Leon Interviewed by Planet S

Back On The Bank
Mike Thompson
Published Thursday July 14, 12:44 pm
ANNUAL SHAKESPEARE FEST A CITY INSTITUTION
SHAKESPEARE ON THE SASKATCHEWAN
JULY 6-AUG. 21

What I appreciate most about the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan Festival is its fervent commitment to presenting Shakespearean works to the city of Saskatoon. This festival seems to me committed to engaging the minds and imaginations of the people in this city, and to building bridges between those that are unsure what wisdom characters who speak in ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ can offer to our modern lives and those that have the ability to reveal that wisdom.

It’s a wonderful thing for the city — and it’s just as great for those involved in the festival.

“It’s beautiful. To be right on the South Saskatchewan River is spectacular,” says actor Leon Willey. “You get to do two plays, and really work with great professionals. It’s a treat.”

“I don’t think we could ask for a more beautiful green room — it’s gorgeous,” says actress Anita Smith. “The mosquitoes can be somewhat challenging for us, but you get past that pretty easily.”

Willey, a Moose Jaw native, plays one of the lovers, Berone, in Love’s Labour’s Lost, and two roles — Antigonus and Autolycus — in The Winter’s Tale.

“It’s a challenge for sure — since we mount them in rep at the same time, we rehearse them at the same time. Sometimes, especially if the roles you play are schizophrenic, it can be an interesting challenge to flip your brain back and forth,” he says.

Willey does indeed play very different men, from Autolycus, the entrepreneurial rogue in The Winter’s Tale, to the young intellectual Berone in Lost.

“I really like Berone,” he says. “He’s a very intelligent man, very intellectual. Rather than being very heart-centered, he’s very head-centered, he intellectualizes his way through life — until, of course, he meets Rosaline. Then he’s thrown for a loop, and he has to justify love in his life.”

Love’s Labour’s Lostcentres around four noble youths who make a pact to pursue only scholarly goals for the next three years. However, the plan begins to fall to pieces after the Princess and her entourage of charming ladies come to court.

“The women in this play are very, very smart, and they recognize these men very quickly,” Willey says.

Smith, who plays the Princess, completely agrees. “We’re kind of at war, and the girls are winning. As [fellow cast member] Jamie Lee [Shebelski] said to me one day in rehearsal, ‘Ready to torture boys?’ It’s just a lot of fun; these girls are smart and cunning, so it’s obviously been a lot of fun to play that.”

Things aren’t all frivolity at this year’s festival, as there are more serious moments — such as those from the first half of The Winter’s Tale. After charging his wife with adultery, King Leontes can find no respite from his fevered jealousy and is completely unable to sleep.

For actor Matt Burgess, who plays Leontes, missing out on some sleep is something he can identify with these days.

“This year has been a little bit exhausting as we’ve just welcomed a little boy into our family,” he says. “It’s been an experiment in time management. He still needs us 100 per cent of the time, so when I get home from work I try to let my wife sleep. The Baby Bjorn ™ is a wonderful thing: I put him in there and walk around the apartment while I run my lines.”

Burgess admits that, while he’s excited to sink his teeth into a complex character like Leontes, playing this distressed and seemingly deranged father has been a bit unnerving.

“It is weird, especially as we get nearer to the midway point of the play, where Leontes’ son ends up dying. You never want to think about those things with your own child, but it does inform, definitely, what he’s feeling in that situation. Before having a child, I could only imagine what it was like. But now to actually have him, and see all the amazing things he does… suddenly thinking about him not being there anymore is crushing.

“You never want to indulge in those thoughts longer than you have to, but it does definitely inform a lot of what Leontes is going through.”

The festival also offers an array of entertainment and spectacle to accent the two main stage plays. From their Medieval Feast fundraisers to the Community Showcase Stage, there’s lots of magic and mirth for Saskatonians to experience next to the river.

For information, schedules or tickets, visit http://www.shakespeareonthesaskatchewan.com. Love’s Labour’s Lostand The Winter’s Taleplay in repertory from July 6th to August 21st.

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