We were told to arrive early. I thought I did, but finding a place to sit wasn’t easy. People were stacked on top of each other, and many filled up with vodka cranberries and beer as we all packed ourselves into the back patio of Eight Bells Alehouse. For two hours, more than a hundred people sat together in the sticky heat for a casual and slightly inebriated performance of Romeo and Juliet.
Shakespeare in the Bar, the brainchild of founders Katherine Bourne, Dylan Key, and Alia Tavakolian, is a combination of Shakespeare, community, and a good time. The company, which is now headed by co-founders Bourne and Key, started in September 2014 after Bourne had seen a group perform a play in a bar in Chicago. She brought the idea back to Dallas, and thus began Shakespeare in the Bar.
The premise is for actors to perform a play written by the famous playwright at a local watering hole. The play is planned weeks ahead to allow the actors prepare for their roles, but as Key notes at the beginning of every show, the cast only rehearses it together once in its entirety. Seriously. Just once.
Audience members are encouraged to drink and interact with the cast as they perform, and the end product is a slapdash, wildly entertaining, modern performance of a centuries-old play. Every show is almost guaranteed to be before a packed house, and as I noticed last Monday night, audience members want to keep coming back.
Mercutio’s (Brigham Mosley) overly flamboyant demeanor and expressive limbs made me laugh all the way through. Well, up until the point he was stabbed. The nurse (Steph Garrett) stayed in character even when she bumped into a fellow intern’s leg, glared at her through thick rimmed glasses, and said in her raspy, New York accent, “excuse me,” before hobbling away. She later came back around and we both shifted our legs in time to her exasperated “you, again.” It was weirdly charming.
However, despite its popularity, Romeo and Juliet will be the company’s seventh and last play for a while. As announced on Facebook earlier this year, Shakespeare in the Bar is taking a break after one final performance tonight at Wild Detectives. Turns out both Bourne and Key have lives outside of the little troupe they brought together.
Bourne is headed to Chicago and Key is moving to San Diego for grad school. They’re debating on passing the company onto group of friends or putting together the next show from their respective cities — flying back to Dallas for the performances — but only time will tell. Bourne and Key were quick to say that even though the company is taking a break, there are plenty of other projects going on that have the same idea and spirit.
“Even if you’re not going to see Shakespeare in the Bar as often, there’s actually quite a lot of amazing, young, rough theater going on,” Bourne says. “I think that wave is going to continue.”
Shakespeare in the Bar’s last performance (for now) is tonight at Wild Detectives. Tickets are already sold out, as usual, but 50 tickets will be available for purchase starting at 5 p.m. Be sure to get there early and be prepared for some farewell tears.