When you think of Shakespeare, you might picture a very, very serious actor, holding a skull and reciting a dry Hamlet monologue. Probably something about the meaning of life. Probably something that quickly turns from impeccable verse into waves of old-timey words washing over as you nod off to sleep in your theater chair.
But what if everybody were drunk? Allison Epperson, the creator of Missoula’s Shakespeare Under the Influence, has brought The Bard to the bar, presenting Shakespeare’s timeless plays paired with bottomless drinks.
- Pumpernickel Stewart
On Monday, Dec. 22, Epperson and her players will take the stage at the Badlander to perform The Two Drunks of Verona, their boozy version of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. The play will be condensed down to about an hour long, with minimal sets, costumes and blocking. Unlike a traditional performance, the actors will have a script in one hand and a drink in the other. The audience is encouraged to play along with a drinking game (every time a bell sounds, for various theatrical reasons, the audience must drink), buy beverages for the players (beverages of choice for each character happen to be listed in the program), and participate as they see fit. The actors are encouraged to improvise, relax and take another drink.
“This is all for fun,” says Epperson. “We love Shakespeare. We love the stories, the insults, the flowery language. But there’s a fear among actors and among audiences. They get intimidated by Shakespeare. We wanted to take all of that away.”
Over the last few years, drunk Shakespeare theater troupes have been popping up in larger cities across the country. Shakespeare Under the Influence started after Epperson and her husband—both trained actors—saw a similar performance in Seattle. They had such a good time watching that they wanted to bring the idea back to Missoula. This summer, they performed Much Abrew About Nothing and immediately wanted to organize a second production.
“It’s great to do regular theater, but it was very freeing to do less planned, more unstructured theater,” says Carrie Mallino, a local director who is acting in the production. “You lose a lot of inhibitions. And you get Shakespeare out in the community to people who might not have the money or the desire to see it.”
And for those who think drunk Shakespeare is an insult to theater and The Bard himself? Epperson and her troupe disagree. In truth, the original runs of the plays were performed in front of thousands of rowdy “groundlings” at the Globe Theater, in addition to the higher-class attendees in the better seats. These groundlings were standing-room-only ticket holders who came for the physical comedy, the sexual puns and yes, the poop jokes—not the poetry and literary allusions.
“The idea that Shakespeare is highbrow and for scholars is rather unfortunate,” Mallino says. “As someone who is always looking for an audience for Shakespeare, I want people to know that the works have always been meant for everyone. We are bringing back the original sense of fun that was meant to be there. Hopefully without the vegetable throwing.”
The Two Drunks of Verona appears at the Badlander Mon., Dec 22, at 7:30 PM. Free.