How to turn election candidates into Shakespearean actors

Picture it: a Hamilton city councillor gets administered a love potion so he’ll return the love of an Athenian aristocrat.

Fools, lovers and heroes; election candidates perform Shakespeare at the Fringe

Colm Feore plays King Lear in a recent performance at the Stratford Festival. Hamilton's municipal election candidates will take the stage in July to act out Shakespearean roles as a fundraiser for the Hamilton Fringe Festival. (Don Dixon/Stratford Festival of Canada)

Picture it: fairies give a Hamilton city councillor a love potion so he’ll return the love of an Athenian aristocrat, like Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Or Michael Baldasaro, Hamilton’s perennial mayoral candidate, divides his estate among his three greedy daughters,  a la King Lear.

That’s the scene the Hamilton Fringe Festival envisions at their kick-off event on July 16, when candidates for this fall’s municipal election take the stage with professional actors to act out scenes from Shakespeare plays.

The event is a fundraiser for the festival. Depending on the amount of money raised, the candidates will either play one of Shakespeare’s fools ($250), unlucky lovers ($500) or heroes ($1,000).

So far, seven candidates have signed up. They are:

  • Brad Clark, mayoral candidate and current ward 9 councillor.
  • Brian McHattie, mayoral candidate and current ward 1 councillor.
  • Michael Baldasoro, mayoral candidate.
  • Aidan Johnson, ward 1 candidate.
  • Jason Farr, ward 2 incumbent.
  • Matthew Green, ward 3 candidate.
  • Cam Galindo, ward 9 candidate.

Festival director Claire Calnan emailed the candidates using their emails on the city web page of nominated candidates. She also approached many of them at an arts event.

Some had scheduling conflicts. Some readily signed up, while others “took some convincing,” she said. Johnson was so enthusiastic that he volunteered to do a speech he'd already memorized.

We look silly all the time.- Coun. Brian McHattie, on politicians

Shakespeare is challenging for even the most seasoned actors. But the point of the event is to have fun, and to show “a sense of vulnerability and humanity that the arts always tries to touch on,” she said. 

McHattie signed on right away. His grandfather was one of the founding volunteers of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. McHattie is a regular attendee, but he hasn’t done any theatre himself “beyond being a politician.”

He’s not worried about whether he’ll look silly.

“We look silly all the time,” he said of politicians. “And the fringe festival is one of the greatest things in the world.”

To act, perchance to get elected

Green portrayed Langston Hughes in a Pearl Company production, but that’s his only acting experience.

“I have no fears about looking silly at all,” he said. “Those that know me know I don’t take myself that seriously.”

He also sees parallels between Shakespearean plays and municipal elections.

“What I do like about Shakespeare is that it’s applicable to life in that there are very few perfect characters,” he said.

“Each has their own flaws and their own compelling stories. It’s almost a parallel where there might not be a perfect candidate, but those who appeal to the audience will be successful.”

Mayoral candidate Fred Eisenberger, whose email address is not listed on the city web page, said he hadn’t received an invitation. But if he did, “I would be game for that.”

Attendance on the rise

This is the 11th year for the fringe festival, an unjuried festival that runs from July 17 to 27. There are 45 plays and performances this year.

Last year, attendance was up by nearly half, and “this year, we’re hoping to build on that even more,” publicist Denyse Terry said.

The Shakespeare event will be part of the festival launch, which will also include two-minute pitches of each of the plays.

The event is at the Citadel Theatre at 28 Rebecca St. at 7:30 p.m.

Go to the Fringe Festival site to donate and help determine the roles the candidates will play.