Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan Tries Something New
Even for longstanding arts organizations with sizable profiles, grant funding can help them work on something they’ve rarely tried before. That was the case in 2022 for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, who used Creative Saskatchewan’s Live Performing Arts Production Grant to create something a little outside their usual faire.
Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan (SOTS) isn’t new to taking a risk. The non-profit, founded in 1985, has rode the up and down waves of the arts since then, including building a new festival site that was completed in 2020. With that new location came new theatrical opportunities, including premiering a new Canadian play by local playwright Daniel Macdonald called Iago Speaks.
So, where’s the risk? Well, SOTS has traditionally relied on adapting Shakespeare’s canon rather than branching out into Shakespeare-inspired work. Stretching out to different parts of the organisation’s mandate, as general manager Melanie Rogowski puts it, requires a certain amount of faith.
“We know that it will be new territory for our audiences. So relying on box office, at least initially, can be a little risky. So, getting grants to support either new work or the Canadian work just helps us to be able to resource the production at a level that we would one of our mainstage Shakespeare plays.”
Box office instability, given how hard the ongoing pandemic has hit live theatre, was a given. However, Creative Saskatchewan’s support allowed the production team to breathe a little bit easier. Despite the turmoil of the sector, Rogowski says that the play’s reception from near and far has given her team a boost.
“Our work doesn’t tend to go out. So it just felt really good to hear that kind of validation from not only your peers in Saskatoon, but also from some of our peers on the national stage as well.”
That warm response was evident locally as well. Case in point, a third of respondents to the festival’s annual survey said that the festival should continue with what they put forward last season and a sizeable amount also said Iago Speaks was their favourite of the three plays the SOTS team produced. For Rogowski, whose team recently added a new artistic director, the message is clear: keep innovating within your well-established mandate.
“We understand that that heavy hitter Shakespeare play is still what people look to us for and so that’s something we want to continue to be able to provide for people. But we also think it’s very valuable to be a part of a larger national conversation Either about new interpretations on classical work, or just contributing to the artistic landscape of new Canadian theatre.”
The production garnered multiple Saskatoon and Area Theatre Award nominations, including Production Excellence, Excellence in New Work (Daniel Macdonald as the playwright), Artistic Excellent Award (Skye Brandon and Joshua Beaudry as actors), and The Leadership Award for the festivals then interim Co-Artistic Directors Skye Brandon and Yvette Nolan.
And so, with the beautiful inevitability of an annual festival comes the question: what about next year? For Rogowski, as she looks to the first festival led by new artistic director Kayvon Khoshkam, the goal is to continue building on the momentum of Iago Speaks. For the second season in a row SOTS will be staging a world premiere by co-producing The Dark Lady by Jessica B Hill, in collaboration with Winnipeg’s Shakespeare in the Ruin.
“The more we can give our artists an opportunity to work that muscle and to have an opportunity to grow. It’s only going to benefit the whole industry.”
Written by John Loeppky
For more information about Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, including regarding their recent festival announcement and 2023’s theme (Bringing the Light), you can visit their website.