Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach opens its 24th season with a version of Twelfth Night set in a turn-of-the-century European spa, one of three shows getting more modern makeovers at this year’s Shakespeare Fest.
In his directorial debut at Vancouver’s annual summer Shakespeare festival, Dennis Garnhum moves this 16th century comedy to 1913 Europe and into the “What You Will Hotel and Spa”, a clever nod to the play’s full title. For Garnhum, that decision comes from a desire to make Shakespeare more accessible to today’s audiences, a philosophy that appears to have been fully embraced at this year’s festival.
“I think for me it is helpful to find a period with a style that will keep the language exotic and interesting, but one that modern audiences will appreciate being able to follow what is being said,” says Garnhum by phone during a break from rehearsals.
Having been asked by Bard on the Beach’s Artistic Director Christopher Gaze how he might envision a production of Twelfth Night, it was while on vacation in California that Gurham, who is gay, contemplated the question, realizing that he was in fact experiencing the answer at that very moment.
“The most important part of this concept is that there are a whole lot of characters at a crossroads in their lives and they all come together in this world. I began to think about where that could be and it was convenient that I was sitting by the pool of five star resort when I realized it was there,” he says.
Garnhum also realized it would be a perfect match for the festival’s location next to the ocean, a proximity he says he will take full advantage of from the iconic main stage tent at Vanier Park.
Having to sharing the stage with a modern production of Hamlet directed by Kim Collier, Garnhum isn’t worried about transitioning from the modern-day condo of Collier’s Danish tragedy to the 1913 European seaside of his Twelfth Night.
“It is all is part of the magic of Bard on the Beach, this idea of ‘glam camping’ inside tents,” he laughs.
Twelfth Night and Hamlet aren’t the only productions getting more modern treatments this year as Measure for Measure on the smaller Studio Stage will take place in 1900s New Orleans. Perhaps ironically it is the single production that wasn’t penned by Shakespeare this year that gets the more traditional staging in Timothy Findley’s Elizabeth Rex.
With three of four more modern Shakespeare makeovers dominating the festival this year, it appears that everyone at Bard on the Beach is on the same page as Garnhum’s own philosophy in presenting these works.
“The number one thing is to help your audience understand [the work],” says Garnhum of his role as director of a Shakespeare play. “You need to make it accessible.”
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival
12 June – 14 September 2013
Visit http://www.bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.