In Manhattan’s historic Stone Street District, Shakespeare is coming alive. And not just in the usual ways, like the revival of a forgotten gem or an old favorite, or a particularly moving performance of a soliloquy. If you know where to go, you can find Shakespeare dancing on tables, leading rebellions, falling in love – and all in a few cozy little pubs in the Financial District. With the New York Shakespeare Exchange’s Shakespeare-themed pub crawls, any Shakespearean comedy, tragedy, and even history play can tumble out of the pages, off the stage, and into real life.
The ShakesBeer formula is simple, according to the New York Shakespeare Exchange: 4 beers, 4 bars, 1 Bard. The crawl consists of four snippets from four different Shakespeare plays. Sometimes the snippets can be entire scenes, such as when Romeo first meets Juliet. Sometimes they may be pieced-together character arcs, like the unfolding of Iachimo’s slippery bet with Posthumus in Cymbeline. Whatever the content, whether it be familiar or from one of the more obscure Shakespeare plays (I can’t pretend to know all four of the shows included in this production of ShakesBeer), the players make sure that the personalities taking the stage – or rather, the barstool – are engaging in their delivery of dialogue and infectious in their emotion. Being a seasoned Shakespearean is by no means a requirement, either. Each scene becomes its own mini 16th century soap opera, with plenty of gesticulating, a little bit of fighting, lots of booze, and encouraged audience reactions.
The four ShakesBeer scenes are each helmed by a different director, including NYSX Artistic Director Ross Williams, and each is choreographed to fit the layout of the pub wherein it is staged. With little floor space and spectators packed into each nook and cranny of the pubs, the actors and directors owned the minimal, makeshift stage left to them. An excerpt from The Comedy of Errors saw a feisty Adriana and Luciana hopping from booth to booth, bemoaning the liberties of men. In Henry VI, Part 2, protesters shout from windowsills and benches. Twelfth Night’s Malvolio marches proudly along the bar top, displaying his cross-garters and trying not to knock over anyone’s drink. One unique feature of this ShakesBeer is that the actors also form the ensemble cast of Much Ado About Nothing, NYSX’s next production.
With ShakesBeer, familiar and obscure plays alike are picked up, dusted off, and exploded into the twenty-first century. Lines that may look like Elizabethan jargon on paper become not just relatable, but unbelievably funny when acted out in the middle of a crowded pub.
With a pint in your hand, it seems preposterous that Shakespeare was meant to be enjoyed any other way but this: in the thick of the action, in danger of having your beer spilled by an excitable actor, twisting and turning and shifting to keep up and keep out of the way at the same time. ShakesBeer is not just for people who like Shakespeare. It’s for everyone.