Tales of tricksters and triumphs: 35th year of Vancouver’s Shakespeare festival to open - Salish Current
May 15, 2024
Tales of tricksters and triumphs: 35th year of Vancouver’s Shakespeare festival to open
Margaret Bikman
Aidan Correia is Orsino and Camille Legg is Viola in Bard on the Beach’s production of “Twelfth Night.” (Photo and image design by Emily Cooper)
May 15, 2024
Tales of tricksters and triumphs: 35th year of Vancouver’s Shakespeare festival to open
Margaret Bikman

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Just across the border, Bard on the Beach is one of Canada’s largest not-for-profit, professional Shakespeare festivals. 

Established in 1990, the Bard on the Beach festival is situated at Vancouver, British Columbia’s Vanier Park on Kitsilano Beach, the traditional territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

The Bard’s mission is “to create transformational experiences through exceptional theater, training and education opportunities that inspire, resonate and promote the exchange of ideas.”

I was fortunate to meet founder and artistic director Christopher Gaze when the festival was in its infancy. His pride in the festival is well-founded; not only are the actors exemplary, but the productions are staged in huge tents overlooking English Bay against a stunning backdrop of mountains, sea and sky.

Christopher Gaze is the artistic director of Vancouver Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival. (David Cooper)

Celebrating its 35th year, this summer’s season on the BMO Mainstage features a new production of “Twelfth Night,” in what’s called a “topsy-turvy carnival world packed with romance and laughs, adventure and self-discovery,” set to original music by Vancouver singer-songwriter Veda Hille

It plays in repertory with a contemporary setting of “Hamlet,” Shakespeare’s classic tale of vengeance, love and loss.

These two mainstage productions run from June 11 to Sept. 21.

The intimate Howard Family Stage will host two productions: “The Comedy of Errors,” a slapstick comedy of mistaken identity and marital strife, playing in repertory with a “Footloose” adaptation of “Measure for Measure,”  onstage June 13 to Sept. 20.

So why travel north to see Shakespeare?

Diana Donnelly, a first-time director at Bard, said that “Twelfth Night” is going to feel like a party. 

“Vancouver’s Veda Hille has composed music  for the show that is passionate and as melodic as the ups and downs of love,” she said.

“I think Bard is embracing having Shakespeare’s work seen through different lenses and from different perspectives,” she added. 

Anton Lipovetsky, in his sixth season at Bard, is performing as Feste (the jester) in “Twelfth Night” and as the Gravedigger in “Hamlet.” He’s also the musical director of  “Twelfth Night.”

He joked that the songs for “Twelfth Night” are getting stuck in the actors’ heads as they’re working on them during rehearsal.

He said that this production is a “circus-themed explosion of love, chaos, and fun.”

Synthia Yusuf is Luciana and Tal Shulman is Dromio in “The Comedy of Errors” at Vancouver Bard on the Beach. (Photo and design by Emily Cooper)

Lipovetsky said that “Hamlet,” “a taut drama with a cool, contemporary feel, is a wonderfully complementary production to “Twelfth Night.” 

Pam Johnson has been designing sets for Bard since 1998. 

She’s set “Hamlet” in a huge library crowded with books, reminiscent of a Danish modern library.

Heidi Wilkinson has been the head of props for Bard for 28 years, and has a good perspective on how the company has evolved over the years.

“Bard truly is a company where it feels like family; as an artist, I have always felt valued, respected and heard,” she said. “I admire the risks that the company has taken over the years in their programming to showcase Shakespeare’s relevance in today’s world.” 

“Perhaps most importantly,” she added, “I respect that Bard has worked tirelessly to put into action what they mandate as a company; being inclusive to all genders, sexual orientations, and races, making Bard both a physically and emotionally/metal safe place to work.”

She also respects Bard’s work with local Indigenous groups, acknowledging that the productions are on their stolen land, and seeking their blessings to create these plays on this land.

In fact, in recent years, the opening nights have been introduced by a tribal member of First Nations [view the video 1:28].

Bard special programming

Complementing the play, Bard on the Beach offers some special tie-ins. Among them:

  • The crowd-pleasing Bard Fireworks Nights, where patrons enjoy a performance of “Twelfth Night” or “The Comedy of Errors” followed by a dessert buffet and views of the annual Celebration of Light. 
  • Wine enthusiasts enjoy Wine Wednesdays before one of three performances throughout the season. 
  • Two matinee performances are designated Family Days, encouraging a new generation of young theater patrons to discover Shakespeare and the Sen̓áḵw/Vanier Park festival experience with special pricing and kids’ activities.
  • Bard Pride Day returns for its second year, which includes early site access for special activities to celebrate Pride with the Bard Family on Aug. 4.
  • Discover more about Bard’s play from cast members during Talkback Tuesdays in July and August, where performers will take part in free post-show discussions.
  • Every performance, audiences are invited to In A Nutshell, free pre-show talks providing short, informal introductions to the plays’ stories and characters.
The Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival returns to Sen̓áḵw/Vanier Park in Vancouver from June 11 to Sept. 21. (Courtesy photo)

“If you make the journey to Bard on the Beach you won’t be disappointed. Nowhere else can you sit by the sea and watch the geese fly by or the kites fly high and enjoy a wonderful evening or matinee of really good theater,” Johnson said.

Lipovetsky said that “doing Shakespeare keeps alive a beautiful and rich tradition of theater — but also informs us how we want to progress in art and life. The plays are so deep. As Hamlet says, they ‘hold a mirror up to nature.’”

Olivia Hutt, who plays Olivia in “Twelfth Night,” said “There is nothing quite like speaking text about a tempest when you can feel the ocean behind you, supporting you. The environment is a leading character in each play and often has a very calming effect — a true example of how small we all are.”

“There is nothing like a live performance outside,” she added. “This company of actors is very specifically cast because of their commitment to the audience.  The most magical evenings at Bard have everything to do with the space between us and the audience.”

The full season schedule and ticket information are on the Bard on the Beach website. 

Closer to home, Shakespeare Northwest features “The Winter’s Tale” and “Two-Gentlemen Of Verona” July 12 to Aug.t 10 at the Rexville-Blackrock Amphitheatre near Mount Vernon.

— By Margaret Bikman

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