The Freewill Shakespeare Festival is one of the most unique theatre experiences in Edmonton. Rain or shine, the festival transforms Hawrelak Park’s amphitheatre. This year, it will be transformed into both Rome and a remote island as The Freewill Players bring Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and The Tempest to life.
The Tempest (directed by John Kirkpatrick) is the story of the exiled Duke of Milan, Prospero, and his plot to restore his daughter Miranda to her Duchy. Along the way, Prospero takes some revenge of his own on his usurping brother and the King of Naples. This year’s production features Caeley Thomas-Haug as Miranda. Caeley says she was attracted to the role because, “it’s a really great role. It’s a lot of fun. I remember, even the first time I read through The Tempest – I thought, ‘man, what a great part!’ There’s only so many years that you can play that younger part of Miranda – she’s in her teens. I’m glad I got a shot at it before I start growing grey hair… She’s very youthful and feisty, it’s been really fun having the permission and ability to interpret the role. It’s nice [to be able ] to add that youthfulness to Shakespeare – so, it’s not necessarily thought of as being so regal.”
One of the parts of The Tempest I’m most looking forward to is the musical score. Last year, Sound Designer/Composer Matthew Skopyk really impressed me with the musical scoring of Othello. Caeley gave me a sneak-peak into what we can expect musically this year: “[The play] takes place on this island, where there’s all these spirits and magical forces, and along with that comes quite a bit of music that kind of lures and guides the characters as they travel on this island. There’s an amazing musical underscoring by Matthew Skopyk – he’s done some really great stuff. He’s written some original underscoring and it really does kind of back up the action of the play and lifts everything to a new level.”
What I love most about the Freewill Shakespeare Festival is that the interpretations of Shakespeare’s texts are accessible to all audiences. Caeley Thomas-Haug agrees, saying, “I think [the Freewill Players] work quite hard to bring it into the 20th century – through the sound design, through the costuming, the direction. I think you’ll encounter different directors that will take it in a different route, and there’s classical rules that always apply, but you take that foundation and then you interpret it. I think that’s why people keep coming to see Shakespeare. It’s always the interpretation that’s interesting – most of these stories, people have seen time and time again. For me, it’s taking the language and trying my best to make it understandable to the audience. You take those thoughts and see if you can make it so the language is accessible.”
Caeley became interested in the arts as a musician when she was younger, and now she is going into her final year of a theatre degree in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the University of Alberta. Caeley says that as an actress she is inspired by “the opportunity to work on so many different projects and the opportunity to take in so many different styles. Even during my degree, we just did a production of Titus Andronicus and it was very dark, and then to go into this – The Tempest isn’t light – but it’s a completely different show. So, the opportunity to be able to stretch in all these different ways – to combine movement, and dance, and then to maybe work on my own projects and then have the opportunity to work with this cast of 13 other working professionals in the Edmonton community. It can be something as simple as watching someone else’s performance, or seeing someone who’s very established doing work and seeing their process and recognizing what it takes to make a living, because we all know, the arts funding is a bit of a situation… I just try to keep the hunger going for different projects and different connections.”
We end our chat with a question: why should Edmontonians come see The Tempest? Caeley’s response comes quickly and easily – “It’s the magic of it. The acting is already good, and they add some bells and whistles so it’s pretty exciting. What better way to spend a midsummer night’s evening? … I wouldn’t miss it.”
This year’s Freewill Shakespeare Festival runs June 26 – July 22. Tickets are $17-25 and can be bought at Tix on the Square or at the gate the night of the performance. Pay-What-You-Will admission is on Tuesday evenings, Saturday matinees, and June 26-27 previews.
– Jenna Marynowski