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Shakesbeers Showdown: beer, the bard and a battle in iambic pentameter

by DREW ROWSOME -

"Puppets do have a notoriously high tolerance for alcohol," admits Victoria Urquhart who will be MCing and cheering lustily at the Shakesbeers Showdown competition. "But that's why we have style points to level the playing field. If people, and puppets, wanna play in the big leagues, they've gotta be ready to play hard."

Shakesbeers Showdown, mixing cold readings from Shakespeare's First Folio with equally cold beer, is a raucous ever-evolving affair. As Urquhart explains, "The rules are simple, for the most part." If you screw up - mispronounce, or read someone else's line - you drink." And of course the more you drink, the more hilariously you screw up. It is a vicious spiral.

All of the competing theatre companies specialize in reinterpreting or adapting Shakespeare to emphasize the fun and relevance of his work. "You're looking at a lot of nerds who have done a lot of reading," says Urquhart. "A lot of us know what it is to be left out or judged because of what we do, who we like, etc. No one likes being told that 'You won't get it' either. Inclusion is a big deal and can go a long way in a community."

Along with their penchant for unusual settings and high energy, two of the competing companies, Shaky Shakes and Friends and Shakespeare In The Ruff, are knows for their puppetry skills. Hence the new style points. "If you read it with flare, in character, etc, you can get style points. Two style points equals one drink that you can give your opponent at the beginning of the next round. That's the basis of it. Some years people can get pretty intense about the rules. Then they remember it's all for a fun night and supporting a great cause, so why not?"

Shakesbeers Showdown is a fundraiser for Urquhart's company the Spur Of The Moment Shakespeare Collective's ambitious Shakespeare-In-Hospitals Program. "We have a very non-traditional process for this project," explains Urquhart. "Three directors get together and collaborate with a curator to basically take apart a bunch of excerpts from different plays and build an entirely new play." This play is then rehearsed and presented in three different versions, "'Staged' is pretty straightforward, 'Open Space' is for waiting rooms, atriums or cafeterias, and 'Private Rooms' are literally at patients' bedsides. It's all about accessibility, relief and community engagement."

Urquhart may be a compassionate co-creator of Shakespeare-In-Hospitals but when it comes to Shakesbeers Showdown, she is all trash talk. Of competitors Dauntless City Theatre whose productions of Drunk MacbethDrunk Romeo and JulietDrunk The Tempest, etc, would seem to give them an advantage. "I seem to remember them always placing second throughout the years . . . What is the saying? Always a bridesmaid?"

She calls the AleHouse Shakespeare Company's two-year winning streak a "fluke"and dismisses Shakespeare At Play, "They're an app." And as for that other little Shakespearean theatre company Stratford? "Every year we send out the invite. And we've had Stratford artists compete for other companies." But it seems that the country's most established and prestigious Shakespearen advocates is afraid of the indie upstarts. They've chickened out every year.

More from Victoria Urquhart (including more trash talk) at drewrowsome.blogspot.com

Shakesbeers Showdown takes place on Sun, April 30 at 918 Bathurst St. shakesbeers2017.bpt.me

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