At month’s end Bard & Bourbon will be staging its next foray into drunken Shakespeare with TWELFTH NIGHT. The premise usually runs something like this: one member of the cast (who is often playing multiple roles) is given a few shots of hard liquor at intervals over the course of a performance. As the show progresses, one member of the cast gets progressively more and more intoxicated. This time round, however, there will be TWO cast members getting drunk over the course of every performance. Of course, the cast member gets a ride home and everything is played quite responsibly. The audience is encouraged to follow suit.
Bard & Bourbon’s Katie Merriman answered a few questions about the group for The Small Stage:
Bard & Bourbon has a history that goes back a couple of years now. In two years it feels like you’ve maintained a really solid core group of talent. To what do you owe your success in keeping so many people together?
I think part of the magic starts in the audition room. Obviously we look for actors with skill at handling the text but even more important than that is creating a team of actors who can work well together and who are able to put egos and individual performances aside to support the show as a whole. Then in rehearsals and performances we keep the focus on having fun. It often leads to a really bonded group who can’t wait to see each other again for future shows.
On top of that, the nontraditional approach we’ve taken to casting in terms of age, gender, etc. means that we’ve been able to challenge actors with roles for which they normally wouldn’t even be considered. We’ve been very conscious to avoid getting in a rut with the actors we cast and the roles we put them in so that each show is unexpected, fresh, and fun for both the cast and the audience. I think that chance to step outside of the predictable is really appealing to a lot of actors.
From the theatre seats, everything seems so well-balanced in a B&B show. Your approach to Shakespeare always feels so quick and enjoyable. With minimal production elements, you’re focussing directly on the script. The size of the venues always feel just about right. It even feels like you’ve got the branding of the company more or less perfect. How satisfied have YOU been with your productions so far?
First of all, thanks for that!
I’ve been thrilled. This was such a crazy concept from the start, made all the more crazy when you consider I had no directing or producing experience prior to starting the company. To see it come together so well, so quickly has been a fantastic surprise. Romeo and Juliet was the show where I felt like everything started to really come together for us, especially in terms of branding and feeling confident about staging. Ultimately, I just try to create a show that I would want to see and luckily, it seems like a lot of people in Milwaukee agree with me!
Is there anything that you wish you could do but haven’t been able to due to restrictions on budget, time or any other constraints?
We’ve had such a great creative team for each show that we really haven’t been held back in terms of anything big that we’d like to accomplish, even if we did have to occasionally MacGyver our way to a solution. Though being able to pay those creative folks more and hire more skilled artists to help with that process would make life a little easier for all of us! As we grow, we’d love to continue improving the quality of our props and costume pieces as well as purchase some weapons so we can continue bringing our audience amazing stage fights.
Having one actor drink over the course of the show could be seen as a bit of a superficial gimmick. How much does the bourbon in Bard & Bourbon actually inform on any given production?
Frankly, we also expected the added bourbon to be more gimmicky than it ended up being. Instead we found that it was forcing us to look at the play anew because when you don’t know what affect the alcohol will have on your fellow actor, you tend to pay a lot more genuine attention to what that actor is saying and doing. Sometimes it brings out the heartbreak or horror, sometimes it brings out the humor – oftentimes in scenes where you’d least expect it.
Up to this point, it’s always been just the one person drinking. With TWELFTH NIGHT you’re having TWO actors imbibing over the course of the show. How did you decide to have two drunks for each performance this time around?
With every play we do, we like to push the bounds of what we’ve done in the past. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but we always want to be trying new things. In the case of TWELFTH NIGHT, we’re playing with setting the show in a specific time period with more extensive set and costuming than we’ve ever done and doubling up on the drunks! Since it is a play about twins, having a pair of drunks seemed rather appropriate. This is also one of those plays where the separate plotlines don’t overlap much until the very end which means that for the most part we are able to have the drunk actors featured in alternating scenes rather than competing for attention within the same scene.
You’ve done HAMLET and MACBETH and MIDSUMMER and ROMEO & JULIET and MUCH ADO...and now TWELFTH NIGHT. It feels like you’re starting to run out of the mega-popular “blockbuster” Shakespeare scripts. Are you making a determined journey through the complete works as B&B moves into the future or do you think you might circle back around at some point and do the bigger name shows again?
I’m sure we’ll circle back around to some of the perennial favorites sooner than we’ll repeat a show like Henry VIII or Timon of Athens, but we would like to work our way through the whole cannon eventually. In fact, within the next year or two we’re hoping to start a histories series, producing one or two of the history plays each year in chronological order beginning with King John. There are some really wonderful things to discover in the lesser known plays so we hope that our fans will give us the chance to show them off in Bard & Bourbon style.
Bard & Bourbon’s staging of Twelfth Night runs Aug. 31 - Sep. 3 at the Tenth Street Theatre on 628 N. Tenth St. For more information, visit Bard & Bourbon online.