The shows might be classics, but there’s a lot of new experiences to be had for people on both sides of the fourth wall at this year’s Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan (SOTS) festival.
The current SOTS season includes two well-known Shakespeare staples in Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It, but audiences can expect to see some new and exciting quirks from both shows.
Matthew Letkeman, who plays Romeo in the classic romantic tragedy, said the cast and crew have done a tremendous job of turning expectations for Shakespeare shows on their heads.
“How much we’ve been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time … when we really just believe in ourselves and commit to the story, it’s amazing how many steps and how many huge leaps and bounds we took.” Letkeman said. “I’m a tiny part. Seeing the whole machine work has been amazing to me.”
Being involved in SOTS is also a new experience for Letkeman, who is in his first-ever production with the company. After seeing last year’s production of Cymbeline on the main stage, Letkeman said he was inspired to take a shot at being involved in the company.
When he got the call to say he would be playing Romeo from Kayvon Khoshkam, the artistic director of SOTS and the director of Romeo and Juliet, Letkeman said he was ecstatic to have the chance to be involved.
“I’d been waiting, it seemed like forever. I got the call, (Kayvon) offered me the role, it was pretty surreal,” Letkeman said with a laugh. “I remember dancing and wanting to cry, all these emotions happening at once.”
Khoshkam is also gaining some new experiences this summer — the 2023 season is the first programmed under Khoshkam as artistic director since he took the position in 2022.
As he puts it, getting to know how much goes in behind the scenes from the administrative and production teams for SOTS has been eye-opening.
“My broader appreciation for the administrator and technical production teams that tireless work in the background, I don’t think I really grasped how thankless their positions are in the business,” he said.
Beyond the main stage shows, SOTS will also play host to the world premiere of The Dark Lady, a new play by Canadian playwright Jessica B. Hill on the John Rayner Community Stage. The Dark Lady is about Emilia Bassano, a woman believed to be featured in numerous Shakespeare sonnets.
The Players’ Series — a number of short and eclectic productions from performers in the community — will also be featured on the community stage later this summer.
And the SOTS site will have some added features this year as well, from outdoor games to a Romeo and Juliet – inspired beer through a partnership with 9 Mile Legacy Brewery and Black Bridge Brewery.
The shows themselves will each have their own unique spins. Khoshkam said Romeo and Juliet will have a contemporary flair with a variety of sound and lighting effects, and As You Like It — directed by Jamie King — will put a spin on Shakespeare gender and identity tropes by having the main character of Rosalind portrayed as non-binary.
Letkeman said audiences are going to experience a different side of Shakespeare shows this summer.
“People have an idea of Shakespeare, that you learn it in school, but it’s really for entertainment,” he said. “I’m hoping people realize it’s fun, it’s awesome, and it’s great to be a part of.”
Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan’s Romeo and Juliet opened July 7th and runs until August 20th. As You Like It opens July 15th and closes August 19th. The Dark Lady opened July 8th and closes July 23rd. More information can be found at shakespearesask.com.