Born May 12, 1952 and educated in England, Christopher Gaze was inspired to come to Canada in 1975 by his mentor, legendary Shakespearean actor Douglas Campbell. He spent three seasons at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake and acted at various theatre companies across Canada and the USA, then moved to Vancouver in 1983. After a couple of experiences with other tented Shakespeare festivals, Christopher recognized the potential in blending excellent Shakespeare productions with Vancouver’s spectacular location. In 1990 he founded Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, where Bard’s signature open-ended tent allowed actors to perform against a backdrop of the city’s skyline and mountains.
The first summer of Bard on the Beach was a huge success. Beginning as an Equity Co-op production, it staged one play in a rented tent in Vanier Park on a budget of $35,000.
Today the Festival, now in its 27th season, has a budget of over $6 million and has seen its attendance rocket from 6,000 in that first summer to 100,000 in 2014. The growth has been slow and organic, and the Festival has been able to sustain its mandate “to provide quality Shakespeare productions that are accessible and affordable”. Not only has patronage burgeoned from the local community but Bard has contributed significantly to the city as a major tourist attraction, with approximately one-tenth of its patrons from outside BC’s Lower Mainland.
Christopher also nurtured the Young Shakespeareans Program at Bard that provides an opportunity every summer for nearly 300 young people to train with company artist/instructors on the Bard stages. The Festival has also developed a Student Matinee series that annually brings as many as 8,000 students to play performances, introducing them to the magic of Shakespeare’s stories and language. During the past several years, Bard has expanded its education programs with Bard in the Classroom, Bard in your Neighbourhood and Riotous Youth workshops for young people, students and teachers. This commitment to youth outreach and education has made an important contribution to the development of a knowledgeable and enthusiastic “audience of the future” for the performing arts in general.
Christopher, who trained as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School from 1970 to 1973, is an accomplished and talented actor and director. Over his extensive career in the theatre he has performed at major centres across Canada, England and the USA. In 2004 he was honoured with the Jessie Richardson Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the Playhouse production of Equus and a Career Achievement award in 2014.
In addition to his role as Artistic Director, Christopher has frequently performed and directed at Bard on the Beach. His directing credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1990 and 2003), As You Like It (1991) The Winter’s Tale (1997), Henry V (2002) and Shakespeare’s Rebel (2015). Favourite roles among the innumerable characters he has played at Bard are Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Malvolio in Twelfth Night, the title roles in Richard III and King Lear and Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
A gifted public speaker, Christopher frequently shares his insights into the theatre and Shakespeare in the community at large, with school groups, service organizations and local businesses. He works with many other arts organizations, notably as host of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s Traditional Christmas Concerts series since 1993 and its legendary Tea & Trumpets series since 2002.
Christopher also works extensively as a character actor in film and radio, and he narrated the Emmy Award-winning animation series Madeline. He serves as a Board Member for many different organizations and plays a leadership role as a cultural ambassador in BC. As an Olympic ambassador, Christopher was honoured to run with the Olympic flame for the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
Christopher’s many honours include induction into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame, Canada’s Meritorious Service Medal (MSM), Honorary Doctorates from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, the BC Community Achievement Award (2007), the Gold Medallion from the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America (2007), the (Vancouver) Mayor’s Arts Award for Theatre (2011) and the Order of British Columbia (2012).
Notes on Christopher Gaze’s presentation
It’s a great pleasure to be here today. I know so many of you. There’s bound to be some repetition of stuff you’ve heard me say before but at your age it doesn’t matter anymore does it?
Everything is new again. It’s marvelous! I’m greatly encouraged that you are actually or trying to organize a group to come to Bard, that will be splendid, I am in a large part preaching to the converted. My sister in law was staying over at the house last night and this morning and I said, “I have just got to do something for you. I am going to recite a lot of Shakespeare because I’m going to have to do it later on and I need a bit of rehearsal.”
She was intrigued by this. It’s interesting because all of these years later, 400 years later, how on Earth did we do it here in Vancouver, create a Shakespeare Festival of some profundity that 100,000 people a year come to Bard on the Beach, and who would have dreamed that? For those of you that have lived here a long time, who would have dreamed that there would have been a Shakespeare festival here that 100,000 people come to?
So, if you cannot understand my argument and declare, “It’s Greek to me” you’re quoting Shakespeare.
