dossier: James Wallis of Shakespeare BASH’d for MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

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:

beatrice and benedick

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.


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:

much ado

much ado about funding.

As the storm rages for an extended four weeks around Monkswell Manor Guest House, a new company (and when I say new I mean the individual members working together, not the body as a whole) of passionate artists are banding together and pledging their time, their hearts and their mental well-beings to put on a show themselves. They do this for love and for hatred, for wit and for dullness. They do this because, simply, they cannot do anything else; it is everything, and it is nothing to them.

This past Tuesday, was the initial meeting and read of Shakespeare BASH’d‘s upcoming Toronto Fringe staging of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. And it was wonderful. We sat in a boardroom on the fifth floor of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, a boardroom that was altogether too big for us (and this is not saying we are a small or meek cast). We ate, we drank, we met one another and right away we were able to play with one another. I have never had this experience before. First reads with new casts are, in my experience, usually kind of reserved, there’s a little air of caution all around us as we test the waters with one another. Not so with Shakespeare BASH’d. These waters were as warm as a hot-tub’s.

shakespeare bash'd

Shakespeare BASH’d’s mandate is one of love, of camaraderie and of that warm embrace of social lubrication.

Now, unlike the Lower Ossington, which is currently housing The Mousetrap, indie-theatre is largely incapable of (i) selling-out their initial run before opening, (ii) being in the position to extend said run by a month, and (iii) be lucky enough to have a producer willing to put up the entirety of the starting capital required to fund a show (even a small one). Now, this is not saying this never happens. I’m just saying when it does, it is a rather rare event. The nature of being independent puts us out in the vast ocean, swimming furiously amongst hundreds, if not thousands of others trying to do very similar things. The advancements of the age we live in have done a tremendous amount for the arts. Crowd-sourcing has become a powerful tool that gives the user, the patron complete control over what they want, how they want to experience it, and how they can help produce more and more of it.

With that said, Shakespeare BASH’d has set up an indiegogo campaign to support Much Ado as we go into rehearsals. As many independent theatres don’t own a building, don’t program a season of 4 to 6 shows, and, therefore, don’t offer the traditional method of support (subscription packages), indiegogo campaigns are an excellent way to show your support for what is sure to be an exciting experience.

If you’re unsure how this fundraising may help, here’s an example: a pledge of $10 is enough to ensure an hour of rehearsal time. And we’re doing Shakespeare here, people, we’ll need / want all the rehearsal time we can get!

So, without saying much more, I ask you to please go and check out the Shakespeare BASH’d indiegogo campaign here. Check out the perks you’ll receive for every level of donation received, some of them are really fun, like a pair of tickets to opening or closing, beer and a fun night out with James Wallis or Rob Kraszewski, posters and more.

If you’ve ever wanted to support some great indie theatre, or the stuff I do, this is the opportunity.

Thanks for reading.

UPDATE: Also, if you need a little more info on this style of fundraising and haven’t seen this yet, check out singer Amanda F***ing Palmer’s TED conference talk called THE ART OF ASKING. It is beautiful.