Dallas — Theater tickets don’t sell out in 16 minutes. Theater tickets for an outdoor event in August in Texas on a Monday night don’t sell out. And Prospero always tells the truth.
None of the above is true.
Shakespeare in the Bar’s opening night of The Tempest sold out in 16 minutes. More than half of the audience had to stand for the entire performance because attendees showed up so early to ensure a decent spot.
It’s difficult to describe how strange this is.
The performance itself—the 10th for SITB—is difficult to describe as well. The actors are limited to four rehearsals and there’s a stage manager who reads along with the play so actors can call “line!” if needed. When that happens, there’s a charming tradition that the audience drinks.
There’s improv along the way: some lines are skipped or done a bit out of order, requiring their fellow actors to “yes and…” their way out of it. There are strong performances that rely heavily on the script and a professional (and necessary) approach which moves the story along; and entertaining performances that break the fourth wall, liven up the action and energize the crowd. Caitlin Glass as the lead, Prospero, does a wonderful job bridging these two approaches. She manages to fit right into the middle and get it right, the ideal in this type of theater. She helps her fellow actors to not stray too far from this mean.
The multiple plot lines are almost the “play within a play” that Shakespeare relied on so heavily, and each of those plot lines is an interesting balance between each performer. Glass’s most common interlocutors—Steph Garrett as Caliban, Katy Tye as Miranda, and Brigham Mosley as Ariel— are a good example. Garrett is a forceful presence (coming off her wonderful lead role performance in The Great Dictator at the Festival of Independent Theatres) and plays Caliban similar to how one would expect her to perform in a Shakespeare Dallas production. Tye improvs and interacts with the audience comfortably and regularly. Mosley lands somewhere right between the two and manages an excellent range of the comedic and dramatic, and his part in the opening storm scene is a stroke of genius.
Similarly, Alonso, the King of Naples (Michael Johnson) and his court strike a similar balance, and Johnson is especially strong in an important role. He along with Jeremiah Johnson as Gonzalo and Matthew Holmes play (mostly) straight men opposite Jeff Colangelo as Antonio and Janielle Kastner as Sebastian, who play well off each other and whose deadly rapiers-turned-water guns help cool off the crowd.
The drunken wanderers of the play, Stephano (Shawn Gann) and Trinculo (Parker Gray) can always be relied upon to get a laugh from the audience. These are actors experienced in Shakespeare in the Bar’s unique approach.
The direction and technical aspects are eye-catching and entertaining. A nod to director Jeff Colangelo for using puppets (briefly), drawings on poster board, chem lights, colorful ponchos and the aforementioned water guns. The absolutely terrific music by 8th St. Orkestar (Ray Henninger, Austin Bird, Jacob Metcalf, Kevin England, and Kevin Cho) is original and includes an occasional reference, such as Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” when Miranda and Ferdinand see each other for the first time.
Returning to our original question though: how do you sell out an outdoor play in Dallas on an August Monday in 16 minutes? What makes this theater troupe and this performance special?
One might only be able to answer with a Tempest-themed metaphor: it is lightning in a bottle. Using a non-traditional space (the back patio at the lovely Wild Detectives book store/coffee bar), limited budget and rehearsal time, they—and forgive the cliché in advance—grab hold of the audience and don’t let go. The young actors know their Shakespeare, with some of the major roles going to Shakespeare Dallas veterans such as Gann and Johnson.
Part of the energy in the performance seems to stem from the performers looking out into the audience and saying “Do you get how incredible these plays are? What a genius this man was? I need you to understand that.”
The audience, having the best time of any Shakespeare audience in North Texas, gets it.
» The performance repeats on Monday, Aug. 28 at the Wild Detectives, with some casting changes: Katy Tye as Ariel, Marcus Stimac as Stephano, Debbie Crawford as Miranda and Shawn Gann as Alonso
» Video created by Mark Lowry. Follow TheaterJones on Instagram to see more images from the performance.