Friday, August 23, 2013

Shakespeare Please...Bard on the Beach Style

I’ve been lucky that for two years in a row now, I’ve been to London’s Globe Theatre to see the best traditionally-performed Shakespeare in the world.  The first year, I thought it would be fun to stand in the courtyard, the cheap seats if you will (it lost its appeal very quickly when my back started to ache within the first act and I couldn’t bend down in the book store later), and the second year I sat on the bench with a cushion which was helpful but still not the most comfortable. But hey, that’s what you get when you are given an authentic back-in-the-day Shakespeare experience, which is exactly what the Globe Theatre provides, from the seats, to the theatre, the acting, right down to the costumes. Outside of Stratford-Upon-Avon, you won’t find anything closer to the real thing.

Living in Vancouver can make it hard to visit the Globe regularly, so the next best thing to England’s plays would be Bard on the Beach. Each year they produce four plays in a variety of styles, eras, costumes, accents, etc. all within the fabulous Vanier Park which provides a magnificent back-drop to the company’s main stage tent.

For years, I have been the traditionalist when it comes to how the plays are produced--I prefer the period dress and performances as if I was back in the 16th century. Going to England only furthered that sentiment, and I’m not even English (although apparently I can start speaking with an English accent all of sudden without realizing it).

That having been said, I have always immensely enjoyed my eight years plus of attending Bard on the Beach. My friend Ron is a member and has been for quite some time. Each year he gets two Bard packs (if you purchase all four plays you are given a discount) and away we go. Long gone are the days where you had to “claim” your seat by writing your name (or a reasonable facsimile of who you wanted to be) and then when the gates opened, you had to run like mad and stick the name on the seat you wanted. I always chose the name of a goddess like Athena or Venus--it made for good conversation with the people around me when I went back to my seat. Now there is assigned seating when you purchase the tickets which makes the whole experience that much more relaxing without the possibility of anyone getting mowed down in the process.

The gift shop housed inside the village is great--it has everything and anything Shakespeare you can think of. A book of insults, magnetic poetry, finger puppets, aprons and t-shirts, and the list goes on. Sadly, I basically have the store in my home, minus the finger-puppets. They also have some tasty refreshments too. We always tend to grab a bite to eat before going; however, if you need to eat upon your arrival, they have sandwiches now and a plethora of snacks and drinks. The main attraction for me is the caramel corn--and some sort of beverage to avoid any kind of coughing fit during the play. Lastly, to complete the village experience (and more importantly a biological necessity), and this may seem like an odd thing to mention, but the portable washrooms are very nice, and I mean that sincerely. They do not smell at all, and there is hand-sanitizer everywhere. The first year I went I remember thinking, “Oh how cool, they even have a purse-holder in here!”. I quickly realized just as the handbag almost touched down, that it was not a place for my purse but rather, it was a urinal. There’s nothing further that needs to be said on that subject.

Going to the plays this year, I opened my eyes a little further to what I was seeing in each of the shows, and realized that the Bard on the Beach productions are truly quite unique. The Twelfth Night was set at a spa in the early 1900’s. Hamlet was done modern day with the use of cell phones and iPads. Measure For Measure brought us back to the New Orleans about a century ago, with southern accents to boot. And lastly, Elizabeth Rex--a play that was not written by Shakespeare but rather had him in it, so indeed a different perspective on Queen Elizabeth’s life, all done in period dress. I was extremely impressed, especially given my traditionalist viewpoint of what Shakespeare “should” be.

The acting, the singing, the sets, the costumes--all incredible, talented performers, directors, producers, set creators and costume designers. Even though I already knew this, it was this year in particular that made me realize Shakespeare is truly timeless. Bard on the Beach has proven that year over year, with their use of creative variety on the classic plays, they are able to capture an audience of all age groups and bring to life for us something we can relate to in our lives now. It just proves that what was written over 500 years ago is still relevant today, it’s all just how you interpret it.

I rave about my experience each year that I go, and will always continue to do so. Get out there and enjoy those performances--abandon your thoughts around the Shakespeare you learned in school and open up to a whole new world. I promise, you won’t be disappointed. And, maybe someday, there will be purse-holders in the portable washrooms...I think Hamlet said it best: ”Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”