Where art and nature meet

ANTIGONISH: This summer, Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre (FAST) will be doing something they never thought was possible before – taking their performance outside the comfort of the Bauer Theatre.

Artistic director Andrea Boyd said the idea of an entirely new way of doing things came to her in the fall after thinking what they could do that would give them the greatest chance of not having to cancel their season again.

“Because we as Maritimers don’t take the easy way out, we have plans for something extraordinary,” Boyd told The Reporter. “This summer, I want the greatest chance possible to bring live theatre to the community.”

In partnership with Keppoch Mountain, FAST is scheduled to present Robin Hood: The Great Escape for two weeks in August 2021.

On the outskirts of town lies a magical forest, with large, wheelchair-accessible paths that will be the setting to the brand-new version of the classic tale which will take the audience on an epic journey, FAST says.

Written by Boyd and Laura Teasdale, FAST said medieval characters will guide people from one scene to the next, where they will eavesdrop on the heroes and villains that tell the tale of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s vile plan to be rid of Robin Hood once and for all.

Robin Hood, Marian, the Sherriff of Nottingham, Gal of Gisbourne, King Richard, the Merry Men and Women, bandits, archers, and spies, Boyd said this large cast, and promenade-style play will have it all.

“The audience will gather as a group for the opening scene, and then be led along the path in small groups of 20 to watch the story unfold,” Boyd said. “They will go around this beautiful and accessible trail, and stop and see five different scenes along the way and everyone will meet back together for the grand finale.”

FAST is aiming for a 90-120 total run time for the production, after accounting for walking-time.

In a typical summer, FAST would normally present five different plays in rotation at their 200-seat theatre on the campus of StFX. One of those shows is for families, and they produce three in-house shows, with one presentation.

“Everything is different about this summer, except that it is still theatre,” she said. “But everything is different, we are outside at the Keppoch, and it’s an original script we’re writing specifically for it.”

Last year when they had to cancel the season, Boyd recalled that it was heartbreaking for all of them.

“For me, I think the worst part of this whole pandemic ordeal was the day I had to call the artists and say ‘I’m sorry we’re cancelling our season and I don’t have a job for you anymore,’” she said. “Our plan of course was just to do that season this year, because we didn’t imagine (provincial restrictions) would be going on as long as they have been.”

Boyd said when she did call her actors to inform them she had something for them this summer, she said it was received with mixed emotions.

“One actor has his heart set on a particular show we were doing, there is some concern with being outside,” she said. “Everybody, even the people who said, ‘no I don’t think I will do it,’ were still like ‘this sounds amazing, and I’m probably going to regret it, but.’”

Boyd explained they wanted a play that takes place in the woods, and Robin Hood was a natural fit.

She suggested in this quiet space, in these dark moments, they have been given time to reflect, they have time to change course, and they have time to develop an entirely new way of doing theatre in Antigonish.

“And that means leaving the safety of this precious space and venturing out to the great outdoors,” Boyd said. “If we’re going to change everything, let’s really change everything and make it really exciting and fun.”

She indicated she’s almost finished casting their 10 professional actors, which will be featured by a supporting cast of approximately 20 community members.

“Our actors and creative team are made up of some of Nova Scotia’s finest professionals,” Boyd said. “Some of whom are festival favourites, and some who are new to our community.”

To make this bold event even more meaningful, she said, they will be calling on their community theatre people to play bandits and guards, spies and guides, and they will be looking for volunteer actors, production assistants and other backstage, or in this case back-forest positions.

“Theatre should be an adventure,” Boyd added. “Don’t you think?”