Christopher Gaze has never been one for waiting in the wings; but it turns out that, when he was organizing Vancouver’s first Bard on the Beach 25 years ago, the actor was doing it from a rather unconventional locale.
“I was playing a modest-sized part in Blithe Spirit at the Vancouver Playhouse, and in the evening when the show was on, I was able to make a lot of phone calls from the stage management room,” remembers Mr. Gaze, who at the time had no experience running a theatre company. “So I would run upstairs, make my entrance, do my bit, then run back down and work on this other thing, this Bard on the Beach.”
Created entirely by volunteers, the festival drew 6,000 people in its first year. Now marking its 25th anniversary, Bard on the Beach draws more than 100,000 each year to Vanier Park for the summer-long Shakespeare fest that has become one of Vancouver’s most popular attractions.
To celebrate the milestone, this year’s mainstage plays include a stunning, sea-inspired production of The Tempest, directed by Meg Roe, and the return of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Dean Paul Gibson.
“It is truly a dream, a confluence of ideas and thoughts and colours that come together in this extraordinary story,” Mr. Gaze says. “It’s a pretty exquisite, pretty funny, pretty touching Dream, and I think it will leave people fairly gobsmacked.”
On the studio stage, Equivocation imagines what would happen if a government commissioned William Shakespeare to write the “true history” of the famed Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot, while a bold, six-actor production of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline delves into themes of innocence and jealousy.
The fest also comes with special performances by Chor Leoni, EnChor and the UBC Opera Ensemble, as well as nights dedicated to everything from a Bard-B-Q and fireworks to wine tasting to sword fighting.
Mr. Gaze will also present talks remembering the company’s 25-year run, including the time when an actor playing Laertes broke his leg on his way to the show and Mr. Gaze had to step in – leaving the crowd to wonder why the character looked decidedly older than his own father. Another time, a thunderstorm barrelled through, slicking the stage with water and capturing actor Chris Humphreys in a dramatic flash of lightning as he leaped off the stage.
So looking back, is Mr. Gaze proud of all that he and his fellow theatre-makers have accomplished? “It’s successful, and you can take a few moments to be proud, but no more than that,” says Mr. Gaze, who says that, 25 years ago, he could never have dreamed of the success they would have. “You’ve just got to get on with the business at hand – and it ain’t stopping here. On we sail.”