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Colleen Wheeler dives into Elizabeth Rex at Bard on the Beach

Colleen Wheeler as Elizabeth Rex. Photo:David Cooper

Timothy Findlay’s Elizabeth Rex enlivens the life of one of Britain’s most fascinating monarchs at a time in her life that humanizes her with high stake emotion. As played by the superb Colleen Wheeler and directed by Rachel Ditor, Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival continues its 24th season opening Elizabeth Rex on July 5. This play is only the second full length non-Shakespearean production in Bard’s history.

For Wheeler, having her gorgeous, fiery, curly, mane shaved to play the part was a decision that took some time. “I had to think about it for a month and then I thought how cowardly I would be if I said no,” shared Wheeler on a supper break from a technical rehearsal.

Sitting on the a bench outside of Vanier Park, still in her white makeup and eyebrows painted above her own, a hat covering her head, Wheeler delighted in chatting with passerby’s and putting at ease a little boy who couldn’t help but stare. Warm, generous, and friendly, Wheeler discussed the level of research required to play someone who had lived and made radical choices for her time period.

“There has been so much written about her so I did a ton of research to find a context, “explained Wheeler.” She fell into the succession of the throne after her two elder siblings died and there was huge pressure on her to marry. She didn’t want to marry and produce an heir because she knew that she would be killed.”

“The great thing about being an actor is you can re-imagine her, “explained Wheeler. “She was an amazing woman. “

Many would say that Wheeler is also an amazing woman.

Graduating from the University of Alberta BFA Acting program, her career has spanned film, theatre and voice over work. Known for her powerful presence, gorgeously resonated voice, and pedal to the metal emotional commitment,  Colleen has been a company member at Bard on the Beach for the past eleven seasons. Memorable roles include: Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Chorus in Henry V, Adriana in The Comedy of Errors, Stephana in Tempest, Kate in The Taming of the Shrew,Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream andGertrude in Hamlet. Other recent theatre includes: Initiation Trilogy (Electric Company), Kid Gloves (Firehall), Boeing Boeing, The Penelopiad (Arts Club) and A Beautiful View (Ruby Slippers). Wheeler is the recipient of five Jessie Richardson Awards.

Though Wheeler will allow that the similarities between Elizabeth and herself are physical – “she was a red head and she was tall”, it was the empathy for her feelings of mourning rather than circumstance that Wheeler can relate to.

Happily married with a vivacious three year old daughter doesn’t really prepare you for a woman on the evening of her lover Earl of Essex being put to death for treason by her order. “I can relate to the kind of grief she felt but there is no context in my life beyond what I can imagine.”

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