If you claim to be more sinned against than sinning you are quoting Shakespeare.
If you recall your salad days you are quoting Shakespeare.
If you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is farther to the thought, if your lost property is vanished into thin air you’re quoting Shakespeare.
If you’ve ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you’ve played fast and loose, if you’ve been tongue-tied, tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle.
If you’ve knitted your brows, made virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance on your lord and master, laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing.
If you’ve seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise why be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are, as good luck would have it, quoting Shakespeare.
If you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and the short of it, if you lie low ‘til the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, at one fell swoop without rhyme or reason, then to give the devil his due if the truth were known for surely you have a tongue in your head you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a door-nail, if you think I am a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then – by Jove! O Lord! Tut tut! But me no buts! – it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.
So it is simply astonishing, isn’t it, how much it is a part of our lives and when you contemplate that, the creation of this festival and then these words all knitted together that go up into making up the way we speak. It’s part of our everyday speech and that’s the impact of Shakespeare in our lives.
Bard then and now and how did all of this happen.
For me let me tell you the story of my life.
When I was a lad in boarding school I worked very hard breaking every rule. They sat me down from nine to three and tried to teach me some geometry.
Geometry was not my bent and now I’m an actor in a Shakespeare tent.
The family business came along, it was building all day long, the concrete business did me in, I’m much too artsy for the dust and din.
I had my fill of wet cement, now I’m an actor in a Shakespeare tent.
Before I learned to tread the boards I spent a season in the House of Lords, I stood my ground, I had my say and I quoted Hamlet almost every day.
My speeches were so eloquent but now I’m an actor in a Shakespeare tent.
My father said, “Go west my son” so I spent a year or two in Edmonton. Whilst there I taught in an acting class and in the winter nearly froze my arse so I bid adieu and west I went and now I’m an actor in a Shakespeare tent.
At last, I think I’ve found my home, acting here beneath a canvas dome. Although it’s rich I’ll never get by playing Romeo and Juliet. As long as I can pay them rent I’ll always be an actor in a Shakespeare tent.
There. Enough recitation for the moment.
It is curious how these things happen and how did I get so involved in this but the miracle of Bard, of course, is wrapped up in so many people and there are many people in this room this morning that are so important to the success of what we created.
So many of you are businessmen who make your lives in the business and commercial world and of course what we do we are deeply affiliated with you because frankly we cannot do what do in the arts world without you. We have to do it together and that’s why Bard, I think in so many ways, is such a wholesome and fine company; that it is a sort of extended family. That’s the way we describe ourselves at Bard and I think that’s the pleasure. All the 250 people who work for us every year, that’s what they find about us.
My personal involvement in Bard, of course, has been all-in over the last 28 years and frankly, I turn 65 on Friday and I think most of you are on the landmark or beyond, and I don’t know if you remember turning 65 but it is a moment and I’ve been contemplating it this past week. What does it mean? What have I done? What is there still to do? What do I want to do? And of course I just want to do what I am doing now and it’s a great pleasure. Especially working with all the people that I work with because when a company becomes as big as ours, when you think we started in 1990 on a budget of $35,000 and a little rented tent down here in Vanier Park. This year it will be up around the $7 million mark as a not-for-profit.
This is a very big theatre society in our province, in fact, in Canada. I guess the symphonies are $14 to $15 million companies. The Arts Club is a similar size. What’s funny about Vancouver is that the Arts Club is the third biggest theatre company in Canada. So when you actually contemplate the arts in Vancouver, we’re kind of an outside culture or city, we like to be “out there” and all the things that we love about Vancouver as sort of a resort Vancouver.
However that’s quite a marvelous observation about people that we like to go to the theatre. Bill Millerd and his team at the Arts Club have created that. It’s the third biggest theatre club in the country.
Later on I’ll talk about our relationship to the Arts Club and what we’ve created together.
I suppose as I reach back and I look at these 65 years and wonder how did all these things happen? How did I end up creating and sustaining and being involved so heavily with a Shakespeare festival?
As a lad in boarding school I was most content when we were reading plays, I was involved in speech prizes, anything where I could be active if you like on a stage like this working with literature. That’s when I was most comfortable. That and sports but as a profession I felt there was something there and of course I was able to get into the National Youth Theatre.
