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Only a Fool would try to play Shakespeare on the streets, and 25 years ago a small group of emerging artists who did that very thing embraced the name as their warrior mark. Thus a Company of Fools was born. That we are still around 25 years later is a humbling mystery to me – after all, it’s not like the name is one that inspires respect or confidence!
25 years ago when we made our debut in the Byward Market, we trudged there with a single trunk full of costumes and props carried by two actors, in shifts. This year we will be back in the Byward Market for Thursday preview matinees (all part of the 33 locations across the city throughout our 6 week run!), but this time we’ll be coming in a truck, packed to the gills with set and costumes and props and front of house gear. It seems that a company, just like a person, can’t help but get a bit thick around the middle after 25 years. (Although we in the cast seem to have all avoided thick middles – either a testament to the energy we expend in each performance, or a sad commentary that the ‘starving artist’ cliché is not so cliché after all.)
We still have the trunk that we started with 25 years ago, and it still makes appearances in some of our shows. That makes me happy. We’ve come a long way in 25 years, and we’ve changed in many ways, but at our core we are the same company. We are loyal, rooted in the past but living in the present, we celebrate the artists that we work with and value ensemble and collaboration.
It isn’t just the actors with whom we collaborate. Throughout the years, the GCTC has been a friend and collaborator. Back in the old space, the GCTC hosted us in the Night Howl series and presented us twice, helping us establish a strong fan base – some of those fans are still with us today! And of course, in the present location, the GCTC has been kind enough to showcase us twice, most recently in this past season’s co-production of Pomme and ‘Restes, Shipwrecked on the Tempestuous Lost Island of Never. It is fair to say that without the support of the GCTC throughout the past 25 years, we wouldn’t have made it as far as we have!
If I keep harping on this 25 thing, it’s because it really does make me smile and cry all at the same time. The part of my mind that still thinks of us as this outside, upstart, do or die, DIY little company is being forced to accept that at 25, we are, in fact, part of the establishment. I am the MAN, man. Wait, is that sexist? I am the WOMAN, man. When the talented and very funny Gabrielle Lazarovitz tells me that she’s wanted to work with us for awhile, I think “who in their right mind wants to work with this rag tag, picnic park, flock of Fools?” And yet, year after year, the same actors keep returning, wanting to work with us. Hilarious and heart breaking Katie Ryerson, and the salaciously sublime Geoff McBride are returning for their umpteenth summer show. What a mix of new and established talent! Working with Geoff as my alter-ego twin made my job super easy – I just waited for him to do something funny in rehearsal, and the I copied it. As for Katie, I think we’ve taught her some bad habits over the years, as she has figured out how to steal the show out from under us. Except for those parts of the show that Warren “funny even when no one is looking” Bain and AL Connors aren’t stealing, of course. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – no one gets hit better than AL Connors. (I never understand why he doesn’t thank me for saying that.) It was a joy working with my co-artistic directors, AL and Catriona Leger on this show. Cat has put together a very funny piece that audiences are really enjoying, and I’m so grateful that she helmed this project.
After all this time, I still get the same thrill every show when I see the audience coming across the expanse of park, chairs in hand, to come see our show. It really is a special experience to bring the show to different park every night. On opening night Erin Finn, our inestimable stage manager, grabbed my arm, pointed and squealed with glee: “There’s a bus unloading for us!” And so there was! I might have taken more joy in the moment, but a word of advice to all young actors out there: Never let a stage manager squeeze your arm. They are fierce and strong and they know not what they do. A bus tour for the Fools! 25 years ago we had to beg them to stop for us in the street – now they are bussing them in to us. And you wonder why I’m humbled, elated, and weepy (not to mention bruised in my arm).