LAST year was a rollercoaster ride for Lakespeare & Co’s “Shakespeare by the Lakes”.
It began with a rollicking “Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the forests of Glebe Park, Tuggeranong Town Park and Kambri, climaxed in the aggressive “Rockspeare Richard III” at EPIC, then glided to a gentle halt with “Songs & Sonnets Over Dinner” at Manuka’s Typica café.
The opening outdoor show was the Lakespeare III of a theatrical venture started by Taimus Werner-Gibbings, Duncan Driver, Lexi Sekuless and Paul Leverenz in 2018, when they staged “Much Ado About Nothing” (Lakespeare I), then continued in 2019 with “Twelfth Night”, directed by Christopher Stollery.
The idea was to stage works by the Bard outdoors and free for all to enjoy, but as 2020 unfolded, the full implications of covid, combined with the departure of Sekuless for a job as a chief adviser to federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher, began to emerge.
This year has been even tougher. What should have been Lakespeare IV was replaced with “Songs and Sonnets in the Park”, performed for one night only at Glebe Park, after Sekuless’ planned production of Shakespeare’s “Measure For Measure” was abandoned.
Now, in news just to hand, the former long-time head of acting at NIDA, Tony Knight, will join the company in the autumn to stage that most pastoral of Shakespearean plays, “As You Like It”.
It’s not the first time the play has been done outdoors in Canberra. I recollect the pleasant sight of one actor sliding down the muddy banks of Aspen Island into Lake Burley Griffin during the time of Nicholas Bolonkin’s Looking Glass Theatre.
The choice of play is music to the ears of Driver, an actor, Shakespeare academic and connoisseur of the Bard’s capacity for creating complexities of character while bending the genders so that when “As You Like It” was written, the boy playing Rosalind dresses up as a girl who pretends to be a boy pretending to be a girl. Weird but true.
Knight, Driver, Werner-Gibbings, Katarina Smalley and possibly Lainie Hart are now auditioning for the parts, with some help from Zoom, and say actors interested in roles should send in a 90-second bit of “vision” (mobile-phone videos are fine) to give an idea of what they can do and what parts they might like to play.
Meantime, Leverenz and Werner-Gibbings have had their hands full ensuring free performances in favoured venues such as Tuggeranong Town Park, the Patrick White lawns outside the National Library and the Queanbeyan Riverbank, so this year they needed to set up crowdfunding.
“We will be lucky if the fourth season avoids a sea of troubles,” Werner-Gibbings says with a Shakespearean flourish.
A political candidate for Labor in Brindabella at the 2020 ACT election who missed out by a whisker, he once trod the boards for Lakespeare in “Much Ado”, but says mysteriously: “I am saving up all my credit for next year”.
“Our model is probably the most covid-sustainable of anything you can do, with as much space as you like… even if we have to do 10m² we can do it outdoors,” he enthuses, assuring me that they’re going full steam ahead.
In future, they’d like to go north into Belconnen or Gungahlin, he says, and are looking at smaller spots where audiences of, say, 200, could fill parks that might not yet have power points, meaning no microphone.
Unlike Driver, Werner-Gibbings is over Shakespeare’s pastoral comedies, and prefers a different theatrical battlefield, dreaming of twisting the arms of his collaborators before 2022 Lakespeare comes around.
“It’ll be Lakespeare V, so it’ll just have to be ‘Henry V’,” he says. And, yes, there might even be an acting role in it for him.
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Ian Meikle, editor