Merritt’s Sunshine O’Donovan is one of twelve young actors from across Canada who will be receiving funding from the RBC Emerging Artists Project, as well as a spot in Bard on the Beach’s Riotous Youth program for 2020.
According to the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival website:
“Riotous Youth is a paid, post-secondary internship, designed for young people either beginning or considering a career in theatre. The program combines training and experience in teaching artistry, Shakespeare performance, and involvement in special events at our Festival. In 2020, the Riotous Youth program has evolved to continue within the unique constraints of the Festival cancellation.”
Twenty-year-old O’Donovan is no stranger to the stage, having previously attended Bard on the Beach’s Young Shakespeareans summer camps. In 2014, O’Donovan also starred in a movie called The Wolf’s Music, which was filmed mostly in the TNRD and the Merritt area.
“I remember Sunshine travelling all the way to Vancouver and staying with her grandfather so that she could attend our summer camps,” said Katie Johnstone, Bard on the Beach Education Coordinator.
“It’s really special that she’s back with us helping show the next generation the magic of Shakespeare. She is really deserving of the RBC Emerging Artists funding.”
Although the internship for Riotous Youth was in jeopardy due to the cancellation of the Bard on the Beach festival, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, O’Donovan believes Shakespeare’s works are a way to connect us in difficult times.
“I was so grateful for this opportunity to share my passion for Shakespeare, especially this year,” said O’Donovan.
“The Bard's words inspire, comfort, and challenge us when we need them most.”
However, things were a little different this year, with the actors using Zoom to create Shakespeare plays in a virtual format.
“I enjoyed the challenge of adapting Shakespeare for an online setting. It was fascinating learning how distance from the camera affected a character's intent,” said O’Donovan.
“Learning how to film on Zoom, how to collaborate as an ensemble in an online environment and how to communicate with scene members that you don't see in a physical rehearsal are all important skills if theatre is to be created online.”
Because the performances were done from the actors’ homes, much of the typical props, costumes and lighting had to be improvised. Bringing the Bard into the digital age did allow for a modern twist on classic stories, something the actors enjoyed playing around with and elaborating on.
“I was surprised how well theatre and Shakespeare translated to our screens,” added O’Donovan. “And having it virtually allowed for moments of levity that wouldn't have been possible in-person. Moments where we made fun of the fact that we were doing things in a virtual setting, such as having characters mute each other.”
Although O’Donovan grew up in the Nicola Valley, where there is no traditional venue for live performances, her mother believed it was important for her to experience arts and culture, and travelled around the province with her children to live performances whenever possible.
“My mom thought it was important for my siblings and I to see theatre, so we drove long distances often at night and sometimes in winter blizzard conditions to see live theatre in other places like Kamloops,” said O’Donovan.
“My first Shakespeare memory was going to see A Midsummer Night's Dream at X-Fest in Kamloops when I was eight. It was very magical because it was performed on a beautiful summer's night. Hearing the spoken word, rather than just reading it on the page really makes the plays and characters come alive. It’s incredible to me that that show led me all the way to where I am now, part of one of the theatre programs out there helping shift Shakespeare to the virtual world.”
O’Donovan may be a rising star on Canada’s theatre scene, but that’s not her only talent. In 2015 O’Donovan was awarded the Governor General’s gold medal for exceptional work in the field of Canadian History for her book Hell’s Gate, which was also recognized in 2017’s national Indigenous Arts and Stories competition.
Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald