After starring as Lady Macbeth in 1999, Marianne Copithorne has been hooked on the Freewill Shakespeare Festival. Since then she’s become an integral part of the team, and is taking on the role of artistic director for the 10th season in a row. This year, she’s helping bring Hamlet and Comedy of Errors alive for Edmonton audiences.
Q: In a city of festivals, what makes this one unique?
A: It’s one of the only opportunities an audience has to come and see theatre in the outdoors, rain or shine. For the most part, the last three years or so, we haven’t had to cancel any shows. We just try to find a way to keep going and the audience is pretty loyal. It’s sort of like having mother nature as your ambience director. I think they really get a kick out of the fact that King Lear can be saying something like ‘Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!’ and, all of a sudden, mother nature just chimes in at that moment with a great clap of thunder or they will say something witty and suddenly a squirrel will pop up on stage and start chattering at the actor. There’s that communion with the creatures and outdoor elements that audiences really find fascinating and so do I.
Q: What kind of experience do you try to create through your directing?
A: The people who come down to the park may or may not go to see theatre anywhere, so it’s my job to just enlighten my audience and get them to really like Shakespeare. I work hard with my actors to make them be understood, to tell the story easily and carefully, and to use the language, and, after a while, the audience’s ear attunes and then they come on this fantastic ride. My biggest goal is to make it accessible and make them see how wonderful [Shakespeare’s] stories are and how they relate to our world today.
Q: How has the festival transformed since its debut in 1989?
A: In the very early days there was a handful of University of Alberta grads from the Bachelor of Fine Arts acting program who decided they wanted to start a company. There was really no money for sets or mics or anything like that. And, as time passed, we were eligible for funding because we became a professional not-for-profit theatre society so we started to have a budget. The production values are becoming more important and valuable to us so we try to raise the bar every year as far as giving the audience that experience. Over the years, it’s really grown and we just keep trying to do our best to make it fun for people.
Q: How do you choose which plays will be produced each year?
A: Every year we try to do ones that people will really enjoy. During my 10 years, we’ve introduced some new ones like Titus Andronicus, or Merchant of Venice, so that we aren’t just doing the greatest hits all of the time. And, this year, I’ve tried to hire a ratio of equal men and women so that means assigning certain parts to women that most traditionally go to men. The two Antipholus [in Comedy of Errors] will be played by women in male drag so that should be really fun and quite an adventure.
This article appears in the June 2018 issue of Avenue Edmonton. Subscribe here.