Every pandemic birthday celebration hits a little bit different and such is the case for Shakespeare. The Empty Space, which plans a Shakespeare production each April in honor of the famed playwright, had to get more creative this year, launching "Bard in Your Yard."
The outdoor theatrical experience will bring performers to your yard or a makeshift one at the Oak Street theater for a session of sonnets starting Saturday.
Directors Cory Guertsen and Claire Rock, who had been set to helm "All's Well that Ends Well" last April before the shutdown hit, were ready to try something new.
"We still weren’t in a position this year to put on a full fledged play yet, but wanted to carry on our tradition of Shakespeare in the spring, thus 'Bard in Your Yard' was born," Rock wrote in an email. "With 'Wanderbühne' being such a success this last fall, we thought what if we flipped the tables and brought the theatre to the audience, and Shakespeare’s sonnets proved the perfect material!"
For "Wanderbühne" in November, attendees drove to nearby locations to see performers set up outside. For "Bard," two casts of five will travel to homes of patrons who have booked a two-hour window on one of the four performance days. These bards will perform a selection of Shakespeare's sonnets.
Cast A, performing in the 2 to 4 p.m. window, consists of Bob Kempf, Stacey Sheeter, Shaquille Hill, Guinevere PH Dethlefson, Ivan Mendoza (Saturday and Sunday) and Angela Poncetta (May 1 and 2). Performing from 4 to 6 p.m. is cast B featuring Scott Deaton, Becky Ingle, Joey Bedard, Heather McCarthy and Ariane and Gabe Sarzotti.
The bards chose their own sonnets and were able to personalize them with variations including a musical performance and one adapted in Spanish.
Rock wrote, "These pieces aren’t just old words in a dusty tome, but living breathing works of art that we are hoping to bring to life in a way that is entertaining and accessible to our modern audiences."
Those booking at-home shows must be located in Bakersfield and should share any pertinent details (gate codes, celebrations, pets in the yard, etc.), Rock said. It's also up to those booking to determine the audience size.
"There is no limit on how many people may attend the home performances, so we encourage patrons to include family and quaranteam alike; thankfully with more folks getting vaccinated, it is getting a little easier to get together with friends and family.
"Our bards have been trained to keep everything properly socially distanced and, short of delivering a little goodie packet or any treats you may have ordered, know to maintain proper distance between themselves and their audience."
Rock said each ticket comes with a digital packet of activities including Shakespearean-themed puzzles, videos about Shakespeare and a suggested Spotify playlist "to jam to while you wait for your bards to arrive!"
Upgrade to the "VIP experience" with a half-dozen cupcakes and two bottles of sparkling cider for $25.
Wherever people choose to experience the show, Rock said it celebrates the adaptability of live performances.
"Live theatre is a living, breathing beast and it can truly take place anywhere; not having the options we normally have available to us due to the pandemic has really challenged our creative team to think in terms outside of TES’s physical stage and I think that has really created a lot of new, innovative content for our audiences."
The Empty Space is also connecting with the community by taking part with Give Big Kern, the local online fundraising campaign, for the first time.
Rock wrote, "Not only is it helping us raise money to pay the bills and keep the art coming, it has also connected us to a whole new community of people and really helped get our name out to those who may not have heard of us before."
For more on the campaign and the show, visit esonline.org.