A graduate of Alberta College of Art and Design, Deitra Kalyn has been part of the Shakespeare by the Bow team from the beginning and even got her start in theatre as a design intern at Theatre Calgary. Now, she is one of the busiest designers in town –and for good reason! Artistic Associate Jenna Turk spoke with Deitra about how Shakespeare by the Bow’s beautiful brand new stage came to be:
For people who may not have attended a Shakespeare by the Bow production in the past, can you describe what the playing space was like before this year?
Each year the goal is to create a playing space that is cohesive with the environment but enhances it in such a way that it makes our story easier to tell. In past years this has meant everything from no stage at all, to a beautiful balcony that was washed away in the flood, to a recycled set from one of Theatre Calgary’s main stage productions. The focus of the playing space is to certainly give the emerging artists a dynamic space to play in and on, but we are also so fortunate to have that natural amphitheatre and organic architecture to play with as well.
Where did the idea for a new stage come from?
The discussion really started with the idea that this should be a dynamic and impressive playing space that most importantly was integrated and cohesive with the park environment. I looked at some aerial images of the park and noticed a reoccurring theme of circles, so that was important for me to include. I’m a big fan of integrated art, so I wanted to use the trees and natural landscape of our playing space as integral elements to the design. It’s also designed in a modular way so that the ‘pie’ pieces can be arranged in different configurations to create many staging possibilities…again this gives future directors the choice to change and re-create a new stage out of the same pieces…think giant cedar-pie-shaped-Legos! We’ve used cedar on the stage in the park a few times over the years and it really was the best material to build this stage from. Its beautiful warm tones compliment the greenery of the park so well.
Can you tell me a bit about it?
The current configuration is what I’d call the ‘full stage’. It is a giant ring that has multiple levels to play upon. Because it was built with the modular aspect in mind, it can actually come apart at every ‘pie piece’ to create a whole new shape. The main idea was to keep the stage organic in shape but allow for multiple configurations year over year. So this year it is an ‘O,’ but next year it could be a ‘C’ or an ‘S.’ The modular aspect also allows for the stage to tuck in and around the trees and other organic elements that the park already provides. There is storage potential within the stage as well, and again with its modular aspect we have the ability to add vertical elements to it, or hide other elements within it.
How did you come to the design you did?
I met with Shari Wattling (Interim Artistic Director) and Lesley MacMillan (Producer) initially to chat about the design. These first conversations were mainly to establish some technical aspects and codes that we needed to adhere to, as well as the idea that we wanted it to be an integrated organic design. I then sat down with Graham Kingsley (Assistant Technical Director) who is an immeasurable wizard when it comes to articulating fluffy design ideas into architectural renderings! He and I really got into the nitty gritty of what the stage needed to have practically and then what design elements were possible. We went over every detail of how to create the design discovering things like: how many steps are too many for a stage, can actors sword fight on this, and what stain is the best, etc. etc.! We did many a ‘stain test’ to finally land on the beautiful colour that it is now! It’s impossible to create something like this without an amazing team of people who can challenge your ideas and then make the dream ideas come true!
Because Shakespeare by the Bow is an outdoor program set in Prince’s Island Park, do you have to take nature’s elements into account when designing?
The number one thing to consider when designing an outdoor show is the weather! And we certainly learned that one the hard way in 2013 when our poor stage was swallowed up in the flood…but we persevered and the show went on! There isn’t a roof or ‘rain venue’ that we can run to in case of inclement weather, so we really are exposed to the elements!
There is a safety aspect that I need to consider when designing a stage and costumes for these artists. Practically speaking I need to ensure things like: is their footwear safe on wet grass or mud when they are running down a hill? It can also get quite hot in the park over the summer, so we need to make sure the actors have water, hats, sunglasses and a chance to remove costume pieces if necessary. The vastness of the park means these performers are running and covering a lot of ground, so we need to make sure whatever they are wearing allows for that physicality as well.
The stage is beautiful! Will it stay in the park year-round?
Sadly no, we have an agreement with Parks Calgary that we can occupy that beautiful space for the summer months, but when our little show is over we pack up and store it for the next year…we need to give the grass a chance to re-grow!!
Did you have a hand in the rest of the new infrastructure? Could you tell me about it? Why was it needed?
Yes, with Theatre Calgary’s 50th year celebration we really wanted to heighten the whole Shakespeare by the Bow experience. Because the stage was the focus from the get-go we used those elements as a jumping off point for the design of the rest of the venue. Graham Kinglsey was integral in the process of re-designing the stage management booth and actor dressing rooms as well as adding a new merchandise booth. The current location of our show already has a natural amphitheatre element, so we wanted to gently enhance the environment so our patrons can have the best possible experience this summer. We’ve created a new ‘lobby’ area by relocating a few cabins, and the idea is that this will allow for more audience interaction before and after the performances.
Why is As You like It the right production to have for the first season on the new stage? What can we expect from the overall design?
I think As You Like It is a great kick off to the 50th year! The majority of this show’s setting takes place in the Forest of Arden, so what better place to set it than Prince’s Island Park! Plus, there is a scene where two characters wrestle, and this stage has a natural wrestling ‘ring’ in the centre, so that was a very happy accident!
Through the plays themes of love, acceptance, and simply due to the abundance of music in the show we’ve decided to set our version at a summer music festival. We’ll have elements of folk music, boho fashion elements juxtaposed with the hard strict lines of the court. Expect to see lots of picnic blankets, fringe, musical instruments, and probably lots of hugging!
To check out Shakespeare by the Bow’s brand new stage, don’t miss As You Like It this summer between June 20th and August 27thin Prince’s Island Park! More information here