An insatiable appetite for everything Shakespearian has landed a Langley man a return engagement on and off stage in this year's Bard in the Valley production that's opening tonight in Douglas Park.
Shawn McGrory, a 59-year-old retired federal civil servant, held a tiny (10-line) role in his high school production of Julius Caesar.
But between graduation and his retirement four years ago, he never gave any thought and honestly held no real interest in getting involved in theatre.
But admittedly, McGrory said, he always had an "appreciation" for Shakespeare and when he was bouncing off the walls only three months after retiring from his middle management job, his wife pushed him to audition for Bard's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
"No one was more surprised than me at getting part," he said. "My goal was just to audition; a lark; for something interesting to write in my... journal."
The rest, as they say, is history. McGrory became involved in the very first Bard production in Langley four seasons ago, and has willingly fit many a hat in the annual outdoor summer productions ever since. In this year's production of The Comedy of Errors, he plays the bit part of the jailer and has been instrumental behind the scenes, as well, with set production and props.
The organizational skills he attained while riding a desk for years has come in handy, McGrory said. Plus, thanks to the support and teaching of professional actors, set painters, carpenters, and even acting students involved with Bard in the Valley - he's gleaned a whole new skill set - and still anxious to learn more.
"Shawn is the kind of person who just sees what needs to be done and does it, quietly and efficiently," said show producer Diane Gendron. "We are fortunate to have him on our team."
"It's been very good for me, I've made a lot of friends," McGrory said of his experience with Bard, noting he's subsequently started lending a hand off stage for Surrey Little Theatre, as well.
"I thought they might need an extra hammer on set," he said, surprised beyond belief when he was asked to be stage manager of the youth production You're A Good Man Charlie Brown.
Admittedly, involvement in Bard has opened up a whole new world to McGrory, he said his passion for Shakespeare is what will ensure he keeps coming back.
"Why do I like Shakespeare's work? It was an acquired taste, if I had to describe it," he said, sharing with the Langley Advance how he watched his first Shakespeare play in Vancouver before Bard on the Beach opened. He watched The Tempest and recalled how disappointed he was because the actors did not truly grasp the nuances of the language.
"Years later, when my children were young, Friday nights involved watching TV. It usually happened that after - say a hockey game - the BBC version of a Shakespeare play would air. I sometimes had trouble with the English accents; I would follow along with a copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, an old copy that I had acquired in my teens."
His children would play, quietly absorbing Shakespeare.
"Once when I had sent my son to bed during a CBC version of Romeo and Juliet, I caught him trying to sneak back in unnoticed to see the end. I had to relent," McGrory recounted.
"When the kids were older, the Bard on the Beach had readings of plays, where the actors would come on stage, with scripts in hand but reading with as much passion as if it was a formal performance. Admission was by donation, so it was a low cost picnic outing for the family that everyone enjoyed, I would often invite friends to join us."
In in keeping with the fondness he developed for those Bard productions, McGrory is particularly thrilled to participate in the Langley shows because there is no charge to spectators.
"The show is free, and a family can come to the park and enjoy a professional quality show and bring friends, have a picnic," he said.
More at www.langleyadvance.com, search for "Bard"
Bard in the Valley
Returning to two outdoor venues this month with The Comedy of Errors:
Spirit Square bandstand at Douglas Park -Aug. 9, 10, and 15 to 17, at 7 p.m. -Aug. 11 and 18, at 2 p.m.
Langley International Festival at Willoughby Park -Aug. 24 at 6 p.m. -Aug. 25 at 1 p.m.
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