Everything when I was a young man, probably similar with you if you found your true path that you enjoyed for many years in your professions, I found mine very early. My father was a managing director and his brother was the chairman of a building company in Kingston, England called W. H. Gaze and Sons which was a very well-known midsized building company by appointment to Her Majesty the Queen.
It was one of those nice old companies that could do everything for you. If you wanted a house built, they’d build the house, do the gardens and landscapes, build your furniture, install the draperies and carpets. Everything.
When I was about 10 I asked my father, “what do I have to do to get into your company?” and he replied, “well you probably need to go to university and study civil engineering, send you out to work with somebody else and then you come back to Gaze’s.” They had been going since 1879 I think.
And I remember thinking, “oh my God, I couldn’t do that” and a sort of wall of china came down on my mind. I was the sort of person that needed to know what I was going to do with my life. I needed to be focused on a target. On an exeat from boarding school one Sunday I went into the village hall where my father was building the set and Mum was in the play. The lights were low and there was a big velvet curtain here.
I said to someone who was sitting there and having a sandwich, “no-one gets paid for doing this?” and he replied, “This is just amateur Christopher but you can get paid to do this.” “So you can get paid to be in plays?”
That’s when I thought, “Right, that’s what I want to do.”
So as my teens wore on, difficult school years in boarding school I held onto the dream. I seemed to be good at everything I touched in terms of public speaking and theatre. I got into the National Youth Theatre and when I wanted to go into theatre school I got into several and I was able to choose which one. Everyone was endorsing me saying, “You’re quite good at this.”
The great inspiration in my life was not only my own father who has been gone a long long time, but he was someone I drug over the Cambie Bridge with my father in 1987 the year before he died. I said, “Dad, you must be so disappointed in me,” and he says, “Why’s that?” and I said, “I’m just this itinerant actor.” He had never heard of Bard on the Beach, it started in 1990. He said, “No no no. The beautiful thing for you is that you can do what you want. I was born in 1920 and in 1939 I was ready to march away to the War and then in 1945, 46 and 47 I just wanted to come back and meet someone and marry and have a home and get a good job and try and become in life. But here you are doing exactly what you want to do.”
That was so generous of him. So generous.
But in 1973 I ran when I left school I ran into another chap named Douglas, my father was called Douglas, Douglas Campbell and he employed me at Theatre North in Northern England. I auditioned and got it and he saw something in me. I guess I’ve always in my life looked to older or definitely people I saw to be wiser in a perpetual search for wisdom. Douglas was one of those people. He saw in me I think an ambitious, opportunistic and reasonably talented young man and after two years he said, “Go to Canada. Canada is the place for you because you can do things in Canada. It’s opening up from an artistic point of view.”
Many of you will remember the theatre centres opening across Canada. Douglas had come over in 1953 with Sir Tyrone Guthrie to create the Stratford Festival. The Stratford Festival in Southern Ontario is the biggest theatre festival in North America. It’s at least twice the size of Ashland, Oregon. That’s something to be very proud of as Canadians.
Douglas had come over with Tyrone Guthrie and Alec Guinness and one or two others along with a community there because Tom Patterson wanted it there in Stratford, they created the Stratford Festival which is such an icon the world now.
Douglas had all those experiences with his mentor Sir Tyrone Guthrie and now he saw in me what he had felt in himself and so I came to Canada and away I went.
I’ve been part of two other Shakespeare festivals. One in Edmonton in ‘80-’81, I mentioned that in my little rhyme, and then one in Vancouver in ‘83-’84. Both Shakespeare festivals, in tents, failed their second season and money was lost. Maybe some of you supported it. Anyway, it stopped in 1984 but I had a sniff of it. I was actually playing Richard III here in 1984 when it all went out of business. I didn’t think it was due to my performance. But as the ‘80s wore on several pretty interesting people tried to get it going again because they saw the potential. They expanded too quickly, the weather was dreadful, they paid people too much and so on. That’s the reason I think they went down.
Then in 1989, a year after my father’s death, it can be a great thing to turn a negative into a positive especially being a youngish man when he was gone. In my ‘30s I asked myself, “What you are going to do with your life?” and that’s when the voice of Douglas was in my head, “Christopher, you can do something.”
