Bard hits the beach in Vancouver
This year's Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival includes a production of Twelfth Night. (Dominic Schaefer)
When Shakespeare wrote “All the world’s a stage”, he probably wasn’t thinking about a distant waterfront park in Vancouver where – almost 450 years after his birth – his works would be performed in distinctive West Coast fashion: in large, open tents with a backdrop dominated by the sunset-hued North Shore mountains.
Running daily until 14 September, the annual Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival is a hotly anticipated summer tradition. Colonising shoreline Vanier Park – a jogger-packed green space in the heart of the city’s Kitsilano neighbourhood – locals have been feverishly booking tickets since the season was announced in May.
But rather than creaky old renditions related by plummy-voiced actors, the company is taking an especially interpretive approach to the plays. “We have a contemporary production of Hamlet and a lovely, original Twelfth Night set in a spa in 1913,” said founding artistic director Christopher Gaze, adding that their version of Measure for Measure is set in early Jazz-age New Orleans. Completing the four-production repertory menu is Elizabeth Rex, an incendiary play reflecting on the reign of Elizabeth I, written by local author Timothy Findley.
“It’s a well-rounded season and, for many, it will be like seeing these plays for the first time,” said Gaze, who adds that the festival has grown exponentially since flicking on the footlights more than two decades ago. While the tented, village-like complex will also host opera, barbecue, fireworks and lecture nights this year – and hopes are high they will top the 96,000 tickets sold in 2012 – it’s a far cry from the event’s humble early days.
“We were nothing in 1990. We ran for four or five weeks and around 6,000 people turned up. Next year is our 25th anniversary and we hope to perform to 100,000 for the first time,” said Gaze, who’s the type of raconteur actor-manager Shakespeare himself would have recognised. And although it’s been a while since he appeared in a production here himself, don’t be surprised to see him treading the boards during 2014’s birthday season.
For now, though, Gaze is concentrating on growing the festival. “I want Bard on the Beach to become like Glyndebourne [the popular UK opera festival]: not grand but a place you can come to be with family and friends; to break bread and be sociable together. This is really much more than just a Shakespeare festival.”
John Lee is the Vancouver Localite for BBC Travel