From Bard to Bar to Stage
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From Bard to Bar to Stage

Local troupe meets the challenges of success at Best of Fringe.

Photo by James MacDonald, courtesy of Shakespeare Bash'd.

Best of Fringe: The Taming of the Shrew
Toronto Centre for the Arts (5040 Yonge Street)
August 2, 7 p.m.

Before the Interregnum, when 17th century Puritans banned public theatre performances in England, the plays of William Shakespeare may have been the raves, Iron Maiden shows, or club scenes of his time. There were no false, hackneyed accents laboriously drawing out every last Elizabethan syllable, and certainly none of the stilted elitism commonly associated with Shakespeare today. At the Globe Theatre, audiences were young, working class, and more often than not, totally shitfaced.

So it’s perfectly appropriate that Shakespeare Bash’d, a local troupe interested in fresh interpretations of the Bard’s work, hosted The Taming of the Shrew—their 2012 Fringe offering—at the Victory Cafe. Not just because the Vic probably shares more in common with the Globe than most theatres in those aforementioned respects, but because the intimate, casual space invites audiences to connect more closely with work that can seem unreachable.

“Putting The Taming of the Shrew on at The Victory Cafe was a freeing experience,” producer Rob Kraszewski told us. “By placing it in the small, cramped upstairs of this lovely bar, we were able to strip away the ostentation that normally accompanies Shakespearean work. All we had to work with was the text, and the Victory’s ample beer list.”

Throughout Fringe, this pared-down, relaxed approach seemed to resonate with audiences and reviewers. NOW gave the performance four Ns, writing, “This version of Shrew benefits from energetic performances, the actors’ sense of freshness and spontaneity, and a strong, clear handling of the text.” We agreed, giving it four stars and finding that: “the bar setting lends itself to the bawdy nature of the material, and enhances both the relaxed, confident manner in which the Bard’s words roll off the cast’s tongues.” Accounting for much of that energy, Kraszewski says, is a family dynamic shared by those involved in Shakespeare Bash’d. Like traveling theatre companies of the past, members of the troupe work together, live together, and as Kraszewski notes, love together. “Kate and Petruchio are actually getting married in a month.”

At Fringe’s conclusion last week, Shakespeare Bash’d’s production of Shrew was selected as one of the best of the festival; it’ll be performed once again as part of Fringe’s extended showcase at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. It’s an honour enjoyed by few performers each year, and one that somewhat ironically—and as a fitting twist for actors so talented in presenting ironically hilarious narratives—presents a few amusing hurdles for this play in particular.

“The challenge now,” Kraszewski says, “is to transfer this production of The Taming of the Shrew into a beautiful theatre and have it play as real and as clearly as it did in the bar setting.” The Toronto Centre for the Arts is very much not the Victory Cafe, obviously. One is an Annex pub with creaking floors, the other a polished, high-end, and very modern performance space, presenting potential obstacles in everything from stage blocking to audience participation. Even apart from that, the Centre’s atmosphere may require a bit of directorial and production finesse to make the gritty, raucous demystification of Shakespeare—arguably the driving principle behind Shakespeare Bash’d as a troupe—work as well at the TCA as it did at the Vic.

But as Kraszewski reminds us, that finesse made Shakespeare resoundingly successful at the Vic, after all—something you don’t often hear about at the Toronto Fringe Festival. The Toronto Centre for the Arts, he says, simply changes the environment a little. “In many ways, we’re prepared for this,” he told us. “When the show was in a bar, with few pieces of costume, all we had to work with was the text. And that the company did, with great success. So now it’s about putting that text to work on a larger stage.”

“There is something really exciting about playing bare bones Shakespeare in a beautiful studio space. We’re once again just telling stories to an audience in a city that we really love. Only this time, there will be better air conditioning and nicer seats. Less beer, though.”