That’s when I spoke to a group of people I was directing at the time and said, “Let’s do something together. I’ve got this idea to create this Shakespeare festival here but it needs to be done steadily and slowly. We need to build on organs, build our capacity and then we’ll see how it goes,” and that’s what we did.
We raised that $35,000 and away we went. We had a civil war at the end of the season, there was a sort of nasty moment there when we had a “whose driving the bus” moment and fortunately the board of the directors there were three or four or five people like yourselves on the board and they decided that we would divorce ourselves from the group of people we were working with and we did it all again the next year on our own. We incorporated the name of the project as Bard on the Beach Theatre Society in 1990 and away we went.
In the first year we had 6,000 people, the second year we had 11,000 people and in the third year we bought a bigger tent that many of you will remember. We haven’t been in it for several years now, it just got old, but it was a 520 seat theatre. Our audience went to 22,000 and then it just went northwards from there.
Funny things have happened over the years of course you can imagine. Crazy things can happen with live theatre, especially in the park.
I phoned Douglas Campbell in 1992 and said, “I’ve started a Shakespeare Festival” and he said “call me when you need me” and he came out in 1992 and started directing for us and acting in the shows. In 1995, and older gentlemen by then with so much knowledge, he directed a production of Hamlet.
It was in previews and I wasn’t acting that year, I think it was the second preview, I was sitting outside having a picnic. When you come to Bard I mentioned all the different things you can have. Order picnics and they’ll be there and you can have a picnic on that night you come. The caterer brings them and you pick them up at Bard.
Anyway, I was outside having a picnic in 1995 and about half an hour after the second reading of Hamlet began, the stage manager came up and said, “Christopher have you heard?” “No, what?” “Well the actor playing Laertes, while cycling to the theatre tonight, has been a hit by a truck and broken his leg” and I went back stage and Douglas was there, this great big man, and he said, “I’m sorry dear we’re going to have to cancel.” And I said, “Cancel?” I couldn’t bear the idea of giving the money back!”
And he said, “Well have you got a better idea?” And I said, “I could go on Laertes.”
And he said, “Give him a script and someone give him a costume or something and he looks like he might be in the play.”
Needless to say my joke at the time was that this was one of the only times in theatrical history that the actor playing Laertes looked rather older than his father Polonius!
I went on stage and I did well. Everyone had said, “We’ll guide you around the stage and read from the text and you’ll be fine.” So I was reading and the scenes were going on. So that was all fun. First half back in the green room where other actors were shaking my hand saying, “Well done Christopher, you’re the man. Great stuff! Fantastic!” And I said, “Thank you very much.”
Pride comes before a fall of course and I learned a lot from this moment.
So I go on for the second half feeling very cocky and sure of myself now and I am reading the script and it says, this entrance get on stage, jump into the grave, pick up your sister Ophelia, give her a hug, lay her down again and then you have to get out of there and attack Hamlet because he’s come on and you’re mad at him because your father and Ophelia are dead and it is fault.
So that’s what happened on stage. Into the grave do all that, there’s Hamlet, I leap out and attack him.
However, I’d cast four rather burly strong fellows whose job it was at the moment to pull Laertes which they did. However, in the unrehearsed violence of the moment my script flew to the other side of the stage. Anyway, I stood there and these chaps were holding me and the script was over there and King Claudius was talking. People started to leave the stage and I was left there and the king was here and he told me about poisoning the end of my sword and how we were going to kill Hamlet.
He finally said, “Wilt thou do this Laertes?” And I thought, “Right, now I’ve got to get the script.”
So I went to the other side of the stage, quite confidently, and picked it up and fortunately opened the very page we had left quite some time before. But I couldn’t find any words there for Laertes. I had forgotten them. Douglas had told me this was inversion of scenes he had put in. He made some changes. So I was completely unable to find the text where we were. The audience was beginning to titter and it’s not the normal reaction you get from this great tragedy.
The stage manager in his sort of quietness suddenly calls from the back room of the theatre, “Page 121.” I turn to page 121 and there’s nothing there and I said, “Not in this script.” That was even funnier to the audience.
Douglas was standing in the entrance way, he was playing the grave digger and had to put the lid on. Anyway, he was apoplectic with me for screwing this up. So he came onto the stage, grabbed the script irritably out of my hand. Subsequently he had his cataracts removed but at the time without his spectacles he was incapable as I was in finding the right place.
