I’ve been to the former Trappist Monastery site in St. Norbert many times to watch productions of Shakespeare in the Ruins. But I didn’t know anything about the history of the place. I also didn’t know that behind the area where the theatre productions are held there is a garden and cultural centre. One of my Winnipeg Art Gallery colleagues helps to maintain the beautiful green space around that cultural centre and she told me about it recently.
Ready for the play to begin
So when we attended the Shakespeare in the Ruins production of Romeo and Juliet on Friday night I made a point at intermission to go and find the cultural centre and its surrounding garden.
The current St. Norbert Arts Centre was once a guest house for the Our Lady of the Prairies monastery which was established in 1892 for about forty Trappist monks fleeing from religious persecution in France. At the monastery they ran a bakery, greenhouse, sawmill and blacksmith shop. They had bees and cows and sold meat, milk, cheese and honey. They also devoted themselves to prayer and contemplation. So it is fitting that the garden around the former guest house is called a meditation garden. It is a beautiful place to walk and think.
The lilac bushes in the garden smelled wonderful
I was all alone in the garden during intermission on Friday night. It was lovely and quiet. A century ago it was a quiet garden too, because the Trappist monks only communicated by sign language.
I realized after reading more about the St. Norbert Arts Centre on their website that there is also a vegetable garden, orchard, ceremonial grounds with two sweat lodges and kitchen building which I didn’t see. I’ll have to look for those on my next visit.
Plants That Talked to Me
Home Grown in Newfoundland
I enjoyed the excellent performance of Richard III by the Shakespeare in the Ruins company last night. This morning I decided to do a little research to review the historical events I had seen portrayed in the play. What I discovered is that Shakespeare’s Richard III isn’t really historical at all. Shakespeare was basically doing a smear job on Richard making him evil and unattractive when in fact historians and scientists tell us something quite different. A couple of years ago they discovered Richard III’s bones under a parking garage in Leicester and tests on his remains proved that while he did have scoliosis he was not short and not nearly as crippled by the disease as Shakespeare portrayed him and he did not have an emaciated arm. There is no actual proof he killed two young princes in order to take over the throne of England and most likely his wife Anne married him willingly and died of tuberculosis. In Shakespeare’s version Anne is forced to marry Richard and he poisons her.
Richard III as portrayed by an unknown artist in the late 16th century
Apparently in his short two-year reign Richard, who was a lover of literature, music, architecture and education made some progressive changes to the British legal system. A Richard III Society has been in operation since 1924 defending the legacy of the much maligned king. Since I wrote a blog post yesterday about Jane Austen I should add that she was ‘inclined to suppose King Richard III a very respectable man.’ Debbie Patterson does a great job of making King Richard a maniacal, manipulative and ultimately pitiful monarch in the Shakespeare in the Ruins production, but it’s just a little disconcerting to know that the real King Richard III probably wasn’t anything like that at all.
A Mid Summer Night’s Dream
Antony and Cleopatra and the Mosquitoes
Food From the Land and Shakespeare in the Ruins
Filed under History, Theatre
I’m a huge Shakespeare in the Ruins fans and can still remember almost every play I’ve seen by the talented company. I’ve been going to their performances for years. I loved their presentation of The Tempest along the river, their Romeo and Juliet in a parking garage and their production of Amid Summer Night’s Dream in a downtown park. Last year’s Comedy of Errors was a complete delight. We took visitors from Hong Kong and they were so impressed.
I have to say that this year’s Antony and Cleopatra might be my least favorite of all their productions. For me having the characters wear First Nations costumes and setting the play in pre-confederation Canada just didn’t work. The story of how the indigenous people of Canada were robbed of sovereignty of their own land is of vital importance and needs to be told; but aligning that story with the story of Antony and Cleopatra seemed forced and contrived especially at the end of the play when a rather uncomfortable audience was asked to join in a circle dance.
