A foaming shore, a wind-shaked surge, grief of a “flood-gate and o’erbearing nature” – Shakespeare’s words for stormy weather rang especially true last week when Bard in the Park staged Othello at Kew Gardens.
The outdoor play got flooded and rained on, almost at the same time.
Hours before the show last Monday night, director Sean Killackey and actor/producer Keith Williams arrived at the Kew bandstand only to find its basement storage area flooded nearly three feet deep in water.
They tried a plunger, then a bucket brigade. They called the city, whose workers started one pump, then two.
But the water kept gushing in.
The pumps were still whirring Tuesday night when a giant thundercloud blew in and dumped some 20 mm of rain.
“We should call it Bard by the Pool,” joked Nancy Culver, special events coordinator for Community Centre 55, which supports the company with logistics and rehearsal space.
For anyone who remembers Bard in the Park’s very first performance 10 years ago, the water brought a wave of deja vu.
“It started to pour, and it poured and it poured,” recalls Mary Killackey, Sean’s assistant director and mom. “The first show ever! But we went on.”
In fact, Mary said that debut performance of Macbeth started something of a Bard in the Park tradition for rainy days.
“What we’ve done a few times is invite the seven or eight people who were crazy enough to stay up onto the stage with the cast,” she said. “And the whole rest of the performance is just for them.”
Keith Williams, who has performed with Bard in the Park every year since it started, said a few of those lucky spectators later joined the company as volunteers.
No one involved with Bard in the Park is paid – the suggested $10 donations go towards sets, props, costumes, and programs for the following year. The all-volunteer company has its home at Community Centre 55, which provides rehearsal space and behind-the-scenes help with things like city permits and sound systems.
“This is real grassroots,” said Culver. “The actors were actually sewing costumes last week.”
Despite the low budget, Bard in the Park has always drawn talented actors, starting with former students of retired actor and drama teacher Anne Butler, who co-founded Bard in the Park in 2005.
“Anne had this magical gift, to get this loyalty out of people,” said Williams, who began learning to act through Butler’s Beach Arts Centre program at age seven. Melissa Beveridge, who plays Desdemona in Othello this year, has been part of Bard nine years, as has Sean Killackey.
Killackey said most years about half the actors are recent theatre school graduates, some of whom have gone on to professional careers. Others tend to be older actors who perform in local community theatre just for fun.
This year, for the first time, Bard in the Park toured to the Upper Beach, where they staged a run at Norwood Park.
“”We had no idea what to expect,” Killackey said. “Once we got there and got set up, the setting was perfect really.”
On the opening night at Norwood, students from Kimberley Public School gave their own abridged performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One mother came to all three Othello shows with her six year-old daughter, watching a little more each time.
“The community was really awesome there,” Killackey said, adding that next year the Bard may do similar performances at nearby Cassels Park.
Despite being knee-deep in flood water that afternoon and having to transpose all of Othello to a stretch of the Kew Gardens lawn on short notice, when Killackey was asked why he keeps coming back to Bard, he said, “I just love it.”
“I love the opportunity we have here. I think that more of this kind of thing should be happening anywhere, in the world, and not just this city.”