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For my blog this week, I learned that it’s impossible to be bored during the summer weekends in Prescott and Russell! In one day, Sunday, July 15, I had the chance to participate in two events very different from each other: the Jessup’s Falls 2018 Festival and the play Romeo and Juliet, presented by Repercussion Theatre in Hawkesbury.

Jessup’s Falls Festival

The Jessup’s Falls Festival, now in its second year, is organized by the non-profit group EscarpAction. According to their website, EscarpAction’s “mission is the protection and conservation of the natural heritage of the Jessup’s Falls escarpment for the benefit of present and future generations”.

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The festival was held at the Jessup’s Falls Conservation Area on the edge of the South Nation River, and the day was sunny and warm! The large trees in the park provided shade for the many visitors present at the event. With programming that focused on the arts, culture, and heritage of the area, there was something for the whole family: guided tours of the woods; local artists, artisans, businesses and products; and activities for children.

Under the art gallery tent, you could see works celebrating the outdoors and the nature of the region. I even saw works by CAPRAC members like Léola Meagher, Suzanne Bohay, Leeça St-Aubin, Line Labrecque and Carol Penny. Among the artisans, François Gours was there with his magnificent works, carved from softwood from the area. Talking with the artists, I learned about their motivations and work process. The best advice I received is to take the necessary time to let our passion bloom. The process of creation and the mastery of our art should go hand in hand with patience and perseverance, and our local artists are the proof!

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Community action groups were there to raise awareness about ecology and share their work. Our lifestyles and purchasing habits often have a direct impact on the environment and these groups informed young and old in an interactive way.

My favourite part of the afternoon was the presentation by the historian Michel Prévost. Born in the Prescott and Russell area, he gave a presentation on ghost towns in the counties, while focusing on Jessup’s Falls. Ok, the presentation confirmed that the area is not necessarily haunted (as I believed from the title of the presentation), but I learned that Jessup’s Falls had the potential to be an important village during the 19th and early 20th century. With its sawmill, the village also had a grain mill, a textile mill and even a post office (very important in that era)! They even considered changing the region’s “capital” from L’Orignal to Jessup’s Falls.

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Why did this not happen? In 1914, the mill had burned down and people moved to cities where there was employment. In addition, the rise in the water level made the falls disappear. Although the presentation was very interesting and informative on how our regional history impacts the history of the world, Mr. Prévost noted that there is still much to discover about the story of Jessup’s Falls! A good research topic for a future historian!

It was a beautiful afternoon at the Jessup’s Falls Festival where I learned about the history, artists and natural heritage of our region! If you weren’t able to be there, do not miss the third edition in 2019!

Shakespeare in Hawkesbury

Arriving at the Place Des Pionniers, I immediately noticed the brutal themed and imposing décor, which seemed to have been part of the park for a long time with its air of a building in ruins. On the lawn in front of the stage, people of all ages were sitting in their lawn chairs. The energy that surrounded the event was well put into words by a nearby audience member: “It’s so exciting we get to see Shakespeare performed in Hawkesbury!” And the show began!

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Celebrating its 30th season, Repercussion Theater, a troupe of Shakespeare-in-the-park specialists, will present their production of Romeo and Juliet thirty times this summer.
Established in Montreal and mostly presenting in Québec, only two Ontario cities have the pleasure of welcoming them (fortunately, Hawkesbury was one of them!). Their mission; “deliver professional, classically based, visually dynamic theatre that is accessible to all, regardless of income, culture, language, age and education”. In my opinion, the mission has been accomplished! Young and old were part of the audience, the production was modern and accessible, there was no entry fee, and a smartphone app was created to follow the text in French!

From the first scene, we know that the production will be dynamic, fresh and rhythmic! The prologue is accompanied by percussion, a cappella singing (by the actors) and by a frenzied choreography! The costumes seemed timeless; a mix between the Elizabethan style and a modern androgynous style that allows the fluidity of genders. Oh yes, it is important to note that this production used non-traditional casting, changing the gender of certain characters. For example, the fathers, Capulet and Montague, were played by women, and Lady Capulet was played by a man. Conversely, the character of Romeo is a woman and her pronouns were modified in Shakespeare’s text. Personally, I found this change easy to follow and it gave an interesting and modern dimension to the story.

Although this production is not the first to change the gender of characters to challenge the traditional gender roles (we also can’t forget that women were forbidden to perform on stage in Shakespeare’s time, so women roles were played by young men), these changes modify the narrative by presenting love between two women. Some situations or lines now have a new meaning. For example, when the nurse orders Romeo, in a fit of emotion, to stand and be a woman (in this production), we question the traditional saying of making a man of oneself. Moreover, the fact that Juliet refuses her wedding to the noble Paris and does not want to announce her love for Romeo to her parents can be explained here by the fear of coming out to them, in addition to the family conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues. On the other hand, the characters that are aware of this love accept it entirely (as the play wants) and this gives a message of acceptance of an individual’s choices. This famous story of heterosexual love becomes here a celebration of same-sex love.

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I could write endlessly about all the amazing actors and how much they’ve managed to make each character believable and multi-dimensional, but I’ll just talk about my favourite actor of the evening. Adam Capriolo, in the roles of Mercutio and the prince, brought out the humour and sarcasm of Mercutio and played him with extravagantly and eccentrically. I’m sure we can all remember the monotony of reading this play in our high school classes (I know I can). Thanks to the performance of the actors, and Capriolo in particular, the audience could (finally!) understand the – sometimes subtle – humour of Shakespeare!

It’s always a great experience when you can witness art outside of its traditional environment. In this case, the park makes the art form more accessible for everyone and makes a strange parallel with real life; despite the drama presented on stage (or all over the world), life around continues as always. Fortunately, it was a play and the audience can go back home peacefully, but I am convinced that this production has left no one indifferent!