The hell is this all about?
The Back Room Shakespeare Project: serious actors, no director, one rehearsal, in a bar.
We're just as serious about it as we are reckless.
IN A BAR
This is your grandmother's Shakespeare.
If your grandmother kicks ass.
Every convention of your average modern theatre serves to cut the audience off from the play. In every way, they tell us to shut down and erase ourselves. The actors are blinded by the stage lights, barely able to see the audience sitting quietly in the darkness, turning their tickets into fifty-dollar naps.
This is madness.
Because in Shakespeare’s theatre, the audience was an unruly bunch of drunks who came for the bear-baiting and stayed to check out the tragedy. They were practically on stage, buying nuts and beer from wandering vendors all the way to the bloody end.
Shakespeare's actors had no director. They rehearsed only the fights and dances. They got their lines and their cues, they grabbed their balls and tried to tell the truth. When they failed, they probably really bit it.
Hell of a legend, right?
The Back Room Shakespeare Project takes as much of it as seems useful. We read the play once, we memorize our parts, and we rehearse it once. We have no director, and we perform in bars, for free. For you! An unruly bunch of drunks!
We're not trying to re-create Elizabethan London. We're trying make a space where Shakespeare's beautiful, bawdy and bloody plays feel at home. Where actors can be responsible for their own creative work. We’re looking for a party. A riot! A hoot! We try to turn people on, and turn nothing off - not even the cellphone. It's storytime, not judgement day.
The bar's in the front, the play's in the back. Visit one and then the other - in the order and with the frequency that you see fit.
No director, one rehearsal, at a bar. We try to be as recklessly playful with it as we are deadly serious.
We like to think of the Project as a virus.
Once you've see how much better Shakespeare can be, you can't un-see it. As such, the Project is most essentially a culture and a set of ideas - and those belong to no one.
That said, we do have three individual, official chapters - In Chicago (the mothership), Los Angeles, and New York.
We are proud to have been an inspiration to some other groups across the country. We like to lend a hand when we can to people who are trying to keep shakespeare from being as awful as it often is.
We don't have directors. We rely on the enthusiasm and discipline of the actors.
But we do seek greatness. We seek after the heart of Shakespeare's text: hot blooded, reckless, light hearted and generous. These are the values that guide us.
Clarity: Make us understand what you say.
Authenticity: Say it in your own voice. (No.Really.)
Actuality: React to what is actually happening in the room.
Courage: Do not be afraid.
Generosity: Serve the whole play, not just your bit.
Velocity: Move forward at the speed of thought.
Often, we ask the audience who best lived up to a particular value. That person is presented with Chicago's most prestigious acting award: a mason jar full of whiskey.
don't take our word for it
some other people have things to say about us, too.
You might enjoy, for example, a whole damn book about it, written by co-founding partner Samuel Taylor.
Other people have said things about us as well:
- A pretty good third party perspective on what we're about.
- An interview with Partners Kelley and Samuel.
- A podcast interview of Partner Samuel, about his book, by one of the creators of the Reduced Shakespeare Company.
- A second podcast episode by the same, featuring interviews with the cast of Merchant of Venice.
- A shorter interview with Partner Kelley.
- An article on Howlround by Partner Samuel.
- An interview with Stakeholder Michael.
- A loveletter to the Project from a smart person.
- A blog describing Julius Caesar.
- A piece describing As You Like It.
An ever-shifting mob under dubious leadership
The Project started as a terrible but thrilling idea between Kelley Ristow and Samuel Taylor.
We have twelve Stakeholders who make decisions. They are:
But the Project is ultimately only the name we give to the sweat, courage, growing pains, hangovers, chickening out, bucking up and buckling down of a whole lot of people.
We hope that in the end the Project is an aesthetic and a community, not a theatre company.