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  • 16Dec

    Why Shakespeare on the Sask Matters

    By: James Davie
    Category: In the News

    1991. It was the final year of the Cold War as the wall came down and the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Freddie Mercury died, and with Nirvana’s Nevermind, grunge was born.  GST was introduced into our lives. Author Douglas Coupland wrote Generation X, and coined a new description for my generation. Saskatoon hosted the World Junior Hockey Championships for the first time, and Canada won for the second time in a row. And I discovered Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, which has had as much an effect on my life as any of the rest of those events.

    I was in grade 11 that year, and my amazing English teacher, Stan Bartel, had chosen As You Like It as the Shakespeare play for the year. I always liked Shakespeare, particularly his way making the words dance, his wit and, although I didn’t realize it at the time, the universal nature of his themes. Mr. Bartel helped to make the study enjoyable as well, taking the time to make sure we understood the ancient Elizabethan references.

    Of course we had all heard that “All the world’s a stage,” but I don’t know that any of us knew that it was from a four hundred year old play. I think for many it is that huge gulf of time that can scare them away from Shakespeare. They see the centuries that lie between then and now, hear the old words, and it simply is too much for some young minds to translate the seen or spoken language to something understandable.

    To help bridge that gap Mr. Bartel would always find a video of the play for us to watch. Unfortunately it was usually an old BBC adaptation. Certainly I love those traditional performances now, but back then for many it simply reinforced the idea that these were ye olde playes that didn’t matter and were a waste of our time. For some like me who enjoyed the Bard, they were word play and a nice glimpse back to the past, but not something I could ever see helping me in my real life.

    At the end of the school year Mr. Bartel told us that there was a production of As You Like It being performed on the Saskatchewan River, and encouraged us to see it over the summer break. I don’t know why, but I decided to do just that. It changed my life.

    I don’t actually remember that production, what fresh spin they did on the play that summer. But I do remember that it was contemporary, that it was fresh and visceral and suddenly it meant something. The Royal Shakespeare actors on the old BBC recordings may have had gravitas, but they weren’t there in your face, gleefully shouting those lines. The actors were there in a tent on the river in my city performing for me. We were in it together, against the elements, to share a magnificent story. I was hooked.

    I began to pay more attention to the plays, the words, the themes and characters. I began to see the genius of William Shakespeare and how much his words have affected all of us, and still do four centuries later. I grew to appreciate that Shakespeare is wonderful, but Shakespeare live on stage in front of you is magical. It’s how Shakespeare is meant to be experienced.

    My love of Shakespeare continues to grow, and I instill it in others. And the best way to get others to love it as much as me is to go down the river, take up a seat and watch the wonderful cast and crew of Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan bring the plays to life each summer. The festival matters because it shows us the timeless universality of Shakespeare’s works, it lets young and old understand the power of words well written and said, and touches our souls.

    Want to talk more about Shakespeare? Meet me down on the riverbank…

    Board Member James Davie

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