Two years ago the SITR cast set their production of Henry V during World War I and that worked brilliantly. The alternate setting really enriched the theatre experience. For me that wasn’t the case with the alternate setting for Antony and Cleopatra.
And then of course there were the mosquitoes. They were out in full force Wednesday night and despite spraying repellent between scenes and waving the skeeters away with my program I still got some bites. I guess however a play asking us to transport ourselves to the Canadian prairies in the mid 1800s is much more authentic if it includes mosquitoes.
Shakespeare in the Ruins – Henry V- Just About Perfect
Food From the Land and Shakespeare in the Ruins
A Midsummer Night’s Dream on a Midsummer Afternoon
Our friends Meena and Anil are visiting us from Hong Kong and we took them out to the Peasant Cookery, a favorite Exchange District restaurant of ours. The window ledges are decorated with artistic fowl sculptures in wood or ceramics and jars of canned fruits and vegetables.The Peasant Cookery boasts that it offers ‘real food from the land’ and we knew from our past visits that the food would be excellent and the service friendly.
We decided to order five different dishes from the eclectic menu and share them all. Our meal was first rate.
A beet salad with toasted seeds, goat cheese, arugula and a caramelized honey vinaigrette dressing
Tourtiere- a French meat pie with thick cut fries
aged cheddar gnocchi with sun dried tomato, spinach, red onion, piquillo peppers and basil oilLightly breaded mahi, mahi with fresh vegetables
and bread pudding with Guinness ice-cream…
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Learning about a dead woman’s orders for her husband and a three year old who hogged the stage made the A Midsummer Night’s Dream production in Winnipeg’s Central Park a unique viewing experience. Read about it on my Destination Winnipeg site.
Why did I so thoroughly enjoy last night’s performance of Henry V presented by the Shakespeare in the Ruins (SIR) theatre company?
Was it because I was overwhelmed with nostalgia? After a decade of performing at other venues in Winnipeg, the SIR company has finally returned to the Trappist Monastery Provincial Park. I’ve been to so many great performances there in the past– A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth and The Tempest to name just a few. It felt like a homecoming to be back at the park.
Was it because we were at the show with friends from Hong Kong we hadn’t seen since we moved back to Canada almost a year ago? Sandy, John and Tad are fellow teachers from the international school in Hong Kong where we worked for six years. They are spending a week with us here in Winnipeg and going to Henry V was a great way to kick off our time together.
Was it because the play was set in World War I and that alternate setting made the story interesting and thought-provoking? In December I saw a production of Romeo and Juliet set in the Middle East at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. It didn’t work at all in my opinion and detracted rather than added to my appreciation of the play! So I was skeptical of moving Henry V to a different time period even though I knew it had been done at Stratford in 1989. But the SIR production added so many little details from the World War I period, from authentic costumes to period music. They had the brilliant idea of making the Chorus a war photojournalist. The ambience felt ‘right’. The alternate setting enriched the play watching experience for me.
Was it because the play ended with a touch of romance? I’m a sucker for romance in a play or movie. Henry V concludes with a charming scene where Henry proposes to Catherine, the French princess.
Was it because the play moved quickly, was easy to follow and had a number of very funny scenes? Kenneth Branagh’s film version of Henry V virtually eliminated the comedy and turned the funny scenes into serious ones. The Winnipeg Free Press reviewer thought the play at SIR wasn’t serious enough and had too breezy a tone. She felt too much of the important text of the script had been left out. Maybe it was my buoyant mood but I loved the comedy and the fast pace of the SIR production. My attention was completely captured for the entire performance.
Maybe it was because it was the very best of summer evenings that Manitoba has to offer. The sky was a beautiful blue with fluffy clouds. There was only a slight breeze. There were no mosquitoes. It was the perfect temperature, not too cold or too hot.There was even a stunning Manitoba sunset to end the evening and impress our Hong Kong guests with the beauty of our prairie province.
Why did I enjoy the Shakespeare in the Ruins performance of Henry V so much? There were lots of reasons!
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