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What Makes Magic in the Park?

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Issue: 4 Section: Arts Geography: Ontario Toronto Topics: performance art

July 26, 2003

What Makes Magic in the Park?

by Erin Brubacher


It's not Shakespeare's view of the world, it's something which actually resembles reality. A sign of this is that any single word, line, character or event has not only a large number of interpretations, but an unlimited number. Which is the characteristic of reality.

-- Peter Brook, The Shifting Point, 1987

Every year, Toronto's High Park hosts the Canadian Stage's Dream in High Park. This year, they presented Twelfth Night or What You Will. This is one of my favourite plays (Shakespeare or other), so it was with extra enthusiasm that I joined all of the glowing friends, lovers and families this Canada Day before dusk. But while the actors spoke their speeches Otrippingly on the tongue', and while the production was both colourful and visually captivating, I did not gain one new "interpretation", as Brook puts it, of any character or relationship, or of the play as a whole. In fact, I didn't believe that some of the actors always knew what they were saying.

I tried hard to like the actress playing Viola, as she spoke in an eloquent, pleasing way and was stunningly beautiful in that androgynous fashion perfect for the character. Unfortunately, she didn't make me feel anything. The woman who played Olivia was a favourite of mine as she knew exactly what she was communicating and in her role cleared up much confusion in the plot for audience members new to the play. Still, it seemed like she was over-compensating for something; perhaps a lack of passion in the production.

In spite of all this, there is something about Shakespeare and something about performance without walls; in combination, they make magic. So while I am often disappointed by Dream in High Park, I go back every year. The ambience never fails and even if I don't learn something about the play, I always learn something about audience.

A friend recently suggested to me that what makes a strong show is open-heartedness: when a cast is truly excited about the text and the characters and demonstrates having struggled with their interpretation. A cast of any Shakespeare in the Park has, thanks to that marvellous ambiance, the luxury of letting it all hang out. Certain polished production elements become profoundly secondary. The magic doesn't come from flawless deliveries or invisible wires, but from honest humanity and a shared love for a script and its characters. I watch in continual hope for that open-heartedness, which will make another play my favourite or another character my kindred spirit.

Twelfth Night runs until August 31 in High Park, Toronto. For more information, call (416) 368-3110 or visit the web site, www.canstage.com.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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