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On Stage

Bard on the Beach

A quarter-century of Shakespeare

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It’s been longer than I care to remember since I took on the role of Puck in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in my sophomore year of college, but I’ll never forget the leaf-covered spandex costume I wore, or the powerful way that learning and absorbing Shakespeare’s lyrical, complicated lines affected how I approached the role of the impish trickster.

In other words, the Bard has staying power.

Nobody knows this better than Christopher Gaze, who, as Artistic Director of Vancouver B.C.‘s Bard on the Beach, has guided the summer repertory festival through a successful quarter-century of sharing Mr. Shakespeare’s works.

“We are very excited to celebrate our 25 years of bringing Shakespeare to life in Vancouver,” Gaze said in a recent press release. “To salute that legacy, we are revisiting two productions that our audiences truly loved. It is our birthday gift to Vancouver as we and the rest of the world celebrate the 450th anniversary year of Shakespeare’s birth. I’m proud and confident that it will be a landmark season.”

In case you haven’t guessed, one of the fan favorites to be featured this season is the aforementioned A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which opened the festival with a preview performance June 11 and will celebrate its grand opening in style Sat., June 21. Described as a “delicious tale of meddling fairies, star-crossed lovers, royal engagements, and muddled tradesmen caught up in chaos,” the comedy is undeniably one of Shakespeare’s most popular works—and for good reason; it’s entertaining as all get out.

Like Midsummer, magic, intrigue and romance make appearances in the fantastical play known as The Tempest, which also opens this week (and is the second “thanks to our supporters” production to be highlighted). Throw in shipwrecks, murder plots and an enchanted island, and the story will be hard to resist.

Lesser known, but still intriguing, is Cymbeline, which features one of Shakespeare’s strongest female leads, Imogen. Starting July 4, Bard on the Beach patrons can find out what happens after Imogen goes against the wishes of her father, King Cymbeline, to secretly marry a fellow named Posthumus. Seven actors will transform themselves to play multiple roles, so it’s safe to say there’s some sort of alchemy involved in this production, as well.

Finally, Bill Cain’s Equivocation will be added to the rotating roster of performances in early July. While it’s not a work written by Shakespeare, the play features a character with his name. As Shag (Shakespeare), the writer has been charged by King James’ Prime Minister to write the “true history” of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. While the playwright tries to suss out where the fiction stops and the facts lead, the audience goes along for the wild ride of “palace intrigue and backstage humor.”

Befitting the 25-year anniversary, there will also be plenty of special events happening throughout the summer that pay homage to the milestone. For example, Gaze will take the stage at various dates in July, August, and September to present “Gazing Back: Reflecting on 25 Years at Bard.” There, stories of highlights and hiccups from past seasons will be divulged—as will a few secrets.

Various music- and food-related events will also pop up throughout the next few months and, in early September, viewers can procure tickets for “Will Shakespeare’s ImprovMusical.”

While some visitors to Vanier Park may wish to honor Shakespeare’s memory by attending only the proven crowd pleasers or their personal favorite, this might be the year to expand your horizons and see all the shows on the roster. That way, when Bard on the Beach celebrates its next milestone, you’ll have more memories to rely on.

SVCR Don McLean
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