In this issue of CS Grid, Topdog/Underdog Dramaturge Jordan Laffrenier touches on the relationship between brothers Booth and Lincoln and how their stories echo the realities of many. Jordan also offers insight on acclaimed playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and what she has said about plays’ ability to rewrite history while navigating between theatre and real life.
We sat down with Anand Rajaram, the Director of As You Like It, to get the inside scoop into the play, what makes this High Park adaptation so special, his shift from acting to directing, and more!
You're out in the open air, you bring a picnic and food, and you sit and you can chat if you want to. But really, you just want to pay attention, to this beautiful show, while you watch the sunset.
Hi Anand – so excited to speak with you! Why do you think As You Like It was selected for our long-awaited return to doing Shakespeare in High Park?
I think it's a really great choice. My interpretation of As You Like comes from a world, as you would like it to be, as you will it to be...which means it's a meditation on utopia.
The play has this plot with all of these people who are being threatened with death, who have to run away to save their lives and move into the forest, when there's a regime change that's in the city. And so, when they go to the forest, the plot doesn't continue with them being hunted down or anything . Suddenly, it becomes a series of love stories, of people falling in love and finding how to adapt to their new surroundings, in the woods.
The characters are pursuing their utopia, their sense of freedom and happiness. And over the course of the play, we’re exploring how we’ve been living within all of these systems that have been problematic for long, and how we’re living in a time when they’re finally being dismantled and deconstructed. And that’s great. But now, we have to think about we are building in its place. And the thing that we're building, the utopian idea, means we all still think with hope, and with vision and with clarity, of how to make sure that we don't rebuild the thing we're deconstructing.
What makes your Dream in High Park adaptation of As You Like It so special?
I'm very excited about this adaptation. The park has probably the most diverse audience available for any theatre production in Toronto, that's not just diverse culturally, like in terms of ethnicity, but it's also diverse in terms of like income levels, or where you live in the city.
And I know for me, there's a lot of theatres that I couldn't afford to go to, or, or were too far away for me to go to, or I didn't, you know, I didn't know what was going on. And I was outside of their mailing lists and stuff. But Dream in High Park, I knew was a sure thing that happened every summer like Canada's Wonderland. And it was a theatre version of the same thing. You're out in the open air, you bring a picnic and food, and you sit and you can chat if you want to. But really, you just want to pay attention, to this beautiful show, while you watch the sunset.
The space itself is really exciting and inviting to audiences, which is why typically they have over 1000 people usually come every night to see the show. And that's probably one of the biggest theatre spaces in the city. And yet, it's super affordable, because you're not paying a massive amount of money. It's Pay-What-You-Can. So, whatever you can afford to pay, you can bring your family, it'll be fully on your budget for you to experience that. And it's what makes that particular space, that particular theatre so special.
And I'll also say for me, it was one of the consistent things that I went to see when I was in high school was the, the Shakespeare in High Park. And I knew that place was where I wanted to work more than any other theatre, more than any other place, more than any other TV or film thing. I wanted to work at Canadian Stage. And I made a point of calling and bugging them repeatedly to find out what auditions were. And then as soon as I graduated, I sent off the photo resume and then again kept calling them and they finally were like, Okay, come in. Luckily there was a part available that I could audition for. And I did and I booked it and it was the very first professional theatre show that I ever did. Midsummer Night's Dream in 1986 in High Park, and I loved it even more as a performer. I loved it even more to be able to watch this hill full of people all laughing together and enjoying the show together. It was magic.
So, it's great for families, it's great for kids, it's great for people who've never been to the theatre. It's great for people who feel like “I don't know if I understand Shakespeare,” because we're approaching it as though you're watching a silent film, that you can just watch bodies move and totally understand the story.
How does it feel to be on the flip side from being a cast to directing a Shakespearean production at High Park?
It's really, really, really exciting. As an actor, I did two shows. One was Midsummer Night's Dream in 1996. And the second was in 2000, The Taming of the Shrew that Sarah Stanley directed. Now be on the other side and be directing in that space is an incredible dream because it is my favorite theatre in the city. And I think I can feel that this is even without having finished the show, or open the show yet or already feel it's a major growth milestone for me as an artist. To be invited to come and create there with the kind of generosity and openness that the theatre has extended to me in the vision and what I want to do and how much I want to play with the text... it’s really exciting.
Why should people come see this show?
This park, this space,...it's a dream. It's really beautiful to sit in the open air with family and friends and enjoy theatre together. Rather than in a darkened theatre where you maybe don't know your neighbors, you can't see them. And you're not sure if the etiquette is to be quiet or not to unwrap candies. Here, you can make noise and it's okay. So, it's great for families, it's great for kids, it's great for people who've never been to the theatre.
As though you're watching a silent film, that you can just watch bodies move and totally understand the story. And then if you understand the language, you'll get another aspect of the same thing. But everything that we're doing with the costumes and the props, and the characters and the performances, everything is like a live cartoon.
It's like a big pop-up book. And it's big, it's colorful, it's very funny. We have an incredibly funny cast. And I think it's a really, really beautiful way to welcome back public gathering.
Tune-in our next edition of CS Grid to learn more about the hilarious cast! Make sure to get your Pay-What-You-Wish tickets to see As You Like It, playing July 28 to September 4.