Shakespeare in the Ruins (SIR) is a professional Canadian theatre company that is best known for presenting Shakespeare outdoors in unique settings.
1993 – With little more than a unique vision and a spirit of adventure, a small group of Manitoba theatre artists come together to create a Shakespearean theatre company around the crumbling walls of the Trappist Monastery Ruins in St. Norbert, Manitoba that would inspire the company’s name.
The original founding company included: Derek Aasland; Michelle Boulet; B. Pat Burns; Lee J. Campbell; Matt Moreau; Maggie Nagle; Debbie Patterson; Gene Pyrz; Lora Schroeder; Marc Beaudry; Katie R. East; Ann Hodges; Grant Guy; Arne MacPherson; Rick McPherson and Rick Skene.
Shakespeare in the Ruins was born!
Incorporating the unique environment of the Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park, promenade-style audience movement, cross gendered, multiple-role casting and a dynamic, text-oriented style of performance with a focus on creating an immediate, intimate relationship with our audience, the inaugural performance of Romeo and Juliet set the template for what has continued to be SIR’s approach to the works of William Shakespeare to this day: constant expansion and reinvention.
Initially functioning as an Equity Co-op, SIR was incorporated in 1995 and a board of directors was formed. Shakespeare in the Ruins operated under the Independent Theatre Agreement until joining PACT (the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres) in 2014. Our artistic programming was directed by a passionate ensemble of artists until a shift in 2016, when we appointed a full time Artistic Director to independently drive the artistic vision of the company – with a group of artistic associates in an advisory capacity.
The adventurous spirit that drives SIR has led us to perform in places well beyond the Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park, including productions on Winnipeg’s Dreman Building parkade rooftop, Gaboury-Lagimodiere Park in St. Boniface, and the old Assiniboine Park conservatory.
In addition to working our way through the Bard’s canon with our annual spring Main Stage production, SIR has developed and performed unique one-hour, four-actor touring productions that include: Stripped-Down Macbeth; Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet; Stripped-Down Hamlet; and A Stripped-Down Midsummer Night’s Dream. These productions have traveled to high schools throughout Manitoba, Western Ontario and Eastern Saskatchewan.
Moreover, parallel to exploring Shakespeare’s plays, SIR has a proud history of developing and presenting new works by Manitoba and emerging playwrights that touch on classical themes and are “in conversation” with Shakespeare. They include the world-premieres of The Odyssey by Rick Chafe (2000), Head by Debbie Patterson (2006), Awaken by Tracey Penner (2020), The Player King by Ron Pederson (2022), Pandora and The Dark Lady by Jessica B. Hill (2023).
Below, please find a timeline of Historical Highlights:
May 1994 – SIR’s inaugural performance of Romeo and Juliet premiered, featuring unique, promenade style performance and casting open to all genders and cultural experiences – a tradition we continue to this day.
2000 – The world premiere of Rick Chafe’s stage adaptation of Homer’s classic epic poem The Odyssey hits the stage at The Ruins.
2002 – SIR partner’s with Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre to bring The Threepenny Opera to the Royal MTC Warehouse as part of BrechtFest.
Fall 2002 – Sadly, SIR was required to vacate the Trappist Monastery Ruins due to the building deteriorating and becoming unsafe to perform in and around.
2003 – Our cheeky, ‘Transcona-set’ Romeo & Juliet on the parkade rooftop premieres.
2004 – SIR begins touring. Our first touring production is “Stripped-Down Macbeth”.
2006 – The world premiere of Artistic Associate Debbie Patterson’s musical Head.
2011 – We partner with Winnipeg Harvest and provide free family drama classes. “Shakespeare in the City” is born!
2012 – SIR finally returns home to the refurbished Trappist Monastery Ruins in St. Norbert for our production of Henry V. It’s good to be home.
2016 – After thee years of advocating, we are finally granted access to teach inmates at Shakespeare in Stony Mountain Penitentiary. “Shakespeare in Stony Mountain” is born!
2018 – For our 25th anniversary, we produce the little known (and according to the RSC, guaranteed to lose money at the box office) Timon of Athens. Thankfully we didn’t lose money at the box office and Timon of Athens goes on to be nominated for 5 Winnipeg Theatre Awards and win 2 (outstanding director Michelle Boulet and outstanding performance by an actress Sarah Constible as Timon)
2019 – Rodrigo Beilfuss is hired as SIR’s new Artistic Director. He is the first person in SIR history to hold the job who is not an Artistic Associate.
2021 – Sara Malabar is appointed General Manager. We launch Brave New Works, our new play development program.
The challenges SIR faces under their leadership are multifaceted: a global pandemic, socio-cultural transformations, the climate crisis and the complexity of keeping Shakespeare alive and relevant in the 21st century.
2022 – The world-premiere of Ron Pederson’s The Player King. We introduce a weekly Free Bus for audiences and launch a series of Accessibility initiatives. We also license the entire park for the first time, and are no longer confined to the small, fenced drinking area of the tent. SIR begins offering a season “in rep” at the Ruins, producing two shows that run on a repertory schedule: a classic play by Shakespeare alongside a new, “Shakespeare-adjacent” work.
Early 2023 – SIR’s major “pandemic pivot project”, the 2020 feature-film adaptation of Macbeth starring Ray Strachan and Julie Lumsden, wins Best Film at the Carmarthen Bay Film Festival in Wales. Co-directors and co-creators Michelle Boulet and Sarah Constible are rightly celebrated for their Shakespearean versatility on stage and screen.
2023 – The company turns 30! We celebrate with the world-premieres of Pandora (a co-production with Prairie Theatre Exchange) and The Dark Lady (a co-production with Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan), both by Jessica B. Hill. Both texts are set to be published by Scirocco Drama in 2024. The Dark Lady secures three nominations at the SATA Awards in Saskatoon (Best Production, Best New Work, and Individual Excellence for Hill).