Finally the king came over, took the script very elegantly, found the page, pointed the line and I was able to answer the question he had asked me quite some time before.
“I will my Lord.”
I remember a dozen or more years ago where a member of a Shakespeare organization, we meet once a year mostly in America but it could be the UK, the Shakespeare Theatre Association. Americans love Shakespeare. There are Shakespeare festivals all over America. Small ones related to colleges and this and that and the other but nevertheless.
So we were at one of these conferences and there were two or three people who I really admire and I pushed into their conversation and said, “Look, I think we need to push out into education. That’s implicit when you do Shakespeare” and they said “totally.” One chap, Fred Adams, started a big Shakespeare festival in Cedar City, Utah. He said, “You’ll be amazed at what happens and the educational side of Bard on the Beach may at some point end up being even bigger than your Shakespeare festival.”
We got cracking and we had the gift of Mary Hartman who is director of education and who is probably the finest in terms of Shakespeare education in schools and programs we provide. So we built it, built it and built it. Some of you helped us do that for which we are very very grateful.
But the wonderful thing is there are several different programs, 300 young people, 8 to 18 here in Vanier Park. Mornings and afternoons. Three hours for 8 to 12s, four hours for 13 to 18. Right at Bard on the Beach on our stages with our actors, 16 kids in a workshop, two instructors so they are well looked after and they put on a truncated or shortened version of a Shakespeare play for friends and family on the Saturday and Sunday after two weeks.
We are not trying to breed actors but put yourself back to being 8 to 18 again and imagine having that opportunity instead of just having to sit in school at 14, 15 and 16 and some old buffoon trying to get you interested in a Shakespeare play. It’s very difficult to do it that way but when you’re there with your peers and young people you start to work like an ensemble and understand that no man is an island, we are successful when we work together. So that’s one of the life skills that these young Shakespeareans learn.
Our artists and instructors go into over 200 schools all over the Lower Mainland and we’re looking to push that out across the province. In fact, we now have the capability of streaming into schools all over the province, it could be all over the world but we’ll start here.
For the less fortunate children who go to schools that can’t afford the modest fee, it all gets subsidized by foundations and so on for us to go into the schools, but for those schools who can’t afford it we have foundations and individuals who have stepped up and said, “I’ll pay for that.” We can go into the Boys and Girls Club, for instance, and run whole courses for them and into First Nations groups also and spread the good word that way as well in a very positive and uplifting way that gets the kids on their feet instead of just talking and get them speaking the great verses well.
We have a Riotous Youth program. I used to do the Nutshell Talks, you talked about that in your introductions, if you get there in time you can go to a pre-show talk that we call Nutshell Talks. I used to do it but we’ve handed it off now to a program we call Riotous Youth with 15 young people who have finished Young Shakespeareans and are not at university and are feeling bereft of the experience they used to have at Bard but now we pay them to be part of our Riotous Youth and to do functions like that. To be able to tell the audience what the play is about so you’ve got something to hold onto when you go in there.
You don’t have to feel foolish or ignorant and people do. You don’t know all of these plays so get a little help and that’s what we provide for free.
So Bard education is extraordinary and profound.
We’ve done two capital campaigns at Bard. One was in 2010 and we raised $3.4 million in seven months. Bruno Wall was the campaign cabinet chairman and we worked together a bunch of us again some of you helped out as well. We raised that money and had that BMO mainstage tent specifically customized for us. Almost everything across the site was replaced even the Howard Family Stage and the Douglas Campbell Theatre and so we have water under the ground now believe it or not instead of coming out of that house and even electricity that we plug into as opposed to running huge cables across the bar to get into one of these facilities.
This was the first capital campaign. The second one was when the Vancouver Playhouse collapsed. Many of you had a special interest in that and worked on that for a very long time. That’s another story but they went out of business as some of you know, they made a deal just adjacent to the Olympic Village on West First, opposite what used to be called the Salt Building and now it’s a craft beer place, a red building.
But almost opposite there was a shell underneath condo towers that Wall Financial had built and there was 50,000 square feet that the Playhouse was going to go into but they were out of business and the city had to do something. They didn’t just want it to be an IGA or sell it off for commercial use because the new area of the new city was coming to be in that Olympic Village area. So we went into a competition, Bill Millerd and I sat together and our chairs sat down and we all agreed, “Arts Club and Bard, let’s do this together.”
