Myself Condemned, And Myself Excused

"…here I stand, both to impeach and purge

Myself condemned, and myself excused."

Romeo and Juliet, V.3


The other day, during a post-show Q&A for one of our student preview audiences I was asked what, if anything, the character of Friar Laurence was meant to tell us about Shakespeare's attitude toward religion: an excellent question.


I replied along the lines that, given the list of questionable actions the Friar commits in his disastrous (though ultimately successful) attempt to reconcile the Capulets and the Montagues, while recognizing what an admirably, naively altruistic leap of faith he takes in making the attempt, I could only surmise that if  Shakespeare intended to comment on religious or "holy" (as Friar Laurence is described throughout the play) people, the comment can be interpreted as, at best, ambivalence.


Since then, I've been thinking about it quite a bit, and thinking more deeply about the Friar as a person and about what really motivates his actions and reactions throughout the play.  The most useful and encompassing conclusion that I've been able to make is that, upon his first entrance in the play, Friar Laurence  is impressively and dangerously disconnected from his own humanity, and from the normal passions and desires which go along with being human.


This is most likely a result (obviously) of his dedication to monastic life, and a strange (for a religious man) devotion to logic and reason.  Throughout the entire play, he is quite literally shocked by the fact that everyone with whom he comes in contact has some kind of emotional reaction to their experiences.


Romeo (a teenager) falls in and out of love: "Holy Saint Francis!"


Romeo kills Tybalt out of rage, and threatens to kill himself out of despair: "Thy wild acts denote the unreasonable fury of a beast!"


Capulet, Lady Capulet, Nurse & Paris demonstrably mourn what they think is Juliet's death: "For shame… for though fond nature bids us all lament, yet nature's tears are reasons merriment."


Juliet discovers her dead husband: "Stay not to question, for the watch is coming."


It's that last one that seems to give most people the most difficulty when trying to comprehend Friar Laurence's actions in the play.  Why, if his goal is to take Juliet away with him, does he pause to tell her that Romeo is dead?  The best that I can come up with is that, in his limited experience with her, the Friar has tragically overestimated Juliet's capacity to overcome her passion with reason, and he therefore assumes that, seeing that there is nothing more to be done for her poor husband, Juliet will leave with the Friar to be disposed "among a sisterhood of nuns".  The Friar can't know what Romeo (and the audience) know: that Juliet's capacity for reason and logic is matched only by the capacity of her passion and her imagination, and her ability to apply logic to her passion and her imagination, all of which combine to create a will to action that cannot be denied or assuaged.


I think that, when Friar Laurence explains that "a noise did scare me from the tomb", it is because he would rather appear a coward to the world than confess what it was that really sent him fleeing in terror from that vault.  When Juliet tells Friar Laurence "Go, get thee hence for I will not away" (and he knows instantly that she will kill them both if he stays), he has come face to face with either one or the other of his two worst fears: the wrath and punishment of a vengeful god, or the knowledge that, if there is a god, he has forsaken them.


Of course the final irony (or, if you prefer, final lesson) for the Friar occurs when Capulet and Montague do indeed reconcile, there in the tomb, over the bodies of their dead children.  If Shakespeare is trying to tell us (and Friar Laurence) something about the nature of god (or, if you prefer, fate) it is a difficult,  troubling lesson to contemplate.


Personally, I prefer to believe that Shakespeare is, as he always is, trying to tell us something about he nature of our selves.  It's far easier information to put to practical use.   

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Love’s Heralds

"Love's heralds should be thoughts, which ten times faster glide than the sun's beams."

Romeo and Juliet, II.5


What a wonderful piece of writing is Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.


Now in my 6th production of R&J,  I consider myself more or less qualified to make such a bold and contentious statement, and I submit that it is (arguably) impossible for anyone (myself included) to fully appreciate just what a truly great play it is without having the opportunity to play EVERY speaking role.  (This should probably be said for all of Shakespeare's plays, but I'll stick with the one I'm in right now.)


This is because, at the end of the day, and as Shakespeare comes right out and says in the prologue, Romeo and Juliet  is not merely about Romeo and Juliet, but about two households (the Capulets and the Montagues), and the many ways in which their irrational hatred for one another has poisoned the entire community in which they live.


The marriage between Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare insists, is not (as is so optimistically hoped by Friar Laurence) enough to turn their "households' rancour to pure love": the parents' enmity is ended only by the fact that their children die for their love.


One can argue and wrestle with the plethora of bad choices and irrational acts (committed by nearly everyone in Verona) which occur throughout the course of the play, but Shakespeare tells us from the beginning that this must happen.  We the audience can only hope, and trust (and, in our own lives, ACT to ensure) that the lovers' sacrifice hasn't been in vain: that those who remain alive will work to make their world a better place — that they will, now and tomorrow, choose love. 


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Letters From The Friar

"Hast thou no letters to me from the friar?"
Romeo and Juliet, V.1


It has now been 20 days since last I posted, and I believe there have accumulated enough events of interest to make this one worthwhile.


First of all, thank you to everyone who has answered our plea for donations!  The response has been astonishing, and the shadow of deficit that had been looming over us here in the office for the past few months has been largely dispelled by the envious streaks of a new dawn.  It is more encouraging than words can adequately express to know that what we do is, apparently, as important to you as it is to us.


In other exciting news, tickets to see our public presentation of Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet  are, as of this typing, 81% sold out, with 18 seats remaining for Saturday, Nov. 12th only.  If you haven't phoned in your reservation, please do it NOW!


I personally had the pleasure of attending our annual stripped-down preview at the Manitoba Association of Teachers of English's Special Area Group Conference (M.A.T.E. S.A.G.), and I can assure you the fellows are putting on one heck of a show this year (the SDR&J touring cast I mean, not the M.A.T.E S.A.G. people, whom it should be said, no doubt put on a heck of a conference as well).  You can have a sneak preview by going back to the homepage and clicking on the FANTASTIC promotional reel shot & edited by SIR's own Sarah Constible.   The tour is nearing the end of its first week, the early reviews have been very positive, and the show will only get better!  Don't miss it!


We've also been very busy attending workshops and preparing our application for the Winnipeg Arts Council's new artsVest initiative: a program started by Business for the Arts (BftA) which equips and encourages arts groups to develop mutually rewarding partnerships with those in the "regular" business community.  (If you're reading this and you or your partner or parent or cousin or child or child's godparent happen to own a business, or be responsible for developing relationships with other businesses, and you think you or this other person might be interested in becoming a part of SIR's business of show, please contact us!)  The bonus part of the artsVest program is that, if our application is successful, we will receive matching grant monies for any sponsorship with a new partner, or any increase in funding from a previous relationship.  So 3 cheers for BftA, WAC, and artsVest!


Lastly (and from your perspective, likely leastly), I will be busy for the next 7 weeks playing Friar Laurence in the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's production of Romeo and Juliet.  The concept for this production is an intriguing one, and will no doubt have people talking (and perhaps writing letters).  I look forward to sharing anything that seems like it might be relevant with all of you (whoever you are).  While I'm away, I'm sure Michelle and Matt would appreciate your letters, e-mails, or even a phone call, just to help alleviate the sad longing that will most assuredly result from my absence (HINT: the phone calls, letters and e-mails that involve a dollar value seem to cheer them up the most).


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The Elder I Wax…

"…the elder I wax, the better I shall appear: my comfort is, that old age, that ill layer up of beauty, can do no more spoil upon my face…"

Henry V, V.2


I turned 40 today.


In lieu of cards or flowers, those wishing to extend their congratulations/condolences are encouraged to donate to:


Shakespeare in the Ruins, c/o "The Tired Old Man".


Viewing to be held at 8pm tonight, & 2pm & 8pm tomorrow at Theatre By The River's outstanding production of Generous by Michael Healey, 70 Albert Street.  All are welcome.



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Here and There

"Alas, 'tis true I have gone here and there
And made myself a motley to the view"

Sonnet CX


One of the great aspects of being an "artist-run" organization is that SIR is able to regularly benefit Winnipeg's wonderful theatre community by "lending out" members of  our Ensemble to work on their shows. 


(I place the expression "artist-run" in quotations because I believe, in a general sense, ALL theatres are run by artists: that's why we call them Artistic Directors.  The distinction in SIR's case is that we have a GROUP of artists [performers, directors, designers, playwrights] in charge of of our programming: the SIR Artistic Ensemble.  For further clarification, click on the "About" icon above and explore.  I place "lending out" in quotation marks because the preceding introductory sentence is intended, perhaps obviously, not to be taken too seriously.  Having said that, I am inclined to believe that any organization with the good taste to put our Ensemble members to work does so to their organization's benefit.)


Beyond their duties toward SIR, the Ensemble is once again keeping plenty busy for this year's exciting new theatre season, and this page seems to me an appropriate forum in which to tell you all about their various activities!  This is not intended specifically as an endorsement for the projects herein described, except to the extent of SIR's standing policy that you should ALWAYS attend ALL THE LIVE THEATRE YOU CAN!  (And if you find yourself forced to make choices, you may as well do so armed with the knowledge of which choices will afford you the opportunity to enjoy the work of our intrepid SIR Artistic Ensemble Members.)


