A Shakespearean Tragedy?

An Edmonton tradition faces changes in the aftermath of a storm.

Edmonton residents finally made it to summer, but, unfortunately, Hawrelak Park’s Heritage Amphitheatre’s brand new canopy did not. During a heavy windstorm in January, the tent was ripped from the ground, tearing irreparable holes into the fabric. The canopy wasn’t securely fastened, as a crew was in the process of replacing the outdated one, which had lasted more than 25 years.

Because of this natural disaster, one of Edmonton’s most beloved and longest running summer festivals is unable to return in its usual form. Upon hearing this news, the people behind Freewill Shakespeare Festival, or, Shakespeare in the Park, as it’s colloquially known, began searching for a new venue.

After countless phone calls, meetings, high hopes and crushed dreams, salvation came in an unexpected form. The Myer Horowitz Theatre, inside the University of Alberta’s Students’ Union Building, agreed to host the festival, but a few changes had to be made.

Instead of its usual month-long run, the festival will only be on for 18 days, with a total of 20 performances. The reduced run-time means only one play will be staged, instead of the usual two. The choice? The Taming of the Shrew.

The Myer Horowitz Theatre has a capacity of 720 seats (680 of which are available for general seating events, like the Freewill Shakespeare Festival). Forty seats will be removed from the front of the theatre to make room for things like the soundboard and videographers.

The usual rental rate of the theatre is $1,500 per eight-hour performance, but because this is a long-run show, the Students’ Union and festival were able to work out a greatly discounted rate, says Cadence Konopaki, managing director of the festival. “It’s more than we were paying at the Heritage Amphitheatre, but we’re very grateful with how much [the Students’ Union] was able to drop the price.”

Last year, around 14,000 people attended the festival. Admission costs were $25 for adults and $17 for students and seniors. Most of that went to paying for actors, sets, lighting, sound and technicians.

Given its shorter run this year, the festival expects about half the attendance that it usually enjoys.

“Even if we completely sell out every show, we would take about a 10 per cent hit,” says Konopaki, who also mentioned that it’s highly unlikely that the festival would see those numbers.

 “We won’t have the bar sales, so there will be a cut from earned revenue from there as well.” In March, a donation campaign was started to raise money for the festival to supplement this loss of income. The festival will rely heavily on these donations to reduce the deficit it will have.

At first, Konopaki was concerned that the festival wouldn’t be able to support its pay-what-you-will performances if it had to move indoors. However, these shows will continue as planned, as they are part of the festival’s mandate.

Mark Torjusen, the city’s communication’s officer regarding construction of City buildings and facilities, says that the City’s original mid-July timeline estimate still stands, so later summer festivals – including Heritage Days, the Edmonton Blues Festival and Interstellar Rodeo – won’t be affected.

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