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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Bard on the Beach longevity has sometimes come from the oddest of sources

While Shakespeare would have turned 450 this year, an equally auspicious milestone is about to take place under the red and white tents at Vanier Park as the venerable Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival celebrates its 25 year history.

[pullquote]“We are very excited to celebrate our 25 years of bringing Shakespeare to life in Vancouver” – Bard on the Beach Artistic Director Christopher Gaze[/pullquote]“We’ve got a good writer,” says Artistic Director Christopher Gaze drolly as to the longevity of the Festival.  “Plus it is an experience with this wonderful location, this gorgeous site and the quality of the shows.”

The pride in what he and his team have accomplished over the past twenty-five years simply oozes from Gaze during our telephone conversation as he thinks back over the years.

“The whole notion of Bard and making it successful has been a dream come true for me,” says Gaze.  “When I first suggested the idea to a group of people in 1989 and they wanted to do it, my dream was immediately shared by dozens, than hundreds and now thousands.”

Bard on the Beach Artistic Director Christopher Gaze. Photo by David Cooper.
Bard on the Beach Artistic Director Christopher Gaze. Photo by David Cooper.

To mark its silver anniversary, the Festival returns to the south banks of False Creek with two audience favourites from previous seasons.  Originally produced in 2006, director Dean Paul Gibson returns to direct a re-imagined version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Meg Roe returns  with a re-imaging of her 2008 The Tempest.

On the smaller Douglas Campbell Studio Stage, Anita Rochon will direct an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and in a co-production with Victoria’s Belfry Theatre, Michael Shamata will direct a production of playwright Bill Cain’s Equivocation.

Beyond the four main shows though there is also a world of special events to be explored where popular Bard add-ons like the Bard-B-Q & Fireworks and Opera and Arias are joined by Gazing Back, a retrospective of the Festival’s history with Artistic Director Christopher Gaze.  Also new this year is a production of the 2012 Vancouver Fringe Festival hit Will Shakespeare’s ImprovMusical.

“A lot of these events are what Christopher and the artistic team feel would complement the plays, what would help inform the plays and what would be a great use of our beautiful venue,” says Bard’s new Managing Director Claire Sakaki. Besides, she says, with the Festival unable to run shows seven days a week it is a great way to invite other groups to use the Festival village and stages.

And while Sakaki is excited by the addition of the Will Shakespeare’s ImprovMusical, a completely improvised musical based on Shakespeare play plots and language, she admits to most looking forward to Gazing Back.

“I can’t imagine a better opportunity to learn,” says Sakaki who is just a few months into her  tenure at the Festival.  “I’ve eavesdropped on a few of the planning sessions and it is exciting to hear some of the things he has planned.”

“Apart from the knickers that I discovered in the twelfth row after a performance?,” laughs Gaze as he is asked to recall a particularly memorable moment over the past 25 years.

And while those knickers no doubt come with their own titillating tale, it is  a story about the Festival’s port-a-potties, or ‘blue johns’ in the Gaze vernacular, that Gaze remembers with some amusement.

“Our first year was also the first year of the annual Vancouver fireworks and the city found themselves a bit overwhelmed with an unexpected crowd of 100,000 or so who descended on Vanier Park,” recalls Gaze.  “They only had four blue johns and the crowds soon started using our own two blue johns.  I quickly realized that we would end up having to pay for them to be emptied the next day, so I decided to stop them by telling them if they wanted to use our lavatories that they first must buy something at our concession.  I don’t know how they all managed tottering inside the blue johns with all the stuff they bought and then disappearing to enjoy the fireworks”.

Only a single example of how Gaze and his team at Bard on the Beach have seized every opportunity to keep the dream alive, it is no wonder Gaze is so proud of what 25 years has wrought.

And there are probably few theatre companies in the world that can attribute at least part of their success to a couple of toilets.

Western Canada’s largest professional Shakespeare company, Bard on the Beach’s 25th season runs June 11 to September 20.  Visit for tickets and information.

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