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Taking the Bard to Bosnia

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Among the mostly Muslim Bosnians, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs who make up the cast of Twelfth Night currently touring Bosnia-Herzegovina is a 20-year-old Winnipegger.

Maclean Boyd is one of three Canadian student actors performing in the multilingual play, produced by Youth Bridge Global, an international non-profit organization that stages theatre in under-resourced areas of the world. The idea behind the initiative is to use theatre to foster friendships among youth of former warring populations.

The multi-ethnic cast performed twice in Mostar last weekend, in Nik°ic, Montenegro, on Tuesday and then made several stops in Bosnia this weekend.

"We perform in a variety of cities, ranging from Sarajevo (this weekend) to places like Stolac, which were very affected by the war and still have segregated schools," says Boyd, a Riverview resident studying at the University of New Brunswick. "It is important to perform in cities like this because it not only allows the audience to be exposed to live theatre, which is uncommon there, but allows them to see a team of multi-ethnic youth working positively together."

In a place like Mostar, still deeply divided along ethnic lines, the words, "Pursue him and entreat him to a peace," resonate deeply when they are spoken by a Croat Catholic, playing Count Orsino, to a Bosnian Muslim portraying Malvolio. Two decades ago, such a scene would have been unimaginable -- onstage or in real life. Adding to the occasion is that Twelfth Night is set in Illyria, the ancient name for the western part of the Balkan peninsula.

This the sixth Shakespearean production mounted in Bosnia by Youth Bridge Global, which has also staged performances since 2004 in the Marshall Islands, China, Russia and Rwanda. Twelfth Night drew a total of 400 people to the two Mostar dates, which were staged in the ruins of the old city library, an ugly reminder of the war.

"The audience reacted very positively to our show, and loved scenes like the boxtree sequence, which has a lot of physical humour," Boyd says. "I've never seen an audience get so into Shakespeare in Canada, which was exciting to see."

Boyd is studying interdisciplinary leadership at UNB, a program that includes a 10-week internship abroad.

Last year, two of Boyd's roommates went to Rwanda; after hearing about their amazing experience, he wanted in. He approached Andrew Garrod, a former University of Manitoba professor who is directing Twelfth Night.

"Our director speaks of the relevance of Twelfth Night in its relation to gender and sexuality," says Boyd in a recent email exchange. "While (the play is) a comedy, the love triangles and disguised gender have great global significance and, if nothing else, allow our cast and audiences to safely think about how that has an effect on society."

About 60 per cent of the bilingual play is presented in the local language, with the rest performed in Shakespearean iambic pentameter. Boyd is one of 40 in the cast, which ranges in age from 15 to 25, who took part in six weeks of rehearsal. He's also is in charge of all the props and helping to train the performers for the dance numbers that open and close the show.

"My background in mostly in dance," says Boyd, who performed in the musicals Guys and Dolls and Footloose at Churchill High School. "I have been a traditional Irish dancer with the McConnell School of Dance for 15 years.

"After being taught a traditional wedding dance here by the cast, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon giving them an Irish dance workshop, and I think that shows what is so special about Youth Bridge Global. It is all about learning from one another and spending time together."

Boyd will be in Bosnia until Aug. 29, and will return to Winnipeg at the end of September.

"I see myself either teaching dance or becoming involved in one of Winnipeg's many arts and cultural festivals, like Folklorama," he says.

 

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2014 G9

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