Canada’s longest-running outdoor theatre event Shakespeare in High Park will mark 35 years of staging accessible open-air theatre in Toronto with contemporary takes on two Shakespeare classics: King Lear and Twelfth Night, running in repertory from June 29 to September 3 at the High Park Amphitheatre. A pay-what-you-can event, Shakespeare in High Park is produced by Canadian Stage in collaboration with the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design at York University.

“We are excited to celebrate this 35th anniversary by putting on two of Shakespeare’s true masterpieces: King Lear, in its Shakespeare in High Park premiere, and the delightfully heartful and musical comedy Twelfth Night, an enduring favourite staged in a new light,” said Canadian Stage Artistic & General Director, Matthew Jocelyn. “Alistair Newton and Tanja Jacobs, who are graduating from York’s MFA Program in Stage Direction in Collaboration with Canadian Stage, direct these two iconic works with a theatrical gusto and contemporary socio-political depth. With a multi-talented acting company led by the incomparable Diane D’Aquila – company member of the very first Shakespeare in High Park 35 years ago, it is a fitting way to recognize the past, present and future of Toronto’s most popular outdoor theatre tradition.”

A feverish woman sits enthroned. She could be your grandmother, your mother, your sister, your spouse, yourself. Set in the final days of Queen Elizabeth I -with a contemporary twist- Artistic Director of Toronto’s Ecce Homo Theatre Alistair Newton re-imagines Shakespeare’s monumental family saga King Lear from a female perspective, with multiple award-winning stage and screen veteran Diane D’Aquila transforming in to Shakespeare’s infamous monarch. As a method of dividing her kingdom in three-parts, Queen Lear demands that her daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia compete in declarations of their love for her. Misjudging her children’s loyalty, she soon finds herself in the middle of a civil war, stripped of her family, kingdom and crown. In this troublingly familiar world beset by absolute beliefs and corrupted by power, is redemption possible?

Twelfth Night, or What You Will, Shakespeare’s timeless comedy of mistaken identity, role reversal and romantic misadventure, makes a return to the High Park Amphitheatre in a 1970s set production from actor-director Tanja Jacobs (Seeds, The Watershed). A young noblewoman, Viola, is separated at sea from her twin brother Sebastian and tossed upon the shores of Illyria, where the love-sick Duke Orsino pines for Countess Olivia and mischievous servants plot foolish pranks at each other’s expense. With a nod to the films of Billy Wilder and Wes Anderson, Jacobs sets the action in an island hotel, where some of Shakespeare’s most memorable comedic characters play out their hijinks and social fantasies, with painfully hilarious results.

After starring in the first-ever season of Shakespeare in High Park in 1983, Diane D’Aquila makes a highly anticipated return to the outdoor stage, leading a dynamic 12-person repertory cast made up of seasoned High Park alumni and fresh faces, including: Robert Persichini, Jenni Burke, Jason Cadieux, Brett Dahl, Peter Fernandes, Kristiaan Hansen*, Richard Lee, Michael Man, Amelia Sargisson, Hannah Wayne-Phillips* and Naomi Wright (recent graduates of York University’s Acting Conservatory).

Each performance is pay-what-you can (suggested $20 contribution) and premium seats can be reserved by donation in advance for $25, online at canadianstage.com or by calling the Canadian Stage box office at 416.368.3110.

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