There has been many times in her theatrical career when Estelle Shook has stood freezing out in the cold leading a group of actors, musicians and crew members to stage fantastical outdoor productions.
She also hasn’t been shy to occasionally grab the reins and lead a team of gentle-giant Clydesdales to their posts.
Only part of her duties as Caravan Farm Theatre’s former artistic director, Shook often took the lead as stage director, helming Caravan’s winter sleigh-ride and summer productions.
After six years of being away from the farm, Shook is back as interim artistic director while current AD Courtenay Dobbie is on maternity leave about to celebrate the arrival of her second child.
“It’s good to be back,” said Shook, who is as comfortable on horseback as she is in some 1,000-seat indoor theatre.
She first visited Caravan before it was a farm, when productions were rolled into communities by wagon with the stage pulled by horses.
“I grew up on a horse, bareback riding. We never could afford fancy riding lessons,” said Shook, who has lived in Armstrong and attended W.L. Seaton Secondary in Vernon when she was a teen.
“I also grew up watching Caravan shows. I was six years old when I saw my first one; it was (Brecht’s) Caucasian Chalk Circle. Later I saw original Caravan productions like Law of the Land and Horseplay.”
Shook would go on to produce and direct such notable Caravan plays as The Ballad of Weedy Peetstraw, Cowboy King, and IOU Land as well as Shakespeare’s Macbeth and King Lear and Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children.
The last official show she directed at the farm was the winter reprisal of A Christmas Carol, which featured larger-than-life puppets designed by veteran set designer Catherine Hahn, while her last production as AD was Everyone, a modern morality play in seven horse-drawn acts created with six Vancouver theatre companies.
After that production, Shook, who by then had given birth to her daughter, Violetta, eventually made her way to Toronto.
She took a few years off to be a mom, and then went back to school to increase her directing experience.
“At that point I had only directed outside and so I applied to an exclusive program through Canadian Stage, which is a progressive international theatre. Only two people are accepted for it,” she said.
It was also her way to break into an indoor theatre setting.
“In outdoor theatre, you are operating within a type of framework where the audience is engaged more holistically with the theatre in a more visceral way. It’s easier to absorb. Indoor theatre would be wise to emulate that,” she said. “Why I wanted to work in a big house is that there is more audience and more opportunities to make money. When an audience gets to a certain size, it cultivates a dynamic experience particularly in drama. It’s impossible to ignore.”
Mentored by such luminaries as Peter Hinton and Matthew Jocelyn, Shook earned an MFA through the collaborative program between York University and Canadian Stage.
She was hired by Canadian Stage to direct the 2011 Shakespeare in High Park production of The Winter’s Tale and later Julius Caesar, and this past year co-directed the world premiere double bill of Botticelli in the Fire and Sunday in Sodom, of which she was nominated for a 2016 Dora Mavor award for outstanding direction.
Her work also took her to Antwerp and Vienna, where she studied opera direction.
Now back to her roots, Shook is excited to apply what she has learned to Caravan’s 2016-17 season, which starts with the 13th annual Walk of Terror Oct. 29 (see above story).
Next up is the winter sleigh-ride production of The Orphan’s Dream, written by Governor General award-winning playwright George F. Walker.
The play will be directed by Shook’s former cohort Jennifer Brewin. Also returning to design the production will be Hahn.
“It’s an updated version of A Christmas Carol in that it tackles poverty and that it is adventurous, but the antagonist here is the opposite of Scrooge in that she time travels to get down to the bottom of why she’s an orphan,” said Shook. “It’s a beautiful, funny and transformative Christmas story.”
This summer, Shook will direct a ribald musical western, based on a script written by Caravan’s own Dobbie and Ajineen Sagal, both of Showdown of the Whiskey Girls fame.
Visit www.caravanfarmtheatre.com for more information on the 2016-17 season.