Battered and bruised but resolutely unbroken, Shakespeare in the Ruins’ Rodrigo Beilfuss remains positive despite the myriad challenges these last few years have thrown at him and his company.

Battered and bruised but resolutely unbroken, Shakespeare in the Ruins’ Rodrigo Beilfuss remains positive despite the myriad challenges these last few years have thrown at him and his company.

SIR times two

Shakespeare in the Ruins is back with two live shows, running in repertory, at the Ruins at Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park.

Live for the first time in three years, SIR will alternate Much Ado About Nothing (starting June 2) with The Player King (which begins June 10).

Tickets for both productions are on sale at shakespeareintheruins.com or by calling 204-891-9160.

Shakespeare in the Ruins is back with two live shows, running in repertory, at the Ruins at Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park.

Live for the first time in three years, SIR will alternate Much Ado About Nothing (starting June 2) with The Player King (which begins June 10).

Tickets for both productions are on sale at shakespeareintheruins.com or by calling 204-891-9160.

This season SIR has introduced a free bus charter from downtown Winnipeg to the Ruins on pay-what-you-can Tuesdays; ASL interpretation and live audio description of selected performances; and the launch of “under-the-tent” shows, a pair of matinees staged under a tent for people for whom the promenade experience is a barrier.

And now, at the cusp of a return to pre-pandemic times (COVID-19 protocols notwithstanding), the artistic director is staring down inclement weather; high winds and torrential rains have abruptly cut short the first SIR performance in three years.

"This weather is just raaaaaaaah," he roars down the phone, at a loss for words at yet another trial come his way.

"It’s a collection of challenges which are all intertwined and it’s just making it very hard to make our live performances. We had our very first public performance, we got as far as three-quarters of the show and we had to call it off because of lightning. We had to make a tough call," Beilfuss says.

But tough calls or otherwise, Beilfuss is convinced this is the right time for audiences to make a return to the performing arts.

"This return to everything is just overwhelming, but it’s wonderful and necessary," he says. "It’s been tough, particularly because everybody is so tired from the emotional clutter from this thing (the pandemic)."

<p>LEIF NORMAN PHOTO</p>
Rodrigo Beilfuss, the artistic director of Shakespeare in the Ruins, says Much Ado About Nothing is ‘very much of these times.’

LEIF NORMAN PHOTO

Rodrigo Beilfuss, the artistic director of Shakespeare in the Ruins, says Much Ado About Nothing is ‘very much of these times.’

He speaks of the "emotional labour" now upon the shoulders of those working in the industry, describing it as "a sort of outreach" where people have to be invited back in.

"COVID is still around and people are scared — and rightfully so. But we have all these mechanisms in place to make sure everyone is safe. We test twice a week, we wear masks, we have a COVID officer to work with us… we have done all these things which are so necessary now.

"We are back and we are asking everyone to come back and support us. We miss you. It’s time for us to be together again. There is the belief that what we do is important and healing and fun. And my god, we need some fun right now!"

Fun — and healing — comes in the form of two alternating shows: Much Ado About Nothing, featuring a cast of nine and two understudies, and The Player King, a solo performance with original music and compositions.

Both plays are running on selected dates until July 2 at the Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park. This is the company’s first live performance in the "Ruins" since Hamlet in the summer of 2019.

'I am absolutely exhausted but also inspired that we are carrying on despite the circumstances.' ‐ Rodrigo Beilfuss

One of Shakespeare’s most popular romantic comedies, Much Ado About Nothing features two quarrelling lovers, Beatrice and Benedick, who fall madly in love in a world of "fake news," gossip and lies.

This iteration, directed by Ann Hodges, is set in the modern ‘50s, highlighting the birth of the paparazzo and tabloid media era.

"It’s about slander, it’s about people saying things behind each other’s backs, it’s about disinformation and fake news and the birth of toxic coverage. It’s about trying to figure out what is the truth. Much Ado is deep in this thing: What do we do? Who do we believe? It’s very much of these times," Beilfuss explains.

The cast has been rehearsing since the end of April and Beilfuss is first to admit that the process hasn’t been without its challenges.

"The thing is that it has been bumpy all the way to this moment because of the times we are in. Restrictions kept changing, people were out with COVID and of course we put a ton of protocols in place. All these things are necessary but they also come with hefty financial and emotional costs," he says.

"I am absolutely exhausted but also inspired that we are carrying on despite the circumstances."

<p>LEIF NORMAN PHOTO</p>
Mallory James, Sarah Constible and Hera Nalam in Much Ado About Nothing.

LEIF NORMAN PHOTO

Mallory James, Sarah Constible and Hera Nalam in Much Ado About Nothing.

In The Player King, a travelling Shakespearean actor, played by Beilfuss, finds himself facing an opening-night audience without his company, setting off an existential crisis of tragic proportions. The Player King is a brand-new script written specifically for SIR by comedian-improviser Ron Pederson, the co-creator of Mad TV.

"I am the only actor in it and there’s a musician, Cuinn Joseph, who is playing live the whole time and he is sort of like this spiritual figure that is guiding the Player King through this story.

"He is alone with an audience and he doesn’t know how he got there and he is having these weird dreams. There is a time-travel concept in the show when he tries to recall his story and how he became an actor. In the very end we see what happened to him and where he really is and how he finds himself in this predicament," Beilfuss elaborates.

The role has made certain demands of Beilfuss, who has to remove his artistic-director hat and become an actor again. It’s a juggling act he has perfected, he says, "flipping the switch" between his creative and managerial roles.

"It’s the nature of the job. The actor part is all about the art and the other part is, particularly in this time, very admin-heavy. You just go deep into it and it’s not for everybody."

“It’s the nature of the job. The actor part is all about the art and the other part is, particularly in this time, very admin-heavy." ‐ Rodrigo Beilfuss

Juggling all those balls can prove stressful but his web of complications eases away when he’s watching a show.

"I think there is value in what we do. I think folks are ready for it. I was having a really stressful week, riddled with concerns, and then I sat down to watch a run of the show, under an open sky, and I wasn’t stressed anymore. I thought, ‘This feels good’ and this is what I want for the audience: to unplug for a couple of hours, have a drink and just be immersed for a little while."

Twitter: nuchablue

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