When I reached out to Katherine Bourne, one of the key organizers of Shakespeare in the Bar, she mentioned in passing that one of their actors is sick and they're trying to decide whether to have a sock puppet or an audience member fill the role. I voted sock puppet. It's these sort of irreverent last minute decisions that give the organization (in the loosest form of that word) its moxie. These young actors take over The Wild Detectives and freewheel through a Shakespeare play, drinking through the night right along with the audience.
In New York, they have Drunk Shakespeare, which has been compared to the popular YouTube series Drunk History. In Chicago, it's Backroom Shakespeare. Both take place in bars. In Dallas, it could be aptly called Backyard Shakespeare, or Bookstore Shakespeare, or the flexible, simple name the company landed on, which is Shakespeare in the Bar.
"Even if you're not drinking, the environment in a bar opens up an audience -- everyone is allowed to care more," says Bourne. "In Shakespeare's day, they were drinking, standing up for four hours, buying nuts from buskers and trying to avoid the plague. Shakespearean language has gotten a reputation similar to ballet in the dance world. It is supposed to be refined, beautiful, but not provocative or necessarily fun. I mean, it's hard stuff. But it gets less hard when the actors allow themselves to take joy in the language and the ridiculousness."
Bourne coordinates the series with fellow SMU graduate Alia Tavakolian, and Dallas-based director Dylan Key (who's directed Bourne in numerous plays). If the final product is any indication of what working together is like, they're having more fun than anyone else in the local theater community right now. They rally talented local actors, hand 'em the scripts and "barely rehearse."
"What the audience sees is really the tip of the iceberg," says Bourne. "This is 'barely rehearsed,' but that means that a lot of work goes into the process by the actors alone. Allotting time for memorization and understanding is something that actually takes a lot of time so that we can even allow ourselves to have fun and let go. Once we are at that point, the sky is the limit."
In September they produced their first show, which was a frenetic version of Twelfth Night. They're back at 7:30 p.m. tonight with Love's Labour's Lost, one of Shakespeare's early comedies about men who abstain from women only to find themselves enamored with a Princess and her court.
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"For this time around, we wanted to explore one of Shakespeare's lesser known comedies," says Bourne. "And see how far this beautiful relationship with the audience we have can go."
Based on first impressions alone, it seems they've found a sweet spot in Dallas theater, adding a much-needed dash of fun to Shakespeare, while still mixing in the beloved classics. But Bourne says she could see this series extended beyond the Bard.
"Personally, I think some Moliere or Chekhov would be fun. The funny thing about alcohol is that it makes people laugh more, but it also makes them cry more," says Bourne. "I think a tragedy would be very interesting to try out in this medium."
On tap at Wild Detectives (314 W. 8th St.) catch Shakespeare in the Bar's Love's Labour's Lost at 7:30 p.m. tonight. Free entry; drinks for sale. Arrive early to get a good seat.