Threats force halt to Edmonton troupe’s Shake­spearean drama

Cape Breton Post - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT -

A com­mu­nity the­atre has can­celled its pro­duc­tion of Shake­speare’s “Othello’’ af­ter re­ceiv­ing threats from peo­ple an­gered by a de­ci­sion to cast a white woman in the lead role in­stead of the tra­di­tional per­son of colour.

Vol­un­teer-run Wal­terdale The­atre As­so­ciates in Edmonton is­sued a state­ment late Mon­day that says it re­grets to an­nounce the can­cel­la­tion, but it can’t con­tinue be­cause the safety of cast mem­bers has been threat­ened.

Adam Kuss, pres­i­dent of Wal­terdale’s board of di­rec­tors, says the mat­ter has been re­ferred to po­lice.

The pro­duc­tion of the 400-year-old play about the pow­er­ful Moor­ish gen­eral of the Vene­tian army had been sched­uled to open Feb. 8.

Artis­tic di­rec­tor Anne Marie Szucs says in the same state­ment that Wal­terdale’s vi­sion of the play was a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world in which tra­di­tional power struc­tures were in­verted and the fo­cus was on the bat­tle be­tween the sexes.

Szucs has apol­o­gized to those of­fended by the de­ci­sion to cast a woman in the lead.

“Othello’’ — a story about love, re­venge and de­ceit — was to have been the third show of Wal­terdale’s 2016-2017 sea­son. The the­atre says the threats sur­round­ing the pro­duc­tion were ut­tered in per­son and on­line.

Wal­terdale’s state­ment said it casts plays based on an open au­di­tion which wel­comes ev­ery­one. Roles are filled by those who at­tend the au­di­tions for each play.

De­ci­sions about the artis­tic vi­sion of each pro­duc­tion are the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the di­rec­tor, the artis­tic di­rec­tor and the the­atre’s board of di­rec­tors.

“This is a heart­break­ing de­ci­sion, but as a com­mu­nity of vol­un­teers and artists, we can’t con­tinue with a pro­duc­tion where the safety of mem­bers of our cast has been threat­ened,’’ said Kuss.

Szucs, who was also the di­rec­tor of “Othello,’’ said other

“This is a heart­break­ing de­ci­sion, but as a com­mu­nity of vol­un­teers and artists, we can’t con­tinue with a pro­duc­tion where the safety of mem­bers of our cast has been threat­ened.’’ Adam Kuss, pres­i­dent, Wal­terdale’s board of di­rec­tors

mem­bers of the the­atre com­mu­nity have ex­pressed their con­cerns as well.

“We un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate those con­cerns. We’re sorry this caused of­fence,’’ she said in the com­pany’s state­ment.

“We will con­tinue to build on the re­spect­ful in­ter­ac­tions we’ve had with com­mu­nity mem­bers on this topic, and con­tinue to en­gage with and wel­come any groups or in­di­vid­u­als who want to get in­volved in our pro­duc­tions.’’

The can­cel­la­tion is not the first time in Canada that con­tro­versy has dogged the stag­ing of the Shake­spearean tragedy, be­lieved to have been writ­ten by the great English bard in the early 1600s.

Last Novem­ber, a stu­dent the­atre com­pany at Queen’s Univer­sity in Kingston, Ont., was forced to scrub its ver­sion af­ter a back­lash over its de­ci­sion to cast a white woman in the ti­tle role of a black man.

Vagabond The­atre is­sued a state­ment on Face­book at the time that stated: “For the safety and men­tal health of our en­tire team we un­for­tu­nately feel the need to sus­pend our pro­duc­tion.’’

An apol­ogy was also is­sued to Queen’s black com­mu­nity.

Wal­terdale The­atre has op­er­ated in Edmonton since 1958.

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