‘Bard On The Beach’ puts a refreshing twist on the classics

Wednesday 15th, June 2016 / 18:30
By Prachi Kamble
Photo: David and Emily Cooper

Photo: David and Emily Cooper

VANCOUVER — Shakespeare on a summer’s day by the water. For theatre lovers, could it get any better? Bard on the Beach has been entertaining literature and performance art fans for 27 years and is notorious for changing things up when it comes to genres and eras. This season, the company is staging Romeo and Juliet, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Pericles, and Othello. BeatRoute spoke to Christopher Gaze, artistic director and founder of Bard, and coaxed him to spill a few secrets about the coming season.

Instead of England, The Merry Wives of Windsor is set in 1960s Windsor, Ontario. “We produced The Merry Wives four years ago on the smaller Howard Family stage and it was a meteoric success,” Gaze reveals. “The director, Johanna Wright, pitched me the idea and I liked it immediately. It is a very charming play, but very difficult to pull off. Johanna’s context makes it accessible and so much fun, as the 1960s were.” The production features songs from the stylish era like “Stand by Your Man” and “These Boots Were Made for Walking,” and the actors even play the music themselves. The ‘60s come alive further with elaborate costumes and set designs.

Othello gets an equally intriguing makeover, set in the midst of the American Civil War. “It is a less known but interesting fact that there were a few black generals who fought in the American Civil War,” Gaze notes. “That element gives the play a much more immediate context than its original.” For fans of more classic Shakespearean renderings, Kim Colliers’ Romeo and Juliet will perhaps hit the spot the best. But, Gaze warns us not to get too comfortable with it either, because it might “seem to fit the classic mould and then suddenly it doesn’t!”

For Bard, these reinterpretations were as fun to create as they are to witness. “New interpretation is what we do,” Gaze says. “If we just did traditional productions, I think we’d become dinosaurs and people would get bored.”

Director Lois Anderson similarly reconfigures the more rarely put-on Pericles. “Lois is exploring her talent as a director,” Gaze says. “Her play is set in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It will be magical, classical, and very theatrical. It is like a travelogue. Pericles travels from place to place, in various crises, until he finds his family again through miracles.”

With its sweeping Vanier Park location as the backdrop for these fresh re-imaginings, as well as special performances from the Vancouver Symphony and the Vancouver Opera, Bard on the Beach, Gaze assures firmly, is the place to be this summer.

Bard on the Beach is held at Vanier Park from June 3 to September 24.

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