Alberta has an endless supply of summertime sunshine to enjoy the arts in the great outdoors. Shakespeare in a city park. Music in the mountains. And the oldest story of them all, set in a natural amphitheatre in the badlands. Put them all on your must-see list this summer. Driving 90 minutes either east or west from Calgary or just heading downtown is all it will take.
Bard by the Bow
My daughter and I always look forward to spending a summer evening lazing on a grassy knoll in Prince’s Island Park, watching one of Shakespeare’s plays put on by Theatre Calgary. From late June to mid-August, Shakespeare by the Bow transforms the little stage at the bottom of the slope into a castle, a ship or whatever is needed to present a tale of mystery, magic or tragic love.
I don’t know which I enjoy watching more – Alberta’s recently graduated drama students putting on a rollicking great show or people strolling in the park trying to walk by without being drawn into the drama. It’s a “pay-what-you-will” concept, no ticket required, just make a donation. Dropping in is encouraged (that’s how we got hooked a dozen years ago). Performances are in the evenings, with matinees on the weekends. Bring a blanket and a picnic and enjoy. It’s just a short walk from downtown Calgary.
If you’re in Edmonton, you’ll find a troupe of dedicated actors performing Shakespeare outdoors in Hawrelak Park. The Freewill Shakespeare Festival runs late June through mid-July.
Mountains Tops with Musicians
Before launching into the next song, the artist on the stage at Performance in the Park waved his hand towards the mountains that surrounded us and said, “I have never performed in such a breathtaking venue.” Of course all the locals cheered.
An outdoor concert in the heart of Banff National Park is a celebration for the senses. It starts with tossing a blanket on the lawn in the Cascade Gardens of the Parks Canada Building at the end of Banff’s main street. As the crowd gathers, we relax in the shade of the surrounding trees. When the music starts, our toes tap and suddenly we are dancing like no one is watching.
What used to be a single evening performance has grown into a two-day outdoor event with internationally acclaimed artists. Make it a weekend of music and mountains. Performance in the Park doesn’t start until 6:30 p.m. on Friday, and 3 p.m. on Saturday, so it leaves plenty of time to explore Banff, go for a paddle or take in an easy hike.
Badlands Make the Best Backdrop
It took the breathless description by a friend to persuade me to reserve tickets for this summer’s annual Badlands Passion Play on the outskirts of Drumheller. For many years, Rosebud Theatre’s directors, actors, stagehands and countless volunteers have presented the story of Christ to sold-out audiences for three weekends each July. She told me the desert-like setting brings authenticity to the story and the natural acoustics carry the voices brilliantly. Waving her arms in swooping gestures she breathlessly explained how horses bring people in from one side of the valley and actors appear from behind outcrops on the other side. When she dropped her arms and said, “It’s…it’s…it’s just wow!” I was hooked.
The play lasts close to three hours so come prepared for either the heat at a matinee or cooler weather when the sun goes down. Sunscreen, a hat, water and a cushion for the bench are all good ideas. There’s food for sale if you don’t bring your own. Best advice: book well in advance.