Nathan Cottell (in the title role of Titus) and Courtney Shields (playing his brother Marcus) prepare for the Vancouver Fringe Festival’s presentation of Titus: The Light and Delightful Musical Comedy of Titus Andronicus. The show runs eight times from Sept. 10-20.

A bloody good musical comedy

A South Surrey actress takes part in Shakespeare’s most violent play turned on its ear at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

When a local theatre company sought people to audition for a wild adaptation of William Shakespeare’s most violent play for the Vancouver Fringe Festival, Courtney Shields knew this was going to be interesting.

“As I was reading the character breakdowns, I never read such hilarious characters.”

It turned out she was a shoo-in for one specific role in Titus: The Light and Delightful Musical Comedy of Titus Andronicus.

For this play, a drastic re-imagining of Titus Andronicus, the character Marcus Andronicus, a Roman senator, had to tap dance.

Shields, 27, an actress from South Surrey, is rehearsing with the cast of Awkward Stage Productions at Granville Island.

“I play a dude,” she chuckles in the studio a week before the first performance. “I’m one of many women who play dudes in this show.”

Shields, a graduate with a degree in acting and education from UBC, is a high school substitute teacher focusing on drama – and is an actress.

Left: Kazz Leskard takes on the role of William Shakespeare, who decides to alter his violent drama into a musical comedy.

Although she has acted before, this is her first completely original play, with an original musical score.

“This process has been very humbling and rewarding.”

She says the crew has taken the time to tweak the play to suit the strengths of the actors.

Shields suspects the role of Marcus Andronicus might have originally been geared towards a man, but musical director Jenny Andersen made alterations in key, pitch and lyrics for Shields.

“After we did a workshop in late June or early July, after hearing me sing for the first time, Jenny re-wrote the song to suit my voice… which is pretty cool.”

Andersen composed music for the play that she describes as whimsical Monty Python-esque, with elements of Kurt Weill, Jacques Brel, rap and rock – played by three musicians on drums, keyboards and a cello.

Like the original play, there’s plenty of torturous violence – with the intention of gauging society’s infatuation with blood and gore, but in a comedic way.

“The first kill is actually played by a puppet,” says Shields, who elects to not give away the plot, other than to say the crew has fashioned several post-amputation arm stumps.

“It becomes almost absurd.”

Andy Toth, who directs the cast of 14, notes “We probably made a mess of Shakespeare’s ugliest piece.”

Toth says Shakespeare was already violent and abhorrent, and probably turned people’s stomachs back in the day.

“We decided to take all of the trauma in Shakespeare’s play and bring all the funny we can to it and have people sitting there at the end of the show going ‘Why am I laughing at this? This is awful.’

“I think that’s fun.”

Titus: The Light and Delightful Musical Comedy of Titus Andronicus plays at the Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova St., Vancouver. The musical is geared for those 14 and older, and contains coarse language, sexual content and violent content.

Dates and times are:

• Thursday, Sept. 10 at 8 p.m.

• Saturday, Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m.

• Sunday, Sept. 13 at 2 p.m.

• Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m.

• Thursday, Sept. 17 at 10 p.m.

• Friday, Sept. 18 at 5 p.m.

• Saturday, Sept. 19 at 7:45 p.m.

• Sunday, Sept. 20 at 2:45 p.m.

For tickets, visit http://bit.ly/1UiwfsS

For more information, visit www.awkwardstageproductions.com or www.vancouverfringe.com

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