Five Years of Love, Beer, and Shakespeare

Tim Welham and Kelly Penner as Dromio and Antipholus in The Comedy of Errors. Photo by Kyle Purcell

In the summer of 2012, we decided to produce our company’s first full production: The Taming of the Shrew. Oh, and plan for our upcoming wedding.

We were so excited to be making a reality of something we had spent years fantasizing about: Shakespeare in a bar. To us, the Fringe seemed like the perfect place for it. The festival is full of fun, enthusiastic audiences who certainly know how to enjoy a drink, and with the opportunity to join the festival as a site-specific show, we could use this as a chance to try out our idea for Shakespeare in a bar setting. With the Victory Café, we had a venue right behind the Fringe tent—it couldn’t get any better. But as the festival approached, people we spoke to seemed baffled by the idea. “Shakespeare at the Fringe?!” we heard over and over again. To others, the Fringe was a venue for new work, stuff that audiences would instantly connect with, not stuffy ol’ Shakespeare. But we were determined to give it a try. If we were excited by the idea of energetic Shakespeare in a bar setting, there must be other people who also were. Well, we were right.

James:

Julia and I had our first date nearly seven years ago, and we hit it off right away. We connected over our aspirations as actors and theatre artists. We both had an affinity for Shakespeare and shared a mutual desire to understand the work through the text.

For many years, the idea of presenting Shakespeare in a bar had been percolating in my mind. I thought The Taming of the Shrew would work best in that setting. It’s a farce with a very controversial, but compelling, main plot about an overwhelming, confident man and an earnest, alienated woman. It didn’t have the best reputation, but I believed that two actors who respected each other could bring out the love story and tackle these characters as real partners.

So, towards the end of our date, I blurted out, “We should do Taming of the Shrew in a bar. I should play Petruchio and you should play Katherina.” I don’t remember her reaction but I think it was good!

Julia:

We had a few too many drinks on that first date, but I guess that allowed us to bond over our love of beer, theatre, and especially Shakespeare. When James suggested I play Kate to his Petruchio, I laughed it off (if he was trying to flatter me, he certainly could have picked a more likeable character). But a few years later, there we were, opening the show a few months before our wedding. It was nuts!

The Taming of the Shrew, Fringe 2012
The Taming of the Shrew, Fringe 2012

Julia & James:

The Fringe opened and, to our shock, we had a lineup outside the bar. We ended up selling out the entire run, and even won Best of Fringe.

We had the best time fighting with each other on stage each night as Kate and Petruchio—a little public bickering is a great lead up to a wedding. That was the summer that we really solidified what our partnership looks like, both in life and work.

We both think of that first Fringe as one of the best summers of our lives. We took on way too much and it all paid off: we had an incredible production and a perfect wedding. We’ve been back to the Fringe every summer since then, now leading up to our fifth and final year. It’s a unique opportunity to get to learn in the thick of it, and that’s just what we did. 

James:

I know a lot of couples would never want to work together. There are enough stresses in the day-to-day world that you have to tackle together. Why add additional work stresses? But for us, it’s the perfect fit. Our work is our life and we’re not capable of turning it off. So it’s wonderful to be able to go to bed at night and turn to the person beside you and say, “What if King John was played by a woman?”

 Julia:

And it was on our honeymoon, sipping rosé on a patio in Paris, that we came up with the concept for our frat-house setting for Love’s Labour’s Lost, which we presented at the Fringe in 2014. It’s nice to be able to work with someone who you are completely comfortable around. You can share all of your ideas (even the ridiculous ones) and never feel like you have to turn off the work side of your brain so you don’t bore your spouse.

James:

The things that make us such great partners in life translate to running the company. I love the big picture, but am not good with spreadsheets and action plans… Luckily, I know that Julia excels with Excel (see what I did there?). We balance each other out. 

James and Julia - Photo by Danijela Pruginic

Julia:

This is our company’s fifth year, and we’ve grown into something we could never have imagined back in 2012, when I was running myself ragged trying to learn all my lines and also find time to figure out the seating chart for our wedding.

Julia & James:

We’ve come a long way as a company and as a couple. The Fringe is a magical place where you can experiment, make mistakes, and learn from the incredible community surrounding you. It’s where we learned how to work together and it’s really become a home for us. Over the last four years, we drank a lot of great beer, saw a lot of great shows, and will hold the memories dear for years to come.

We’ve just finished a huge season, with four sold-out productions. And we’ve decided it’s time to see where our partnership can take us, beyond the comfort zone of a festival. As Shakespeare wrote, “better three hours too soon, than a minute too late.”

Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis run Shakespeare BASH’d, one of Toronto’s most successful indie Shakespeare companies and Fringe darlings. After four sold-out summers at the Toronto Fringe, they are bidding farewell to the festival with their upcoming production of The Comedy of Errors at the Victory Café.

For tickets or more information, click here

By

Julia is an actor, producer, and director. She loves Shakespeare, clown, absurdist theatre, and dark beers. She knows the words to every 90s song and will rearrange her whole schedule to go out for karaoke. Her go-to song is “Fergalicious,” assisted with back-up vocals from her husband.

and

James is a Toronto theatre artist who has performed and directed a bunch of Shakespeare with his company Shakespeare BASH'd. He loves theatre and language. He loves artists and doesn't like raisins. He is constantly trying to find the perfect beer-and-burger pairing, but will give that up for a great play any day of the week.


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