The thrills, spills and foolishness of Ottawa's own Shakespearean troupe, A Company of Fools, has returned to seven Ottawa-area parks in the waning days of summer.
The actors are back for 12 performances in the afternoon and evening as they act out Love from Afar, a mash-up of love scenes from some of the Bard's most popular plays including Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
In trademark fashion, the performances are designed with family viewing in mind.
"It's going to be really magical to be back in front of a live audience again," said artistic director and playwright Nicholas Leno.
Leno rehearsed and worked out logistics in a parking lot outside the company's new home on Empress Avenue in Ottawa's Chinatown area.
The audience for each show will be physically distanced, he added, but will feel closer.
"When the lights go down and the actors get started, it feels like we're all together and it's quite magical," said Leno.
Outdoor theatre was chased out of parks by the pandemic. Stages went dark, theatre seasons were cancelled, and actors, set directors, costume designers and many other skilled workers lost their jobs.
Leno says government funding and the odd online or television gig helped some actors weather the break, but he knows many who left the profession for other jobs.
"We've been on a bit of a forced hiatus for 18 months ... financially, and also just emotionally, it's been a difficult time," said Leno.
"This is what people dedicate their lives toward doing and spend a lot of time working on their craft and perfecting, and to be away from that for so long, I've seen it really hurt artists."
'Hurt so much' missing audiences
Local actor Maryse Fernandes tackles a range of Shakespeare's best loved characters in Love from Afar, including the doomed Juliet and the tragic Hamlet. She says her favourite part is playing the stone wall that acts as a go-between to the bewitched lovers in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Fernandes found work last year in productions over Zoom and voicing audio books, but she's missed the thrill of performing before a live audience.
"I hadn't realized it was going to hurt so much," said Fernandes.
"The energy on stage is always different depending who is in our audience. To have that live audience again is going to be spectacular."
The Company of Fools will perform in seven locations in Ottawa and just outside the city on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between Sept. 2 and 25 with a capacity of 100 for each show.
The group also plans to put on free shows for clients of non-profit facilities serving vulnerable populations.
The pandemic has suspended the long-held tradition of passing the hat through the audience at the end of the performance, so tickets must be purchased in advance. They are now on sale but there was only availability for two evening shows in rural areas as of Saturday morning.