Eric Bossé is already knee-deep in his second season as MTYP's House Technician.  He will also be contributing his expertise to Theatre Incarnate's  production of Lilith – A Cautionary Tale, part of Winnipeg Jewish Theatre's Neurotica festival.


Michelle Boulet will  be returning for a third tour of duty as director of SIR's Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet fall tour, and in December she will be part of Theatre Projects Manitoba's In The Chamber Holiday Special as "Co-Duumviratrix" of the Fu Fu Chi Chi Choir.


Andrew Cecon will be performing in Theatre Projects Manitoba's The Three Sisters, a co-production with zone41.  After that, he will grace the John Hirsch Theatre stage in the Manitoba Theatre Centre's Romeo and Juliet, followed by his participation in The Smell of Dead Mums, a new creation from Echo Theatre.


Sarah Constible has been preparing for her role in Theatre By The River's Generous, and will then join her Fu Fu Chi Chi Choir "Co-Duumviratrix" Michelle in  Theatre Projects Manitoba's In The Chamber Holiday Special.  In the new year, she'll pay a visit to Suffragette City in The Fighting Days, at the Manitoba Theatre Centre.  Sarah will then return to TPM to perform in Dionysus in Stony Mountain.


Kevin Klassen (your humble blogsmith) will also make a brief appearance in Theatre By The River's Generous, and will also be in Manitoba Theatre Centre's Romeo and Juliet.  He will then hit the trail in MTC's regional tour of The Melville Boys.  Not long after that, he will join Prairie Theatre Exchange's production of 'Til It Hurts.


Arne MacPherson will once again be directing Prairie Theatre Exchange's annual Munsch tour (this year: The Three Munschketeers), and will also perform in Mrs. Warren's Profession and August: Osage County for the  Manitoba Theatre Centre.


Debbie Patterson has begun another tenure as Artistic Associate for Prairie Theatre Exchange, and as adapater/playwright/sound designer/composer for The Three Munschketeers.   She continues to develop her play Sargent and Victor after a "stunning and triumphant" premiere in Reykjavik at the Lokal International Theatre Festival, and will present it with Núna (now) in the spring.  Debbie will be the Carol Shields Writer in Residence at the Uof W from January to May, during which she will work on a new piece called Tuktoyaktuk and Me.  In the meantime, she will also be singing in the Rainbow Harmony Project Choir just for fun.


Wow!  All that, and they manage to keep SIR thriving and surviving as well!  What a wonderful, dedicated group of Winnipeg theatre artists!


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Three Good Friends

"He that wants money, means, and content is without three good friends."

As You Like It

ACT III Scene 2.


Well, it's that time of year again…


The time when arts organizations all over the country are furiously preparing grant applications, donor request letters, sponsorship proposals… all with the same goal: to drum up enough income to bring the year in with a balanced budget.


It's a depressing fact, but the ticket buying public accounts, at the best of times, for a bare fraction of the financing required to keep a professional theatre company in business.


As I may have mentioned previously, our most recent Main Stage show King Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2, for (no doubt) a myriad of reasons (none of which entirely satisfy me) was the lowest attended show we've had in quite some time, and this has left us with an intimidating shortfall of cash, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $15,000.


Recognizing that regularly asking people for money (while on some personal level, through conditioning and genetics, makes me want to bury my head in a bucket of pudding) is a natural part of producing theatre, I hereby, on behalf of Shakespeare in the Ruins, request your financial assistance.


To find out how, please CLICK HERE to visit our donation page.


To find out where your money will go, I encourage you to explore this website.


Thanks for your consideration.



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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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As You Like It, or: What Will You?

August 24, 2011


As hard as it is to believe, SIR will be celebrating its 2oth Anniversary in 2013, less than two years from now.  It's a rather impressive feat (if I do say so myself), given the adventurous and challenging nature of the way in which we continue to go about the business of creating adventurous and challenging theatre.


Plans to celebrate this milestone are already underway, and as I sit here in the office reflecting on the ever twisting and turning trajectory of our collective history, a question ocurrs:


How do YOU think we should celebrate…?


Is there a particular Shakespearean title which you've long yearned to have us perform?  Have you found yourself visiting some place and thinking: "this would make an ideal location for an SIR production…!"?  Do you have fond memories of a previous production, and wonder how wonderful it might be were we to revisit the same play in a different way?


Well, please consider this a personal request to share those ideas with us now.  As in all things, the final programming decisions for our 2013 season will boil down to the consensual will of the Artistic Ensemble and the cold, hard reality of our financial limitations, so we can't make any promises.


However, our respect and commitment to you, our audience is such that it would be negligent if we didn't, at the very least, ask.


Please e-mail your suggestions with the subject line:

"How To Celebrate 20 Years"



If nothing else, we certainly insist on your attendance…






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Save The Words!

August 12, 2011


Two days ago, we received a tweet from Lana Gay proclaiming that: "90% of what we write is communicated by only 7000 words", with a link to a website called:


"Save The Words"


This website, sponsored by the Oxford English Dictionary is dedicated to the preservation of words in danger of becoming extinct as a result of being underused.  The concept is wonderfully simple: you register with the "Save The Words" campaign, select a word from their endangered list (or have them randomly select a word for you), and agree that you will assume stewardship over this word, and help to ensure its survival by making regular use of it on a daily basis.


After a quick scan through their list, I was astonished to come across the word "impudent", and immediately selected  it to be SIR's foster-word.  The on-line OED offers the following background information:





not showing due respect for another person; impertinent

"he could have strangled this impudent upstart"

I was astonished, not to learn that there are unusual and valuable English words that risk extinction, but that the word "impudent" should be one of them.  It seems like a pretty regular word to me.  Having gone through the adoption process, my dismay at the deterioration of modern society's verbal and textual (that is text as in "written", NOT  electronic text-messaging) communicative skills was tempered a little by my delight at the existence of such a website, and by the sense of pride which, I'm told, is often shared by those who adopt (or create) human offspring.


Merely one day later, that feeling of dismay was restored to its normal (heightened) level by the news that Winnipeg's self-proclaimed "Cultural City Hall", Aqua Books and the Eat! Bistro will soon be closing its doors.  Although, to my regret, I have found myself in recent days largely without the time or means to purchase literature, eat in restaurants, or attend the majority of the events held there, the few times in which I did have the pleasure made me proud to be part of a community in which such an enterprise could (as far I knew) thrive, and made me appreciate brave entrepreneurial souls like Kelly Hughes, who are willing to gamble on a great idea which, clearly, contributed more to the people who were able to advantage of it than it did to his finances.  I lament that I didn't/couldn't offer more support.


In a larger sense, I lament what I can't help but view as the latest casualty in the gradual decline of the written and spoken word.  So, at the risk of sounding impudent:










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All’s Well That Ends

August 4th, 2011


Well.  The Winnipeg Fringe Festival has officially come and gone, and with it: Shakespeare in the Ruins' Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet (coming next: Shakespeare in the Ruins' Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet).


The experience of producing SIRSDR&J at this year's fringe could be characterized as mixed.  It was incredibly gratifying and satisfying to see (for the most part) a brand new audience so thoroughly enjoying this unbelievably entertaining adaptation, and so obviously appreciating the amazing work of the actors.


As the motivation behind this production was to expose the fine work being done here at SIR to the fringe demographic and help raise a few bucks in the process, the 340-some tickets sold (420 in overall attendance) was, while by no means a disaster, rather disappointing, particularly following the inexplicably under-attended Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2.  


They always say that word of mouth is the best way to succeed at the fringe, but I firmly believe that advance word of mouth is more specifically accurate, and that can only come from one source: the media.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, SIRSDR&J did not receive the advance media buzz I assumed it would.


Here are some links to the media attention we did receive:


Al Rae, CBC


Alison Mayes, Free Press


John Cunningham, Winnipeg Review


Lisa Campbell, Jenny Revue


Terry Moor, UMFM


Speaking of the media (and at the risk of flogging an unkillable horse), I must add that, having entered into this endeavor with the spirit of SIR's mandate to promote, celebrate, and make universally accessible the works of Shakespeare, I found the attempt by Al Rae (a self-described "big fan of SIR in the park") to characterize as phony anyone who demonstrably claims to enjoy Shakespeare's comedy galling, enraging, and ultimately depressing. 


With fans like that, who needs enemas?


All of that having now been expelled from my gullet, it's time to get excited about the impending touring production of Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet!  With Michelle Boulet back in the wagoner's seat and casting finalized, it's sure to please everyone who sees it.  (If you're lucky, we might even hold a public performance just for you!)


Here's the cast:


Derek Leenhouts as Abram, Romeo, Lady Capulet

Ariel Levine as Mercutio, Juliet

Rob McLaughlin as Tybalt, Paris, Nurse, Apothecary

Glen Thompson as Benvolio, Capulet, Friar Lawrence

Daniel Thau-Eleff as Prince, Friar John


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