CAMÕES, THE ONE-EYED POET OF PORTUGAL by Larry Lewis, directed by David Anderson, with Helder Ramos. Previews tonight (Thursday, July 20), opens Friday (July 21) and runs to August 13, Wednesday-Sunday 7:30 pm. Dufferin Grove Park (Dufferin, south of Bloor). Pwyc. www.clayandpapertheatre.org.
THE ORDER OF GOOD CHEER by Alanis King and Shadowland Theatre, with Bruno Gaudette, Lacey Harrington, Noah Kenneally, Brandon Oakes and Lorraine Pelletier. Presented by Shadowland on Ward's Island. Opens tonight (Thursday, July 20) and runs to July 30, Thursday-Sunday 8 pm; take 7:45 pm (or earlier) ferry from Bay and Queen's Quay dock. $15, stu/srs $10, family $45. 416-203-0946. Rating: NNNNN
The classics hold sway in most summer outdoor theatres, with Shakespeare at the head of the class.
But grassroots companies like Clay and Paper and Shadowland search elsewhere for their material. Both troupes premiere shows that look at historic figures, characters who have helped shape the Canadian experience.
In the case of Clay and Paper's Camões, The One-Eyed Poet Of Portugal, staged in Dufferin Grove Park, the connection may seem a stretch. What impact does Luis Vaz de Camões, a 16th-century soldier, traveller and poet, have on Toronto's Portuguese community?
"You can't walk into the Mod Club at College and Crawford without passing his statue," says Helder Ramos, who plays Camões. "Director David Anderson and playwright Larry Lewis want to make this man, so important to the Portuguese, known to everyone else."
A national hero in Portugal, Camões did military service to get a royal pardon for criticizing the king's father. In the play, the Toronto statue comes to life, tells his story and shows his link to the Portuguese immigrants who live in the College area.
"June 10, our national day, is linked to Portugal, Camões and the far-flung Portuguese communities," explains Ramos, whose most recent performances have been in Europe. "The identity of the community is tied to emigrating, exploring, to being far away but longing for home. That's true of the poet as well as his fellow Portuguese 500 years later."
Producing shows that tell stories rooted in various local communities, Clay and Paper relies on larger-than-life characters, often presented as oversized puppets. The company's annual Night Of Dread, in fact, uses puppets based on Portuguese folk models.
Also tied to the Camões story is fado, the traditional Portuguese music of longing - for an idealized past, a lover or a homeland.
To include viewers as part of the play's community, the show ends in the present and assembles everyone at the park's bake ovens, where everyone breaks bread together. The ovens are modelled on similar communal structures in Portuguese villages.
Not by chance, the Shadowland production of The Order Of Good Cheer, presented on Ward's Island, also involves food. The company's last two shows, The Lost Supper and The Essence Of Ambrose Ichor, also focused on the social aspects of a group meal.
"This time we go back to 1606 and Canada's first recorded dinner event, a meal that brought together Samuel de Champlain and the French settlers with the Mi'kmaq people under their chief Membertou," says Shadowland's Ann Barber.
"The two leaders saw themselves and their people as equals, and the result was a beneficial relationship for both groups. The trajectory from there has been different, but imagine what today would be like if they'd carried on in that fashion."
Created by native writer Alanis King with Shadowland, the play journeys from 1606 to 2006, literally walking the audience around the island to see scenes and installations involving shadowplay, puppet shows, fire and live music.
"Food was more than sustenance," adds the company's Brad Harley. "The meal was a morale builder, an opportunity for sharing ideas, poetry and camaraderie. It's an early version of the potluck or church picnic - even dinner theatre."
But this is "dinner theatre" where the audience is active rather than passive.
"We treat them as if they are the nations of the area, the historic Mississauga and Etobicoke tribes who've been invited to a powwow of equals," offers Barber.
"There's something that happens to people when you hand them something that's nourishing and sustaining, be it a work of theatre, a cup of tea or a piece of bread. You're all connected in a new way and look at the world around you differently."