Shake­speare fi­nally re­turns to its Ru­ins

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - KEVIN PROKOSH

WHO says you can’t go home again? Af­ter a 10-year odyssey around Win­nipeg look­ing for a home stage, Shake­speare in the Ru­ins an­nounced yes­ter­day that its itin­er­ant days are over and it would re­turn to its birth­place for its May 28-June 23 run of Henry V.

“We are thrilled to be back and I can’t use enough ex­cla­ma­tion points,” said SIR gen­eral man­ager Matt Moreau yes­ter­day. “We’re called Shake­speare in the Ru­ins and we be­long there. We feel like part of the land­scape, lit­er­ally.”

The 10-foot high chain link fence that sur­rounded the brick and Tyn­dall-stone re­mains of the Trap­pist Monastery in St. Nor­bert for four years came down Thurs­day in time for yes­ter­day’s me­dia call. The fence was orig­i­nally erected out of safety con­cerns but also to pro­tect the site from van­dals and in re­cent years to al­low for the $1 mil­lion facelift.

SIR va­cated St. Nor­bert in 2003 due to con­tin­u­ing ran­cor with neigh­bors at the St. Nor­bert Arts Cen­tre, which op­er­ates out of the nearby Guest House.

“We weren’t go­ing to stay away this long,” said SIR co-chair Michelle Boulet. “We were go­ing to be away for three years I think and come back. Then the ru­ins be­came un­safe so we never in­ves­ti­gated com­ing back ear­lier.”

In 2009 SIR of­fi­cials put a call into the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment — which de­clared the monastery a pro­vin­cial her­itage park in 2002 — and got the green light to re­turn last Novem­ber but only inked an agree­ment ear­lier this month.

To many SIR ticket-hold­ers re­turn­ing to the ru­ins, it will look like noth­ing has changed other than the en­try road has been paved and the view of the nearby South­wood Golf and Coun­try Club. Much of the stone re-point­ing and brick restora­tion is meant to look its been un­touched since the 1983 fire that gut­ted Our Lady of the Prairies church.

But pa­trons will praise the drainage up­grades the first time the au­di­ence is sub­jected to a tor­ren­tial down­pour. Elec­tri­cal plugs have been in­stalled around the site to ac­com­mo­date light- ing and sound equip­ment. In­con­spic­u­ous ground level night light­ing has also been added for se­cu­rity as well as an im­proved am­biance.

“It’s a happy day,” said SNAC ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Louise May of the fence re­moval. “We have been liv­ing in a con­struc­tion zone for three years.”

It ap­pears part of the ren­o­va­tions in­cluded re­pair­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween SIR and SNAC, which hosts weekly art ex­hi­bi­tions as well as con­certs through the sum­mer months.

“I’ll be happy to have them back,” says May. “There def­i­nitely was some con­flict over how the site was set up and how we could use the site but that’s not the case any more. There was com­pe­ti­tion for the space and how to man­age the space. As both or­ga­ni­za­tions were grow­ing quite rapidly it be­came dif­fi­cult to co-man­age.”

So SIR hit the road play­ing Romeo + Juliet atop a six-storey parkade on Portage Av­enue, be­fore two rainy springs in Lag­i­mod­iére-gaboury His­toric Park in St. Boni­face and then five years in Assini­boine Park, in­clud­ing three amidst the flora in the Con­ser­va­tory. Last spring, it pitched its tent in a park­ing lot.

“Assini­boine Park were great hosts but we never fit ide­ally into any of the places where we per­formed,” Moreau said.

The ru­ins have en­joyed an al­most a myth­i­cal, nos­tal­gic aura with long­time SIR pa­trons. Through the com­pany’s wan­der­ings no venue matched the en­dur­ing mem­o­ries of torch-lit scenes in the ru­ins or Ti­ta­nia’s wa­tery en­trance on a barge go­ing down the La Salle River in A Mid­sum­mer’s Night Dream or the sound of a soli­tary bag­piper on the smoke-filled heath af­ter the bat­tle scene in Mac­beth.

The place was also good for busi­ness. The last pro­duc­tion there was Ham­let, which played to 3,000 spec­ta­tors over 32 public per­form­ers. No show since has sur­passed that turnout since. Last year’s pro­duc­tion of Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2, drew 1,350 pa­trons to 25 public per­for­mances.

“From the time we moved away our shows have cost us more,” said Boulet, who is di­rect­ing Henry V. “Each time we moved we lost some au­di­ence.

“We have been away as long as we were there in the first place. There’s lots of our au­di­ence who have never been to the ru­ins. It will be ex­cit­ing for us to re-learn the space and rein­tro­duce it to our au­di­ence.”

BORIS MINKEVICH / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Re­turn to the Ru­ins: Michelle Boulet, from left, Sarah Con­stible and Kevin Klassen at the Trap­pist Monastery in St. Nor­bert.

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