Dallas — A group of actors enter a bar. A Shakespeare play happens. Drink and repeat to much success and record crowds. However, what happens when said group takes the show into a theater? Sure, these actors are all accustomed to working in conventional theatrical spaces, but how does the drunken dynamic of doing Shakes in a bar setting transform when the venue itself changes so drastically?
Shakespeare in the Bar (SiB) has been doing their special brand of boozy Bardolatry for nearly five years. Founding members have moved on and some actors have come and gone, but there has been a healthy core of thirsty thespians willing to keep throwing themselves into this project that has kept it going for so long.
SiB have mostly performed at their starting space of The Wild Detectives bookstore’s back patio, and have played all over the Metroplex including Deep Ellum Art Company (weather pushed them indoors), Community Brewing in Dallas, and the patios of Eight Bells Alehouse (RIP Amsterdam Bar) and The Ginger Man. They recently reprised their 2015 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for their inaugural theater experience. In this case, Theatre Three.
Moving the conceit into a theater was perhaps inevitable if only to take advantage of some of that sweet, sweet AC that allows performances deep into the heart of Texas summers. There is still a “bar,” but just spread out to a small stand in the lobby with lidded and branded cups, and a minibar on the stage. Both were available during the show.
I have seen a little over half of their productions and at most of their spaces. Attending SiB in a theater was like seeing them for the first time—which I quite liked. The atmosphere was remarkably different from the numerous previous SiB shows I had attended; in some ways better and in others not necessarily worse, but definitely distinct. The actors seemed far soberer, as did the crowd, the lines more firmly memorized. There was only one call for “line” that I noticed at the show attended (remember this is the SiB signal for everyone to drink), the blocking is appropriate to a theater as opposed to squeezed into a narrow aisle walled in by a sea of sauced humanity.
About the audience at Theatre Three’s performances, it was a typical Shakes in the Bar crowd (I saw the second and Monday performance) skewing young and non-theatergoing, with many friends and family there for support. Half in attendance had never been to a SiB performance. It was far less raucous, and less overly participatory (thank you!). The only drawback is that the electric vibe of a big, lubricated crowd so close to the action was seriously diminished.
Although company member Katy Tye’s curtain speech described the experience as “drunken theater” with only three rehearsals the show came off as quite polished and professional, nuanced even. In many ways, it was a welcome change. Sib may have found a new niche between the kind of stodgy Shakespeare in which everyone sits on their hands in frightened silence, and out-of-control Bard-flavored fare that is more about the booze and hamming it up for a laugh than performing a play.
Don’t worry, there are still enough double-entendres and F-bombs to fill any venue, yet the play is still the thing in this new theater version of SiB — and we can all drink to that.