Bard in a bar! Company offers a ‘Shakes-beer-ience’

All the bar’s a stage: At last month’s production of “As Your Like It,” at the Way Station, actors sat at the same tables as the customers.
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All the bar’s a stage!

A boozy theater series is bringing the Bard into the bar! The Seven Stages Shakespeare Company has launched a monthly series of staged Shakespeare readings at the Way Station bar in Prospect Heights, with the next “Shakes-beer-ience” of the comedy “Twelfth Night” coming on July 10. Performing inside a saloon gives the show a life and energy that cannot be replicated in more sober environments, said the theater’s co-founder.

“There’s an element of improv and it’s based on who is in the room and what is happening, and it leans heavily into the vernacular of the bar in terms of storytelli­ng,” said Dan Beaulieu, who lives in Prospect Heights. “It’s really fun and people have a blast with these because there’s a certain level of chaos we really like.”

The audience inside the bar is often raucous — just like it was in Shakespeare’s day, said Beaulieu, and performing against a back-drop of drinkers challenges the actors to compete for attention and really command the crowd.

“It’s awesome because as a performer, actors and artists, I think in recent history we’ve been sort of spoiled with audiences,” he said. “This keeps the actors on their toes and heightens the stakes for making big bold choices. This is everything you talk about in acting school — you’ve got to bring your A-game because it’s Shakespeare and his audience was a ruckus.”

The 15 to 20 actors in each show perform with a script in one hand — and often a beer in the other. Each show only gets one read-through rehearsal, so each performance is a test of the actors’ ability to improvise and work together.

“It’s all improv and exploring together, and the audience will be seeing it for the first time,” said Beaulieu. “We rely on the actors to do their homework and know their part and figure out how to do it together.”

That audience can simply sit back with the bar’s Monday Night $4 draft special, but willing members may find a script pressed into their hands as they are recruited to complete a few lines for minor characters, according to Beaulieu.

The chaos of navigating the bar, the booze, and audience members may not be a slick esthetic experience, but the goal is not to have a perfect show, said Beaulieu.

“We imagine that process would look less polished but it’s beautiful poetry mixed with comedic bits,” he said.

“Twelfth Night” Shakes-beer-ience at the Way Station [683 Washington Ave. between St. Marks Avenue and Prospect Place in Prospect Heights, (347) 627–4949,]. July 10 at 8 pm. Free.

Updated 5:57 pm, July 9, 2018
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