming cast.
Producer Jo Devereux, professor in the Department of English & Writing Studies as well as the Theatre Studies and new multi-disciplinary Creative Arts and Production program, has had a long history with Summer Shakespeare.
“I was a first-year undergraduate student at Western in 1981 when the first Western Summer Shakespeare was produced. It was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and we performed it in the old Business School garden, now covered by the International and Graduate Affairs Building,” said Devereux.
“The show was so much fun and such a joy to put on for the Western and wider London community that it started the tradition of performing a Shakespeare play outdoors on the campus each summer ever since,” she said.
Over the years, Devereux has become a mentor to students who have discovered a passion for theatre – on stage, behind the scenes of productions, as well as through studying text.
Rizkallah graduated this June with a double major in theatre studies and biology, the first Western student to combine these areas of study. During her time as an undergraduate student, she was involved in numerous campus productions through Theatre Western and Purple Shorts One Act Festival, as well as other productions at The Grand Theatre, Black Swan Production Company, London Fringe Festival and more.
“Approaching a Shakespeare work can be daunting, but once you bring him to the table as a collaborator you see just how much the text can bend and meld around the story you wish it to tell,” Rizkallah said.
“Working on Much Ado has been a rewarding experience which has culminated much of my past work and what I have learned from the great directors and mentors I have had the pleasure to work with.”
“To me, the clear route was to cast these incredibly talented artists and to not cast the genders as written but to rather have bodies play the characters as written. It’s been one of the best choices thus far and I am very proud of the work that we are doing to challenge the idea of ‘who owns Shakespeare?’”
Rizkallah’s science background has also informed her theatre practice in numerous ways. Learning about how the body moves and reacts to situations is crucial when directing actors, and having some psychological and medical acumen to draw upon has been helpful for Rizkallah in staging shows.
“Directing women and non-binary people to play male characters has been an exciting challenge which required a lot of prep work in gender psychology and body language,” Rizkallah said.
“Women and femme presenting individuals sometimes de-voice at the end of sentences or speeches and take up less space physically when sitting or entering a room, so throughout the rehearsal process I had the cast take part in different workshops and exercise to inhabit a new type of body that was unafraid of taking up space both vocally and physically.”
Rizkallah is involved in the production of three other shows this summer including as assistant director for Good Old Days at Toronto Fringe and director of Sticky Fingers: A Musical for Original Kids Theatre Company in London, Ont. She will also hold a directing internship for Love’s Labour’s Lost directed by Peter Pasyk at Stratford Festival. This fall, Rizkallah will be moving to Essex, U.K. to pursue graduate studies at East 15 Acting School.
About Summer Shakespeare
Summer Shakespeare is Canada’s longest running outdoor Shakespeare event. The first production opened on Aug. 4, 1981.
The tradition has continued at Western every summer, featuring casts and directors comprising students—both graduate and undergraduate—as well as members of the wider London community. The ground on which these outdoor shows have been staged has shifted many times over the years. A listing of previous productions can be found here.
This year’s production of Much Ado About Nothing will be running in the Beryl Ivey Garden at Western University from July 19 to 23.
Tickets are $10 and available now.