In September 2014, acting troupe Shakespeare in the Bar got its start in Dallas on the back patio of The Wild Detectives bookstore in Oak Cliff. The actors' shared mission? To make Shakespeare fun again, as it was intended to be, by drinking as they give barely rehearsed performances of his work.
The troupe's takes on Shakespeare are rife with silly anachronisms, but instead of stripping the Bard's work of meaning, this looseness makes it easier to connect with it. Since that first performance of Twelfth Night, Shakespeare in the Bar has grown so popular that their events routinely sell out and they've begun giving repeat performances at an expanding list of venues including Community Beer Co., Small Brewpub and Eight Bells Alehouse. One of the troupe's members, Janielle Kastner, lets us into her thought process as she prepares to perform in one of the free-wheeling plays.
This is going to be so much fun, I love acting in Shakespeare in the Bar!
I was able to run through As You Like It maybe three times with a bunch of actors I admire, I memorized my lines and now I am going to perform barely rehearsed Shakespeare in front of hundreds of people!
I am going to perform barely rehearsed Shakespeare for hundreds of people.
Barely rehearsed actually means barely rehearsed. Do people know that?
As in: I don’t actually know where I’ll be standing during most of this production.
Is the Forest of Arden upstage or downstage?
Wait, where is upstage? There’s no stage. There’s just “up-bar” and “down-alley.”
OK, I’m in the bar and that buzzy energy is coursing through my body. That’s a good sign.
This whole pre-show ritual actually feels a lot like prep for a date: Grab a drink, pretend I'm not taking the temperature of a bar filled with attractive people, silently recite my mantra: "God, I hope they like me."
God, I hope they like me.
That’s not what real actors think, probably. I bet Meryl Streep never thinks, “God, I hope they like me.” I bet she thinks, “You are welcome. My art has healed you.”
My people! Fifteen ensemble actors pacing and humming, pretending to kill each other and reciting lines to themselves like they’re talking to the voices in their heads.
Oh, I love these people. This is going to be just wonderful.
The dedicated first 20 audience members have staked their claims on the prime picnic-table real-estate.
I need to run my lines.
“I hope it is no dishonest desire…” something, something, Touchstone’s lines, then, “Here comes one of the banished duke's pages.”
Is it banish-ED? Or banished?
Another 30 audience members have arrived, the veterans with lawn chairs. They came here to party but also want back support.
Silvius and Phebe are running their fight scene with their new cowboy boots!
Last rehearsal I realized that if Audrey is pastoral, dumb and a dash sluttish, then Shakespeare would totally want me to play her as a very hot piece of country trailer trash.
Which means that, for the sake of consistency, everyone else native to the forest of Arden needed to transform into back-country hicks basically overnight. Working this quickly and uber-collaboratively feels like the loveliest manifestation of a mob mentality.
WHOAH. Another hundred audience members have arrived at once. These are the excited new people, who don’t know exactly what will happen but heard about it from a friend.
How do they all manage to get here at once? Do they carpool?
We’re about to start! I need to go get my drink!
What if I threw my drink in Touchstone’s face when he insults me in our first scene?!
Audrey would totally do that. And people would love it!
Oh no. Does that make me lowbrow? To throw something fun in mostly because the audience would love it?
It’s fun, but is it, “You’re a fraud who is making her BFA degree sad” fun, or the “Shakespeare loved bawdy stuff for the masses” kind of fun?
TWO MINUTES TO PLACES. THE FUN CHOICE IT IS.
Do I tell Touchstone I’m throwing a drink in his face?
No! The element of surprise! It will be fantastic!
Don’t tell him.
“Hey, can I throw a drink in your face later?”
I’m so bad at surprises.
The band is starting! We will either shine gloriously or die brilliantly!
The audience is hushed. They’re listening so intently! And this is just the exposition scene! They're going to lose it in the fight scene (which Charles and Orlando decided should be performed like luchadores, obviously).
Rosalind and Orlando have met! Love and laughter are in the air, this really is a transcendent ...
... Is that a car coming down the alleyway? Le Beau is about to exit “down-alley," I need to warn her! Some people talk about dying for their art but I have a feeling they don’t mean like this.
OK, we’re good. The car slowed down. "Come back and see our play, sir!"
Jacques is eating. And he’s about to go on. God that’s so BRILLIANT. Because like, Jacques is the fool who understands the triviality of life, of course he would be snacking during his monologue.
...Maybe I should be snacking during MY monologue.
Am I allowed to order snacks?
I have crackers! I will be brilliant!
Wait, no, Jacques was just eating a snack before he goes onstage. That wasn’t acting, he was just hungry.
Put down the crackers. No one noticed.
AH, it’s almost my scene!
OK, don’t be nervous. Remember, whatever happens on stage is — is that our entrance music? Is that their exit music or my entrance music, because then ...
OK, it was our entrance music and now I’m onstage.
Look at their eyes! Everyone’s eyes are so sparkly and bright! They love the theater! Or they are drunk! Or they are drunk on the theater! Either way, this is wonderful!
They are laughing! At me!! They are responding and laughing and one woman just said “Amen!” after my line!
YOU ARE WELCOME. MY ART HAS HEALED YOU.
Oh, that was just great.
A big exhale, and I’m high-fiving Orlando and Oliver, who are about to run on and kill it!
Where did my beer go?
I handed it to that nice-looking audience member before I jumped on Touchstone.
DID I JUMP ON TOUCHSTONE?
I did. I jumped on Touchstone. So much for asking for permission.
That adrenaline was incredible. We didn’t know what would happen and we just lived in it! I felt so alive! This must be why people have fight clubs.
So my exit was “up-bar,” but my next entrance is “down-alley.”
It’s fine, I’ll just take a shortcut through this alley and sneak around back!
OK, so this is a lot less like an alley, and a lot more like the lawn of a private residence.
I’m creeping. I’m creeping. I’m quietly creeping.
Creeping looks suspicious. Walk confidently like an actor.
I am confidently walking through someone’s yard.
I panicked and now I am running through someone’s yard.
OK, I’m down-bar and it’s time to go back on! I only have one line in this scene, so I get to be present onstage and let everyone else carry the plot.
Why is everyone quiet now?
Ooohhh, what’s about to happen?!!?
Wait, where is the banished duke’s page? Isn’t she next?
OH GOD THEY’RE WAITING FOR MY LINE.
“Here she comes — the page! Here comes one of the BANISHED DUKE’S PAGES!”
OK, well, that really wasn’t so bad. The long pause just increased the drama of this moment for the page.
I wonder if Shakespeare would love this or hate this? Would he feel at home in our chaos, with our audience cheering and jeering, each of us reaching for every moment as it happens? Or would he be a total writer about the whole thing and notice one person paraphrasing one of his lines and lose his mind?
Let's be real, he'd probably just be like, "THERE ARE LADIES ON STAGE. WHAT IS GOING ON?"
And now the final dance number! I want to hug each of these audience members and kiss them on the forehead.
I will not do that, because that’s probably inappropriate.
OK, I’ll hug just a few of them.
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I can’t wait to do this again!
I’m going to have to do this again.
God, I hope they like me.
See the author perform next with Shakespeare in the Bar when they take on Romeo and Juliet at 8 p.m. July 18 (Eight Bells Alehouse, 831 Exposition Ave.) and 25 (The Wild Detectives, 314 W. 8th St.). Tickets, $7, go on sale this Friday, June 17, at noon. Follow the event on Facebook for updates on how to purchase.