The land of the midnight sun is about to become the setting for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Dream North Theatre Company is bringing 12 professional actors to Whitehorse from Toronto to stage the classic Shakespeare comedy in LePage Park from June 16 to 22.
The production is the brainchild of producer Ryan Urquhart who laments that the Yukon hasn’t attracted much Shakespeare or even outdoor theatre.
Meanwhile, his partner, who is from Toronto, noted the city is inundated with Shakespeare productions, especially in the summer.
At some point in their discussion a solution was found: bring actors from Toronto to Whitehorse to perform Shakespeare for a new and hopefully appreciative audience.
From that, and with the uniqueness of the northern climate in mind, A Midsummer’s Night Dream was chosen and Dream North Theatre Company was created.
“What we find unique about this is, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is basically begging to be played outside and we couldn’t think of a nicer environment than the Yukon — a more pristine, unique, natural environment,” said Urquhart.
The director of the play, Kate Hodgert, also from Toronto, has a vision of the actors melting into the outdoor scenery in LePage Park.
The set consists of a backdrop meant to envelop the stage in a forest of trees. Combining that with the outdoor elements of the park will produce the dreamlike fairy kingdom where much of the play is meant to take place.
Hodgert’s goal is to keep the set, props and costumes as natural and minimalist as possible so that the line between stage, actor and environment is blurred.
“It’s a very playful play and it’s also very natural, it’s got a lot of pagan elements to it with the kingdom of the fairies, the king and the queen of the fairies and the playful trickster fairies and it kind of harkens back to Elizabethan England when a lot of the populace believed in these kinds of beings existing in the forest,” said Urquhart.
“So we want to try and recreate that kind of atmosphere and the only real way to do that is to do it outside.
“One of the nice things is, because it’s called A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it was meant to be played at midsummer and our timing is just right, we’re having a solstice show and that’s really what this play is made for.”
To further blur the lines surrounding the stage, the audience will be brought into the play.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream there is a play within a play and some of the cast members will be sitting among the audience watching the play, said Urquhart.
“It will be like the audience is part of the play,” he said.
The production is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s original.
It is being played anachronistically, where there will be no real sense of time or place.
Hodgert has chosen to draw on different historical eras throughout the production.
For example, some of the craftsmen and women in the play will be dressed as Yukon trappers and coureur de bois.
“We’re making an effort to incorporate as many elements of the Yukon as possible without compromising the integrity of the play as it were,” said Urquhart.
Natural lighting will also play an important role.
Hodgert envisions the sun shining down through the trees and onto the stage — to make the scenes even more ethereal and dreamlike.
The actors are not being paid to play in this production.
They have raised the money to travel to the Yukon to perform and are hoping that experiencing a unique northern city will be payment in itself.
Urquhart estimates that it will cost more than $10,000 just to put together the basics for this production.
The theatre company isn’t asking much in return for bringing Shakespeare to the North.
Admission is by donation and Urquhart said that if a person could only afford to pay $2 that would be enough.
“Hopefully through donations here in Whitehorse we can try to break even, but if we don’t break even it’s not so bad,” said Urquhart.
“A lot of the rationale for this play is giving the actors an opportunity to visit a place they might not otherwise be able to visit, especially one as beautiful as the Yukon.
“We also wanted to make it open as possible so that pretty much anybody in the Yukon can have the opportunity to come and see pretty high quality outdoor Shakespeare.”
All of the actors in the play have post-graduate degrees in theatre and are very experienced.
One actor is a graduate of George Brown Theatre School and another specializes in musical drama, and composed all the music for the production.
Yet another specializes in improv and comedy and has been cast in one of the play’s largest comedic roles.
As experienced as the actors are, Urquhart said few have performed outdoors and most will have to learn to adapt to changing weather conditions.
The play will go on, whether it’s raining or blowing, said Urquhart who is hoping the land of the midnight sun lives up to its reputation and remains bright and sunny for the entire run.
The play will start at 7:30 p.m. and run until about 10 p.m.
A matinee performance will take place at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 17.
The troop will also be holding a young actors’ workshop at 1 p.m. the same day.