Q&A: Shakespeare in High Park

Directors Matjash Mrozewski and Estelle Shook on helming Canadian Stage productions of The Comedy of Errors and Julius Caesar

Presented by Canadian Stage
Written by William Shakespeare

Comedy of Errors - directed by Matjash Mrozewski

Julius Caesar - directed by Estelle Shook

This summer, Canadian Stage returns to High Park for its 33rd season of with two of Shakespeare's great Roman plays on alternating nights. Audiences can choose between a farceThe Comedy of Errors, and the classic tragedy Julius Caesar. Both shows are directed by recent graduates of York University's MFA Program in Stage Direction (in collaboration with Canadian Stage).

Here, we chat with Matjash Mrozewski (The Comedy of Errors director) and Estelle Shook (Julius Caesar director) about their experiences staging these productions.

Theatromania: How would you describe this production of The Comedy of Errors/Julius Caesar in a few sentences?

MM: Simple and elegant. My goal is to create a production that relies very little on gags and extra stage business, and instead put the focus on the play’s story, characters, and relationships. The Comedy of Errors has so many funny moments but it also has a considerable romantic element. I wanted to do justice to that aspect as well.

ES: This is a Julius Caesar that casts the audience as participants in an unfolding public assembly. We start with the idea that assembly is the core of theatrical experience and that the social dimension of the audience is a key part of our drama. We stage scenes in the audience to blur the lines between spectator and spectacle to underline the notion that we are all participants and all responsible for the event, a concept that we hope resonates with political implications.

Theatromania: Which elements of Shakespeare’s Roman plays would you say still resonate today?

MM: This play is filled with neurotic characters who are in a sense blinded by their fixations and pain, and this allows the errors in the play to unfold. This has happened to me many a time. Time and money are big concerns in the play – and I’m sure there are many people who can relate. On another level, I think the happy ending of The Comedy of Errors speaks to a timeless need for a sense of hope and possibility.

ES: Julius Caesar'‘s examination of social violence and the conflict of the self in relation to the community are up to the minute, for we can see by the daily news that we still struggle to reconcile our penchant for violence as a means to address political and cultural differences in civil society.

Theatromania: Can you tell us a bit about how you’ve adapted the work for modern audiences?

MM: A modern adaption was not something I felt was necessary in this staging. I chose instead a delicate period lens through which to examine the play. I was drawn to Venice of the late 19th century as point of inspiration. It makes a great complement to Julius Caesar, in terms of what we offer the High Park audience coming to both shows.

ES: Julius Caesar has been designed to look and feel like a Toronto experience. Actors are dressed like the audience, and engage directly with spectators. The inclusion of three well-known Samba bands (Samba Squad, Maracatu Mar Aberto and Samba Elégua) in the opening procession are meant to replicate popular street celebrations in Toronto. Because we acknowledge and include the audience throughout, the play has a very contemporary feel.

Theatromania: You recently graduated from the York-University-Canadian Stage MFA program. What was your biggest takeaway from that experience?

MM: Before beginning the program I spent 20 years in dance, first as a dancer then as a choreographer. While I have a strong sense of stagecraft and movement, I had no experience with text or actors. So I’ve acquired a huge new skill set. The personal mentorship has been invaluable. The two years spent working on the MFA also offered me time and space to reflect on myself as an artist and a human being.

ES: The opportunity to work with a mentor (Peter Hinton) over two years has been invaluable, as have been the Assistantships with Matthew Jocelyn and Jackie Maxwell. Working with directors familiar with the large stages and organizations has been a rich primer for what I hope to be a future of opportunities on the large stages in this country and abroad.

Don't miss the opportunity to participate in a beloved Toronto summer tradition. The Comedy of Errors and Julius Caesar are on stage on alternating nights at the High Park Amitheatre until September 6th.

This general admission event is free for children 14 and under. Adults may make a pay-what you-can donation with cash, debit or credit cards at the gate. The suggested minimum donation is $20 per-person. Food, beverages and cushions are available for purchase.

Visit canadianstage.com for more information and to buy advance tickets.

Show Dates: 
Thu, 2015-07-02 - Mon, 2015-07-06



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