Regional Shakespeare

Happy Belated Bard-day, William! | Shakespeare in Toronto

By April 26, 2015 No Comments

This is part of an ongoing series of regional Shakespeare coverage. It’s Lauren here this week with the latest in Shakespeare news from Toronto! This week I’ll be giving you the lowdown on #SHAKESBEERSSHOWDOWN!



I had the privilege of attending the battle royale between Toronto’s Shakespeare performance troupes and companies. I purchased myself a tweet-seat, and was glued to the stage and my phone all night – or at least until my batteries ran out from tweeting so much. My handle is @shxprnuts if you want to go and check out the play-by-play yourself, but be prepared for some crazy shenanigans!

So, let’s get started. My evening began with a casual drive into the city, in my car, which has a Shakespeare related vanity plate. Yeah, I know, I’m cool like that. And it’s a pretty normal, city drive – nothing unusual happening. So, boy was I surprised when I looked in my rearview mirror to find the person behind me snapping a picture of my licence plate. Usually I wouldn’t have noticed. Wednesday, for some reason, I panicked. I re-traced my driving pattern, hoping I hadn’t cut someone off, or done some incredibly illegal maneuver … but I couldn’t remember being such a horrible driver…

We progress through another set of lights, and then there’s a red. No sign of the car that took my picture in my rearview. No, of course not: he’s in my blind spot. Then, suddenly, there’s a knocking at my window. I must have given the poor guy the stink-eye when I turned in complete shock…

Standing beside my car was a rather tall man with glasses rockin’ an awesome beard, and he was holding this green t-shirt, which he then unraveled to show me. It was a “Shakespearean Legion of Doom” shirt with graphic novel style animations of Prospero, Iago, Caliban, Richard III and Lady Macbeth. I roll down my window, and he says, “Here, it’s for you.”  So I take the shirt, we have a giggle, and off we both go on our merry way.

Me and my new t-shirt Credit: Lauren Shepherd.

Me and my new t-shirt Credit: Lauren Shepherd.

When I arrive at the TRANZAC for my early entry to #SHAKESBEERSSHOWDOWN, I arrive in style – I thought in the car, why not put on this random act of awesome t-shirt and support whatever team was wearing green that night as their team colours. Well, don’t I enter to find a rather tall man, with glasses rockin’ an awesome beard standing in the venue with his pile of t-shirts and Kill Shakespeare graphic novels! Jaw-drops.

None other than Conor McCreery, co-creator of Kill Shakespeare, was my random act of awesome on the streets of Toronto. And neither one of us thought the random encounter required commentary about #SHAKESBEERSSHOWDOWN – it was like we knew we were both going to the same place. Those Shakespeare nerds, they stick together!

Me and Conor McCreery of Kill Shakespeare. Credit: Kevin Hammond

Me and Conor McCreery of Kill Shakespeare. Credit: Kevin Hammond

Well – how could you not have an amazing night at a Shakespearean battle royale after that kind of welcome?! I settled myself in the front row (reserved for the tweeters) and prepared to have the most amusing night of my life.

The evening began with a birthday shot for The Bard to celebrate his life – and then we got down to business. All the teams were introduced: Ale House Theatre Company (RED), Hart House Theatre (SKINS), Humber River Shakespeare Co. (GREEN), Dauntless City Theatre (B&W), Shakespeare BASH’d (PURPLE), Shakey-Shake and Friends Theatre Company (PUPPETS), Shakespeare in the Ruff (RUFFS), Spur of the Moment Shakespeare Collective (BLUE).

The judges for the evening were Artistic Director of Humber River Shakespeare Company, Kevin Hammond, and Kill Shakespeare co-creator, Connor McCreery. It was up to them to blow the whistle on any mistakes, which would then cause the offending party to drink another sip of their beer, thus impairing their ability further to correctly read the passage… I think you see where this is going…

Hammond & McCreery. Credit: Lauren Shepherd

Hammond & McCreery. Credit: Lauren Shepherd

The Battle began with a series of speeches. Contestants were each given a First Folio text (sourced from the digital library archives and collection at The University of Victoria, BC), and a beer. It was their duty then to read the speech, without skipping words, mispronouncing them, or running thoughts together; each speech would desirably be word and thought perfect. Not likely to happen… and even more unlikely as mistakes were made…

This inaugural round was to eliminate players so that the scenes could begin. Therefore, a massive shoutout goes to AJ Richardson of Shakespeare in the Ruff who completed his Round One speech with only 3 errors!

AJ Richardson, Shakespeare in the Ruff. Credit: Lauren Shepherd

AJ Richardson, Shakespeare in the Ruff. Credit: Lauren Shepherd

And yes, there’ll be more to come from this Ruffian – he was a top contender right from the start! And special mention to Laurence Smith, for instigating the “Smith” rule: whenever there was an unreadable word due to photocopy error, the contestant could replace said word with “Smith”. There were a lot of Smiths in the Battle that night…

Round Two consisted of scene work, where contestants from the remaining teams were pitted against one another. Each scene had a clear winner and that winner would advance to the next round. Some contestants played multiple characters, having to switch hats (quite literally) in the middle of their speaking in order to delineate character. This then became referred to as the #hattrick for the rest of the evening over twitter.

