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Last Thursday morning the brand new sets for the Mount Royal University/Theatre Calgary production of Romeo and Juliet were loaded out of the rehearsal hall and over to Princes’ Island Park. By that night, the sets were under water, as were the dressing room trailers. (Christopher Loach)
Last Thursday morning the brand new sets for the Mount Royal University/Theatre Calgary production of Romeo and Juliet were loaded out of the rehearsal hall and over to Princes’ Island Park. By that night, the sets were under water, as were the dressing room trailers. (Christopher Loach)

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It was a heartbreaker: Hours after the brand-new set was unloaded at Prince’s Island Park for Shakespeare in the Park – Theatre Calgary’s production of Romeo and Juliet (with Mount Royal University) – the set was under water, along with the dressing-room trailers.

“I was absolutely adamant [that] the show must go on,” says Theatre Calgary artistic director Dennis Garnhum. “I said if we do it two times in a parking lot, we can say we [did it].”

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They did better than that – the show went on at the university, minus a set.

As Theatre Calgary (now minus the university, which has cut its theatre program) contemplated the return of a summer Shakespeare series, its immediate thought was that it could not return to Prince’s Island Park. What if there was another flood? It spent three months looking into other venues, but ultimately decided to return to Prince’s Island.

“I think Calgarians want us back there,” says Garnhum. “To me it’s the end of the healing process. If we move, we can move. But not this summer.”

The pay-what-you-can program, featuring emerging artists, has been renamed Shakespeare by the Bow. The play being presented beginning next week: The Comedy of Errors.

Last week, Garnhum was presented with a Calgary Award for Community Achievement in the Arts. In bestowing the award, Alderman Brian Pincott spoke about how Garnhum rose to the flood challenge and insisted that the show must go on.

“We’re in a profession that’s full of applause, standing ovations, theatre awards, critical acclaim. But somehow getting acknowledged as a citizen for a contribution to the community … is in a class to itself,” said Garnhum over lunch at Prince’s Island Park the day after the ceremony. “I was kind of broadsided yesterday because I didn’t expect it to be brought up. But when it was brought up, I kind of thought: I did something right.”

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