The history of Fort La Tour is steeped in tragedy and bloodshed.
In 1631, Charles de Saint-Étienne de La Tour built a fortified trading post at Portland Point to exchange furs with the Wolastoqiyik. In 1645, his wife — Madame de La Tour, the “Lioness of Acadia” — famously waged a multi-day campaign to defend it against Charles de Menou d’Aulnay — a bloody battle that ended in surrender and the mass hanging of her men.
Historian W. F. Ganong wrote there was “no event in the history of Acadia … which so powerfully touches the chords of our human sympathies.”
Starting Wednesday, the fort will host another famous tragedy.
Macbeth, directed by Sandra Bell, is a collaboration with the Saint John Theatre Company and Loyalist City Shakespeare.
It’s the first large-scale public event Place Fort La Tour has hosted. Interestingly, the Scottish tragedy was likely written in 1606 — just a few decades before Charles de Saint-Étienne de La Tour arrived at Portland Point.
“We’re so thrilled about having an outdoor experience,” said Heather Kamerman, Place Fort La Tour’s general manager.
Bell called it “the biggest outdoor project that Saint John has had in terms of theatre.”
As a theatre set, the fort is “like nothing you could build.It almost mimics Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, where the audience, the groundlings would have stood,” she said.
“It is fabulous. And of course you might get the Saint John fog rolling in for some atmosphere.”
Battle to restore a national historic site
Over 5,000-plus years of recorded history, the site has served as an Indigenous burial ground, a French fort, and a nail factory. It was designated a national historic site in 1923.
The notion of developing Fort La Tour as a historic attraction began over 50 years ago in 1972, when the Fort La Tour Development Authority was formed.
There have been countless studies over the decades. Big plans have been unveiled. Archaeological digs have been conducted. The construction phase made headlines. Heartbreakingly, in 2021 an unsolved act of arson nearly destroyed the fort just weeks before it was scheduled to open.
Last summer, the site opened for smaller-scale events, Kamerman said, as the team solidified partnerships and got “a little bit more ready to share stories and experiences with folks.”
The grand opening of Fort La Tour is now scheduled for Aug. 4.
Before the big public celebration in August, something wicked this way comes.
Bell’s production of Macbeth is a crisp 90 minutes, much shorter than the uncut script, which can run over two hours, not including intermission.
“We’ve got a good, tight story focusing on the major action,” she said — zeroing in on, and exploring, universal human anxieties and ambitions.
“We’re not all Scottish thanes, ready to kill, to climb the social ladder,” Bell said. “But we all have desires. We all have ambitions. We all have regrets. We all have guilt. We all have fear. The play encapsulates all of it — and there’s sword fights.
“I think there’s something for everyone in this play.”
‘The fine line of good and evil’
One thing you won’t find in Macbeth, said lead actor Christina Isbill is a clear-cut view of morality.
Even in her murderous scheming to make her husband Scotland’s king, Lady Macbeth is “justified in her own mind,” Isbill said. “In the end she turns out to be very human after all. So there’s no such thing as pure evil.”
As Macbeth, actor Cameron Secord hopes to embody a man who wilfully ignores his own best intuitions but never manages to silence his own conscience — a man “on that fine line of good and evil.”
“Macbeth finds himself in this middle ground, where he has to make decisions that are bad — but for what he thinks is the greater good.”
Also ghoulishly good are the Weird Sisters, the trio of witches who prophesy Macbeth will one day become king of Scotland, played by Beth Pollock, Madison Lucas, and Matt Hamilton Snow.
“We’re a little ghoulish,” Snow said. “Yet when we’re together, we’re a little more impish. There are smiles and laughter, but then when Macbeth’s around — watch out.”
Luke Norton, a recent arrival in Saint John from Sudbury, Ont., plays Macduff. He said uncovering local history has been a perk of landing the role.
“I’ve learned a lot,” he said, “about Madame La Tour, the history, the sacred grounds nearby as well. It feels really special to be here. I love the view of the port and all the ships coming in and out.
“It’s fun to be down here on the ground level, enjoying it in a different way.”
Spooky fog, stunning ocean vistas
There’s an element of surprise beyond the supernatural prophecies, murders and ghosts.
In addition to constantly changing weather, encounters with wildlife, passing trains, and noise from the Harbour Bridge are all possibilities.
“Something might happen differently every night,” Bell said. “That in itself is what theatre is about. I think my actors are ready for anything.”
As of Tuesday afternoon just a handful of tickets remained for Wednesday’s opening night. The remaining shows, which run between July 12 and July 22, are selling fast. Good shoes for walking, water, a jacket — maybe even a blanket — are recommended.
The first-of-its-kind event at Fort La Tour is expected to attract people who may not naturally seek out Shakespeare, as well as Shakespeare fans curious to finally see the finished fort.
“Most big cities have an outdoor summer Shakespeare festival — and this is our test,” Bell said. “Let’s do it here, too.
“I am hoping that people from here, and away, come and experience what Saint John has to offer on the harbour.”