This is the story of how, this past Monday night, I ended up sitting in a camp chair, sipping a beer and shouting "oh no he didn't!" at people with blue eyebrows.
Thing is, I wasn't alone in this display of rowdy crowd participation. I was one of hundreds who crowded into the brewing room at Community Beer Company for Shakespeare in the Bar, a wholly entertaining and profoundly amazing "Shakespearience" that's quite possibly the best summer entertainment in Dallas.
These "barely rehearsed" performances of some of the Bard's most well-known works conjure the spirit of performances from Shakespeare's days. The audience is literally at the feet of the actors (and sometimes provide the laps for them to sit on), you're encouraged to get up and refresh your cup of ale and participation is a must. Every time an actor calls "line," take a drink. Don't bring any rotten vegetables to throw, though — you won't need them. This entire experience is simply incredible.
Up until now, the collection of some of DFW's best actors that stages these low-budget productions — headed by SITB founders Katherine Bourne, Dylan Key and Alia Tavakolian — has been performing at The Wild Detectives (outside in the back, with cafe lights strung alluring across the yard). Three previous plays, Twelfth Night, Love's Labors Lost and Much Ado About Nothing, happened, but the response was so overwhelming for A Midsummer Night's Dream that a second performance was scheduled at Community.
An hour before the 9 pm "curtain," the brew room was already packed with people staking out their spots. A mostly younger crowd lounged with plastic cups of craft brew in hand, while a waiting list grew at the check-in table. A lucky few were handed flower crowns at random (to say why would spoil things). These performances are free, but audiences are encouraged to patronize their host ($13 bought three beers).
Besides the thrill of experiencing theater outside of a traditional setting, Shakespeare in the Bar demonstrates how creativity can flourish when keeping costs low is a priority. Hints of costumes (that blue hair dye, fetching applied to the outstanding band that leads a New Orleans-style second line down the aisle), minimal props and no scenery combine to produce a performance that's exploding with imagery. The Athenians wear street clothes, the fairies don blue wigs and swathes of turquoise fabric. As a fun aside, there are tiny vials provided so that each time the fairies appear, you can join in with your fellow watchers to produce clouds of bubbles.
It's a magical sight, to see hundreds of people laughing, cheering, jeering, talking back and staring, rapt, at the "stuffy Shakespeare" play that's springing to life in an unlikely place. There's no way to tell if these patrons were drawn to this event out of sheer curiosity or are regular theatergoers, but one thing's for sure: they probably are now.
There are no upcoming productions currently scheduled for Shakespeare in the Bar, but follow the group's Facebook page for announcements of future shows.