Catch Shakespeare’s Most Famous Revenge Story at a Park Near You

Chances are you have already heard of A Company of Fools; the group has been active in the Ottawa area for years, bringing Shakespeare to the masses.

The Fools are Ottawa’s longest-running Shakespeare company with a cast of paid actors, but that doesn’t mean you are in for steep ticket prices. Instead, the group works on the pay-what-you-can model as a registered charity. At the end of each performance, a hat is passed around, and the audience contributes what they can; the recommended amount is $20 per person.

The Fools are constantly on the move, performing at local parks across the city. Audiences are encouraged to pack a picnic to enjoy while watching the performance or grab a snack from their tent.

This summer, the Fools are expanding their tour and taking their show to surrounding towns like Perth, Prescott, and Carp. Every performance is an operation in theatre logistics, with set up beginning around 2 p.m. for the 7 p.m. curtain call. The play lasts 90 minutes, and Director Nicholas Leno notes they are out of the parks by 10 p.m.

Hamlet is one of the Bard of Avon’s most challenging and iconic plays. For those who need a memory jog, it’s the story of the Prince of Denmark (Hamlet), who seeks to kill his uncle who murdered his father and married his mother to become king.

Those with even the most passive awareness of Shakespeare will likely know a line or two from one of Hamlet’s many soliloquies. Surprisingly, in their 30-year existence, the Fools have not performed the play in its original script before, but many years ago, they performed a spoof of it.

In more recent years, they’ve opted to do other plays by Shakespeare, but that doesn’t mean the actors weren’t up for the challenge, far from it. Each of the five actors will be playing at least three different roles, and as many as six for one cast member.

That means a lot of costume changes. As with everything the Fools do, they have it down to an art and have mastered 20-second transformations before reappearing as a different character.

The Fools’ performance of Hamlet includes non-gendered roles, where the performers bring their own unique personas to the characters. The costumes are not stuffy, puffy, or Elizabethan. Instead, there are some modern twists to make them more relatable. In addition, this year’s show will be even more accessible and democratized for the audience. Instead of a one-sided stage, the group will use a circular-style version so the audience surrounds the actors.

Leno remarks that the new stage will be enveloped by the audience, which will make the performance feel more interactive and give it an illusion of three-dimensionality while also providing a bit of a challenge to the actors, who will perform for everybody around them, not just those in front of them.

With an extensive tour that includes over 40 shows around the city, and weekly performances in Strathcona Park, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to see A Company of Fool’s staging of Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy this summer.

Don’t forget to bring some money to throw in the hat; your contribution helps make great theatre accessible to all.

For the full A Company of Fool’s summer schedule, click here.

Photo: Justin Van Leeuwen