I’m happy to bring James Wallis to a field of crowns to talk about his company, Shakespeare BASH’d, as well as our upcoming Toronto Fringe show MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. I’m very proud to have my first Fringe performance with this company. I’ve written briefly about it before, and now am happy to report that the entire rehearsal process has been as enjoyable as that initial read-through all those weeks ago at TIFF. The people that surround this company just love what they do. And they want you to love it too. It’s been quite a ride so far, and we haven’t even moved into the bar yet! I’m excited to see what happens when we do.
So, without further ado (a-ha!) I give you dossier #17:
Who are we talking with?
James Wallis, founder of Shakespeare BASH’d and currently playing Benedick in their 2013 Toronto Fringe Production of Much Ado About Nothing.
What drew you down this path? (to theatre, to Shakespeare, to beer, to wherever the hell you are in life)
It’s so hard to say where it all began, but I’m sure there was a catalyst. I remember reading Shakespeare when I was very young and, despite not really understanding it, I was enthralled by it. I worked on Shakespeare with a company in Newmarket called Resurgence Theatre Company and that really inspired me. Throughout university I obviously was exposed to a lot of different work but I really gravitated towards Shakespeare. The work was extremely fulfilling for me. After university, I did some shows again with Resurgence and with Theatre By the Bay in Barrie, which were confidence builders for me. All in all, Shakespeare has always been there as a driving force for me.
What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, this is what I’m going to do with my life?
Really it was a high school production of “Bye Bye Birdie” where I just felt comfortable. I liked what I was doing. The long hours, the stressful and competitive environment were challenges that I knew I could undertake. I knew that I wanted to work in the theatre. It just clicked.
How did Shakespeare BASH’d come to be?
Shakespeare BASH’d came out of my frustration over how Shakespeare is often presented these days. I wanted to produce Shakespeare’s plays with a bare bones approach to the work, where the text is the most important thing, revealing as much about character as possible in order to tell the story. It was actually my wife, Julia, who told me “you keep talking about wanting to do something, well do it!!” She motivated me to take responsibility for my creativity, which I thank her for.
Why Shakespeare in a bar? I knew that I wanted to do Shakespeare in a fun, social environment where people could relax, enjoy, and be affected by the play. People go to bars to be social, so why not play something for them and see how it lands? It’s about engaging the audience so that they become an active audience member rather than passive. Theatre is entertainment that should be both engaging and fun.
Why MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING?
Much Ado is a really interesting play. It’s a festive comedy that sort turns on a dime and becomes a play about deep betrayal and disloyalty because of misunderstandings. Underneath that there is this great “battle of wits” between Benedick and Beatrice that permeates the play with this great energy. Following our production of The Taming of the Shrew last year, we wanted to do a play that is as complex, if not more. After having seen Much Ado and reading it again I thought it would really work in the bar setting. Also, in any of Shakespeare’s plays, the idea of working with a certain actor, playing a certain part always gets me salivating. I’m fortunate to know some really amazing actors and Much Ado really affords great possibilities for inspired actors.
What kind of atmosphere do yo intend to set up, or can someone expect from MUCH ADO?
Always with Shakespeare you’re going to get a beautiful story, with compelling characters and wonderful dramatic poetry. Much Ado also has some of the most exciting prose in the Canon. It’s almost completely in prose and therefore something quite unique. I think our goal is to create an exciting production that presents the play with simple staging and clear, concise text. Also we’re really trying to play up the aspect of “A Homecoming from War.” What I mean is that the audience is part of the big homecoming party that is going on during the play. We’re trying to create an immersive, fun, passionate experience for the audience.
What is your favourite memory from a past BASH’d show?
So many! Really, I’m so entrenched in every moment of this company that everything is so rewarding. The first reading we did back 2010 of “Romeo and Juliet” was so amazing. I had such a great group of actors and we just read the text as simply as possible with such great intention and clarity. We created such imaginative pictures for the audience and such great relationships despite not having a set, costumes, and having our text in our hands. It reinforced what I knew was so obvious with Shakespeare’s work, that the story can evoke such intense reaction when told with great text by committed actors.
Describe MUCH ADO in Three Adjectives, a phrase or a sound?
The sound I think would be fireworks cracking close to you. Three adjectives? Festive, combative, elusive.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?
I would just like to let everybody know that Shakespeare BASH’d will be producing our 3rd full length production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” at The 30/30 Bar, at 3030 Dundas West in the Junction this November 19th to the 23rd. We’re super excited to tackle the greatest love story of all time in one of Toronto’s hottest new bars and restaurants.
I am also so incredibly excited to be at the Fringe again this year and can’t wait to chat with audience members after the show each night (so, please come say hi)!
Also, check out our trailers below: