In My Mind’s Eye



In memory of Donald George Klassen.


Begging your indulgence, I'd like to spend a moment telling you a little bit about my father.


Today would have been his 67th birthday, had he not, on July 21st, died of cancer.  I mention this not solely because I believe he deserves a tribute (and I just happen to have a forum in which to do it), but because ever since it became an intrinsic part of my life, Shakespeare in the Ruins had been an intrinsic part of my father's life.


Up until it became my life's calling, my father was not what one would call a "theatre-goer", and certainly was not a fan of Shakespeare.  He went to see plays if I was in them, or if there was a crew of family and friends heading into the city to see whatever was happening at Rainbow Stage.  In his final few years, he and my mother were regular subscribers to the Manitoba Theatre Centre, and had seen (with the exception of a couple of Stripped-Down shows in which I wasn't involved) every SIR production since 2002.


Appropriately, my father also turned into a reader of Shakespeare.  Each year, once he had learned from me which play we were going to be putting on, he would find a copy of that play in the library, along with the Cole's notes version, and prepare himself for what he would be seeing and hearing.  He became very interested in forwards and footnotes, particularly how the historical/political context in which he existed influenced Shakespeare's writing.


He was also very interested in the lives of the people involved in SIR, keeping track of the Ensemble members' work outside of the company, fixing the odd refrigerator or dishwasher (he made a living as an appliance repairman), and generally involving himself wherever and whenever it was appropriate for him to do so.  He recognized that these people are part of my extended family, and considered them as such.  He was always willing to donate his time to help tear down, load up, or haul away props or set pieces, occasionally showing up out of the blue.  He and my mother were, of course, generous annual donors.


My father's involvement with SIR fittingly reached its apex with our 2010 production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, the last SIR show he was able to attend.  The show (which marked my SIR directorial debut) had a fair bit of audience participation, and for each performance 2 male audience members were selected to portray the young boys whom Master Slender and Doctor Caius are tricked into marrying.  On this particular night (unbeknownst to me until his actual entrance), Sarah had tapped my dad to come on as the "great lubberly boy" whom Slender (Andrew) has mistaken for Anne Page.  He even had a line of dialogue: "Budget!" (which he delivered in a strange, high-pitched voice which I have never in my entire life heard come out of his mouth before or since).  I can't now recall whether I was laughing out loud or stunned into admiring silence, but it's a moment in my life for which I will be forever grateful.


On the evening of the day he was first diagnosed with bladder cancer, my father attended a public performance of Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet.  In a weird bit of universal symmetry, on the evening on which he died I had that afternoon finished a performance of Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.  The last conversation I had with my father was on the phone, three days prior.  It was brief, and consisted of my asking how he was holding up, and him asking how the show had been going.  I told him that I was a little disappointed with the media coverage so far, and how the box office had been a little low, and how I'd wished that we'd had better show times, and he said "Well that's all right, but how's the show going?" 


I realized that what he was really asking was: "Are you happy?". 


I told him the show was going very well.





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