By Stephanie Swensrude

Dave Horak is the new artistic director of the Freewill Shakespeare Festival.

Founded in 1989, the festival has brought Shakespeare to Hawrelak Park every summer in increasingly creative ways.

In a world with cancellations and postponements stage left, stage right, and center, Horak has some ideas for what this summer could look like for the festival.

The decision to cancel the live portion of the festival was made before Horak was hired as artistic director.

“I’m sorta grateful that I didn’t have to take the job and then cancel the season,” he laughed.

The director has been looking at other companies around the world and seeing what they have done to move theatre online.

For example, the National Theatre School of Canada has announced $60,000 in funding to emerging artists across the country who plan to put on live online performances.

Scottish playwrights are being commissioned to write short plays for the National Theatre of Scotland’s Scenes for Survival. The program will be available to view for free online.

Villains Theatre, a Halifax-based theatre company, helped produce a series of short plays. The formats in which these shows were presented ranged from puppet shows to vlogs to Zoom calls.

Could we be watching Lady Macbeth wash blood off her hands via webcam in front of her kitchen sink this summer? Horak doesn’t think so.

“We won’t be able to put up a production or anything like that,” said Horak. “I’m hoping to find some kind of creative online thing to at least keep the idea of the festival alive.”

He hopes he will be able to provide work for actors. The profession comes with a certain amount of job insecurity even without a pandemic, and with the recent cancellation of the Edmonton Fringe Festival, many local actors have no work for the foreseeable future.

Next summer, the festival will likely put on the two plays that were scheduled for 2020: Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing. For future seasons, Horak wants to expand the festival further. Previous artistic director Marianne Copithorne brought additions such as concession and beer tents to the festival, and Horak wants to continue expanding the festival.

Normally, the festival presents a comedy and a tragedy. Horak wants to add on what he calls response plays. Think West Side Story for Romeo and Juliet, or Kiss Me Kate for Taming of the Shrew.

“The other two shows would be plays that would be responding to the mainstage show.”

Eventually, Horak wants to have local playwrights create these response plays.

Horak hopes to “bring the festival into the 21st century” with these changes. Here’s to hoping we will get to see these changes this summer.