Rising from the ashes

Shakespeare by the Sea started its 2015 season of theatre in Point Pleasant Park on July 1. The eclectic mix of plays includes Antony and Cleopatra, which they’ve never performed before, and Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife, a play that tells the story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who was born male in Berlin in 1928, and self-identified as female early in life. Remarkably, Mahlsdorf survived through both the Nazi regime and communism in East Germany.

“We’d been thinking about that play since 2004,” says Murphy. “I saw it in New York and it’s an amazing piece. I expected to move back to Halifax and find that someone was already doing it here. But here it is, 2015, and nobody has done it yet. And it’s time. It’s a subject we need to start looking at.”

This season marks the end of a tough year for Shakespeare by the Sea—a year that began with someone setting fire to their building in Point Pleasant Park, just one month before the 2014 season was set to begin. For years, the theatre company had used the former canteen for storage and office space, and more recently, workers renovated the space to include an alternative theatre space for rainy days. The space also represented a second revenue stream, since it was often rented out to other organizations.

“It was a huge shock,” says co-founder Elizabeth Murphy. “It sent me about 10 steps backwards—I was just shaken by it. But I think we did really well.”

After all, everyone knows that the first rule of showbiz is “the show must go on.” And Shakespeare by the Sea certainly pulled it off despite some initial confusion among the public about whether or not they were still operating. By the end of the  2014 season, audience attendance was back to full strength.

But it wasn’t without help. Within days, the company launched an Indiegogo campaign that raised $14,747 before it closed on July 17, 2014. Organizations like Neptune Theatre and Armbrae Academy pitched in as well.

“We’ve also had offers from the IWK Foundation to mentor us on capital campaigns,” says co-artistic director Jesse MacLean. “Sometimes people even stop while driving by, saying, ‘Hey I’ve got some hammers in my truck—do you guys need help?’”

The city also had a hand in the rebuilding process, and it looks like they’ll be working with the company to plan the future of Shakespeare by the Sea. After some discussion about setting the theatre company up in a small caretaker’s cottage, HRM Council agreed to renovate the damaged building so that it could still be used for rehearsal, storage and office space. In the meantime, they’ll work with Shakespeare by the Sea to come up with a permanent plan for the future.

“The community has been really great,” says MacLean. “People were calling us from all over the place, offering us places to work and rehearse. So that was really neat to see, feeling that energy. But the challenging part still remains—that we’re still sitting in a building we can’t fully use. So we’re working with our partners at the city to try and push forward. The theme of all this, I think, is ‘pushing along.’”  

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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