Douglas — For the first time since 2019, members of Opeongo High School’s (OHS) Odyssey Theatre will be back on stage for its two-night performance of  Just Shakespeare on May 11 and 12.

The production, which is being directed by staff member Jeff Scott, is a compilation of scenes from nine of Shakespeare’s more famous plays that are connected by a narrative to guide the audience through what they are watching. 

“This is the first production for me since A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the spring of 2019, and Jodie Armstrong did a production of Momma Mia, and we haven’t been able to do an Odyssey production since then because of the pandemic,” Mr. Scott explained. “So, this is the first time back and its almost all new kids who are giving this a shot.”

The initial plan last September was to host a performance of Lady MacBeth, but that it could not be pulled off for various reasons.

“So, we re-started at Christmastime and created what I call Just Shakespeare, which is scenes from nine Shakespeare plays that all deal with ideas of justice.

“The play is basically a narrative that connects together all of those different scenes with that over-riding theme that Shakespeare does talk about, what it’s like to be human and how we can be good to each other,” he added.            

He wrote the narrative to connect the scenes, saying even if you don’t know anything about Shakespeare, the narrative explains the context of each part and how it connects to the various themes being presented.

“The one thing about Shakespeare is, he had an incredible understanding of what it is to be human. So, he looked at the play, what it is to be alienated, we look at what it’s like to be discriminated against, we look at what it’s like to be woman in a time when they didn’t have much power as the men did.

“That’s one thing about Shakespeare. He keeps talking to the issues that we’re talking about,” he added. “There’s real emphasis on the same sort of dilemmas that we find ourselves in quite often.” 

He said it’s unique to think Shakespeare wrote his plays from 1585 to 1611 during the Renaissance and it’s amazing to know some of the issues then are still issues today.

He explained he originally did not plan to do another Shakespeare play but chose to because you can practice the individual scenes and if they don’t work, then you can cut it and add a different one.

“It’s moving away from the idea of telling a whole story instead telling several small stories,” he said.

The cast of 17 performers include students from all grades, including one veteran of the two last performances that were held pre-COVID.

“Megan Covell was a fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and she also was in Momma Mia. She’s just a real promising actor, along with a whole bunch of promising actors, that were working with her at the time, and it was really sad that we had to put the theatre productions on hold. Luckily, she came back for a fifth year and we cast her as Lady Macbeth in that play.”

“It’s quite a range,” he said of the participants. “There’s some kids have zero experience on stage, some kids have some experience.

“Solana McPhee, for example, has a part in here and she played the lead in Anne of Green Gables just before the pandemic with Streetlight Theatre in Pembroke,” he added. “Logan Roach has done a lot of theatre as well, so some of them are experienced.”

Mr. Scott said some actors appear in more than one scene in the production and some scenes are longer than some others.

“Some are soliloquies where they just deliver pieces by themselves, some are interactions with other kids,” he explained. “And they’re all married together by a narrative which will be narrated by Annabelle Dunn.”

Other cast members are: Ika Duknic, Joy McConnell-Palmer, Avasoleil O’Brien, Marianne Mallen, Jaxson Mundt, Andy Copeland, Virginia Mallen, Juliette Stewart, Mikola Luty, EvangeLine Bersan, Samantha K., Kayleigh Luloff and Cameron Coughlin.

Rehearsals for the original Lady MacBeth production began in September, but the shift was made to Just Shakespeare at Christmas.  

“We’re a month out now and you can really see the kids getting excited about it and keen to work together. There’s a lot of teamwork coming together now.”

Fellow OHS staff member Wanda Wallace is looking after costumes and many other students are involved in the behind-the-scenes production with sound, lighting, set design, make-up and hair, etc.

Kathryn Leech is stage manager.

 Mr. Scott said a new sound and light system was installed at the school just before COVID shut everything down, so this will be the first production where these upgrades will be utilized.

“It was really heartbreaking because it basically happened right after Jodie Armstrong’s Momma Mia. We got an arts grant and we got some lights and some sound equipment and this is the first time we’re actually doing a production with that system.

“We’re really learning how to use it. It’s a big, complicated system,” he added. “But it’s pretty exciting.”

Mr. Scott admitted it has been difficult to recruit cast and reserve practice times because Opeongo is a smaller school and the kids are involved in multiple other activities.

“It’s been challenging but the kids have really been coming through. It’s really gutsy; these kids are taking on 400-year-old language and doing it in front of their peers and families.

“It’s always inspiring,” he added. 

 The production is set for Thursday, May 11 and Friday, May 12 with the curtain going up at 7 p.m. Admission is $5 per person.