Contestants from Ale House Theatre, Shakespeare BASH'd, and Humber River Shakespeare Co. Credit: Lauren Shepherd

Contestants from Ale House Theatre, Shakespeare BASH’d, and Humber River Shakespeare Co. Credit: Lauren Shepherd

Round Three was a further elimination pitting two players against one another with multiple characters, and multiple hats. This round elicited some excellent sportsmanship, as well as characterization and voice work. Kudos to AJ Richardson yet again, and to Matt Shaw for their performances. And a big shout out to Louisa Zhu for rolling with the punches and continuing through a scene where an incorrect beginning was presented – she just kept going, flawlessly! Atta Girl!

Then came the Foolery Round during which the judges deliberated on who the final two contenders would be for the Ultimate Title of #SHAKESBEERSSHOWDOWN Champion! The audience was able to vote for anyone they wanted to see up on the stage again by private ballot. Shout outs to Shakey-Shake and Friends for participating in the Foolery Round, as well as the clear crowd favourite, Melanie Hrymak of Dauntless City Theatre.

And FINALLY – The Championship Round. Our contestants are… drum roll please… AJ Richardson of Shakespeare in the Ruff, and Matt Shaw of Ale House Theatre Company.

Matt Shaw: Ale House Theatre & AJ Richardson: Shakespeare in the Ruff. Credit: Lauren Shepherd

Matt Shaw: Ale House Theatre & AJ Richardson: Shakespeare in the Ruff. Credit: Lauren Shepherd

The Championship Round consisted of a piece of text from *shock, horror, cringe* Ben Jonson… not our revered Bard. However, it was clear this was going to be no easy task for the two. Their job was to perform, with many many hats, the several characters single-handedly for a time until a stage direction was reached, at which point the opposing contestant would take over. This meant, therefore, that they each had to use the same hat, voice, and characterization for each several character, whilst still pronouncing words correctly, and speaking the whole thought. In some cases the stage directions occurred in the middle of a character’s speech – which made the #hattrick all that more exciting for the viewers.


Matt Shaw & AJ Richardson Credit: Lauren Shepherd

After a very tense, and intense, round… judges Hammond and McCreery announced that… there was an UNDENIABLE TIE!!! Both Shaw and Richardson had scored equally in the Championship. But this just can’t be – there has to be only one winner – and so we went into Sudden Death Overtime!

Matt Shaw, Kevin Hammond, AJ Richardson, Conor McCreery. Credit: Lauren Shepherd

Matt Shaw, Kevin Hammond, AJ Richardson, Conor McCreery. Credit: Lauren Shepherd

The pair were given a particularly difficult speech from Round One, and had to alternate speaking the verse lines, with the regular rules regarding pronunciation and thoughts. The first one to make three mistakes would lose the battle.

Shaw, Hammond, Richardson, McCreery. Credit: Lauren Shepherd

Shaw (in the lead), Hammond, Richardson, McCreery. Credit: Lauren Shepherd

The air grew tense, and for a time they were neck-in-neck… and then… by a crazy twist of fate… or rather perhaps some beer goggles and fatigue… a clear winner emerged.

The new reigning Champion of #SHAKESBEERSSHOWDOWN 2015, hailing from Ale House Theatre is Matt Shaw!

Champion! Shaw & Richardson. Credit: Lauren Shepherd

Champion! Shaw & Richardson. Credit: Lauren Shepherd

Congratulations to Matt and Ale House Theatre. Mad shout outs to AJ Richardson of Shakespeare in the Ruff, as well as Shakespeare BASH’d for keeping it fun on stage and saucy with the judges! Hearty thanks to Kevin Hammond & Conor McCreery, the fearless (well, some of the time) judges! And the BIGGEST congratulations to Victoria Urquhart for organizing an awesome event bringing together Toronto’s love for Shakespeare and Beer… and laughing at peoples mistakes… The money raised from this event helps Spur of the Moment Shakespeare Collective to run their programming in Hospitals around the GTA, a worthy cause to spill a beer or two!

Tune in early next week for a guest article by Tori Carlisle on this weekend’s Opening of Gingers in Love!!!

Break Legs, Steal Hearts Toronto!!!

Lauren Shepherd

Author Lauren Shepherd

Lauren Shepherd is a current PhD Candidate at The University of Toronto's Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies. She has studied at Shakespeare's Globe, and researched in the RSC archives. She has studied under the direction of renowned actors/directors/playwrights/voice masters such as Howard Barker (and The Wrestling School), Jane Lapotaire, Emma Thompson, Trevor Rawlins, Philip Bird, Philip Stafford, Glynn MacDonald, & Stewart Pearce while abroad, and taken Masterclasses from Gloria Mann, Chick Reid & Tom McCamus in Canada. Lauren's current research is in the performance and diagnosis of 'madness' on the early modern stage. Lauren recently co-founded a performance troupe that works with early modern and Shakespearean texts, as well as adaptations and modernizations. The Shakespearience Group's work is experimental, and rooted in creating experiences of Shakespeare (and other early modern playwrights) that audience members can share and explore. Their goal is to create engaging performances that tell stories, communicate needs, and facilitate new experiences as well as the remembrance of past experience; the idea of recalling memories and exploring those pathways. Their inaugural performance was grounded in Lauren's PhD research on madness, titled Fortune's Fools, and premiered at the 2014 Flounder Festival at Burlington Student Theatre Centre. For the summer of 2015 The Shakespearience Group is scheduled to perform Twelfth Night, as well as run both Summer Camp (for youth aged 10-16) and Masterclass (for those 16+) at Burlington's local community theatre, Drury Lane.

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