Archaeological evidence suggests that the Globe Theatre’s Elizabethan audiences snacked on fruits and oysters as they watched Shakespeare’s comedies and historic dramas. Historians also believe that Londoners may have brought in ale from nearby tap houses, likely leading to some inebriated theatergoers.
In a similar spirit, Chautauqua Theater Company is inviting contemporary crowds to enjoy food and beer with their Shakespeare. Free Will: Chautauqua Shakespeare returns to Lakewood with a performance of As You Like It at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1, at Southern Tier Brewing Company.
Throughout the summer, the free production has traveled across the county to expose new and diverse audiences to Shakespeare. CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba said that with each new location, the actors have had to adapt their blocking, which makes each performance unique to the venue.
“There is not just a playfulness to it, but a life because you know those actors are going to be thinking on their feet and you can feel it in the moment when they’re thinking,” Borba said. “They’re going to have to play it in a new way every single time.”
On July 18, the CTC’s first performance at the brewery saw characters stealing sips of alcohol from audience members and making faces at the children sitting in the grass. In one scene, conservatory actor Octavia Chavez-Richmond — in character as the foolish Touchstone — pulled slips of paper out of her pockets so that an unwitting volunteer could read lines of text and partake in the romantic romp’s action.
Borba said this kind of interaction embraces Shakespeare’s original intent to directly address his audience.
With this idea in mind, CTC’s marketing department came up with an official drinking game for the brewery performances, encouraging audience members to play at their own discretion. The rules are simple: take a sip every time a character says the word “love,” an actor changes costume or the show features live music — all frequent occurrences.
CTC is not the first to stage the Bard in a bar. Since 2011, The Back Room Shakespeare Project has encouraged the combination with free performances of works like The Tempest and The Two Gentlemen of Verona in pubs and taverns across the United States.
So far, CTC’s outdoor production of As You Like It has been performed in Jamestown, Lakewood and on the grounds. Conservatory actor Ricardy Fabre, who plays the lovesick Orlando, said that he appreciates the production’s warm reception from Chautauquans, particularly those who stuck around during the June 24 performance on Bestor Plaza.
“That first performance was magical because we thought it was going to rain, and then it started raining and we kept going,” Fabre said. “It was so supportive. Everybody was with us, really rooting for us, and it was just fun to play.”
Fabre said that just as the production was designed to adapt to different spaces, so too was it able to conform to inclement weather.
“A lot of the spaces we’re visiting over the summer are larger spaces, so it was interesting to go from a large space outside to a confined, intimate space under the tent (on Bestor Plaza),” he said.
After watching part of the rainy performance on the grounds, Chautauquan Kayla Zimmer returned to see the rest of the play at Southern Tier on July 18. She praised the cast for its ability to adjust to new spaces and audiences.
“The troupe is delightful,” Zimmer said. “They use the stage, the space and the crowd tremendously. They make Shakespeare understandable for the common man.”
Due to the high interest in As You Like It’s first performance at Southern Tier, General Manager Michael Osgood said he hopes to collaborate with CTC again next year and potentially set up similar partnerships with Chautauqua Institution’s other performing arts programs.
“It’s an amazing thing for us that live here (in Chautauqua County) to get all the people that come from all over the world to not only perform, but to stay and enjoy our area,” Osgood said. “I actually want to reach out to the opera company and maybe some of the other departments in Chautauqua and see if they’d be interested in maybe furthering it a little bit more than just having the theater here again.”