Designing the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival

Designs for Shakespeare St. Lawrence festival. Designs for Shakespeare St. Lawrence festival.

“Shakespeare around a campfire”

—– Julie  Bourbonnais

Montreal set designer will be showcasing her work in Prescot, Ontario for the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival’s new season that will have two of the master English playwright’s greatest works: the classical romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet and the riotous The Comedy of Errors. I was able to connect with local set designer Julie Bourbonnais to talk about the productions; Julie has the compelling task of creating the worlds the characters of these plays inhabit.

Designs for Shakespeare St. Lawrence festival.

Designs for Shakespeare St. Lawrence festival.

Her creative process will see the use of fabric at the heart of recreating the world in Verona. The use of colour and fabric is a metaphor to both forbidden love and everlasting romance. She is attempting to recreate an atmosphere from the late ’50s, early ’60s. Julie and the Director Janet Irwin wanted to stay true to how Shakespearean plays used to be staged in 16th century England.

Julie says,‘There were never any elaborate sets. Shakespearean plays were known for minimal physical sets. All of it was left to the characters and their costumes. We wanted to stay true to that style.”

The other exciting change with this production is that the productions will be staged outdoors. Free from the confines of a ‘stage’ the set designer can’t wait for the play to unravel out in the open.

“The productions have an outdoors, marketplace feel to them. There are lots of action outside, so we wanted to give it that physical space to create that feel.”

Julie is known to work with the artists and improvises based on their feedback to the world that she creates for them. She partakes in all rehearsals so she can observe the characters engage with the sets and then adapt and modify them, to bring out the best from the narrative. A director’s delight is a set designer who listens to its actors. Julie perfectly fits that part. She has worked closely with both Janet Irwin (Romeo and Juliet) and Rona Waddington (Comedy of Errors).

For the hilarious Comedy of Errors, Julie will employ the use of ladders, both as props and the overall superstructure that will be the canvas of Egeon’s exploration of Ephesus. It was both Julie and Janet who settled on the use of ladders.

Designs for Shakespeare St. Lawrence festival.

Designs for Shakespeare St. Lawrence festival.

Julie shares, “Given that the production is very physical, with lots of set movements, ladders were being employed to put things together, so Janet and I decided to just make them part of the play. The set will actually be built during the show.”

She believes that art has continued life and thus the evolution of it is continuous. Her style is organic and which blends comfort and creativity.

Lastly, Julie focuses on the fact that because the productions will be staged outdoors, it’s a challenge to work without lights. “The outdoors don’t allow much flexibility with focussing on a particular character or part of the stage. Thus, the way the set design is conceptualized, this needs to keep this factor in mind.”

But Julie says she can’t wait for the shows. She says, “It’s going to be such a warm and informal setting, as if people are sitting around a camp-fire watching theatre.”

The new season with these two productions opens July 18-August 22. The festival is about a 2 hour drive from Montreal. 



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