So went into it together and the city awarded the opportunity to us. The city helped us, they knew we’ve got to raise $14 million to fill out the empty space beneath these condo towers, the shell and put in a theatre in there as well as rehearsal rooms and offices. We raised that $14 million in fact we over-raised the target so we have some money now to fix it when it goes wrong.
Our project manager Stan Hamilton worked two or three years on it and we were obliged to pay him but he gave every bit of that money back as a donation. Just a marvelous contribution by Stan Hamilton who had been chair of the Arts Club board and the BC Arts Council but worked 40 years at this sort of business so he knew what he was doing.
The city gave us $7 million, real money, Canadian Heritage gave us $2 million, the Province of British Columbia gave us $1 million and we raised the final $3 to $4 million from private foundations and individuals just like you.
But now we’ve been in there almost two years and it’s really changed the face of the theatre here in Vancouver. There’s huge rehearsal rooms downstairs. Rooms almost this size where you can rehearse Shakespeare or the Arts Club’s big musicals. Two rooms like this, two breakout rooms, a costume shop for the Arts Club, a costume shop for Bard. Big rooms. They could be rented out when we’re not using them. They have costume storage and we have costume storage and again, a business we can make out of our costume storage. All of the Playhouse costumes were donated to Bard on the Beach.
All of the offices for both companies are there. Although we share the revenues raised to make this happen, the Arts Club own and operate the Goldcorp theatre in that building. It’s a pretty remarkable thing we’ve done. So that’s the BMO Main Stage and as I say in there we have the technology to beam out across British Columbia. Bill Miller, Mary Hartman and I could be standing there. It could be a board member’s forum for not-for-profits across the province. Who knows? But it could all be beamed out.
I wanted to tell you briefly about our season. You already know about Much Ado about Nothing and I hope some of you will come. You should have a marquee one day and then you can order picnic dinners and that kind of thing. But maybe next year.
Much Ado about Nothing. Big fun, a good comedy that’s a lot of fun. We’ve got Winter’s Tale, a late play by Shakespeare. A fairy tale. Everything works out in the end with a resurrection at the end of the play where the queen comes alive again and what is lost is found. On the Howard Family Stage and the Douglas Campbell Theatre, a 250 theatre and a 750 theatre, we can have a thousand people when we sell the whole lot.
A contemporary production of The Merchant of Venice. We’re not hiding behind anything. It’s a bold idea. The director phoned me and said, “I’d like to do it Christopher but I’d like to do a modern production. I’d like it to be now.” And that’s difficult with a play like The Merchant of Venice. You can’t say, “Well it was all a long time ago and that’s the way people behaved.” No, we’re doing it now so it will be interesting. With that and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. We’ve done it once before in 2001 and we’ll do it again. And that’s got this dog that you’ve seen on various newscasts and the front page of the Vancouver Sun.
For those of you interested a piece written 20 years ago, we did the original production, called Shylock by Mark Leiren-Young. It really extrapolates from the play The Merchant of Venice and discusses the dangerous themes that I alluded to: anti-antisemitism, racism and so forth. That will be a full production that happens this year.
Corleone Men’s Choir come and sing at Bard at the end of June and the UBC Opera and the Vancouver Opera Orchestra at the end of August beginning of September. Fantastic.
Barber of Seville this year, should be terrific and the Vancouver Symphony are playing on July 10 this year. There’s a lot going on.
I’m just going to end in this way.
This is a special moment, at least for me, to be with you at this time on a lovely Vancouver day and thank God for that. It’s been hell putting our signs up this year! I don’t have to do it but you can imagine I was very involved in the early days but others have to do that and it’s not easy, so we’re going to have to think of something else in terms of how to make that ground more stable.
Anyway, Henry V had a very great victory at Agincourt and he was able to inspire his troops who were at that moment outnumbered five to one. They were on the low ground and the French were on the high ground. They were going to be slaughtered. They were diseased, tired and just wanted to go back to England. They had been in France long enough and the French wanted to get rid of them.
And Henry overhears one of his Earls talking in the early morning before battle, “O that we now had here but one ten thousand of those men in England that do no work to-day!” and Henry V, great words of inspiration celebrates this moment. Thank you for inviting me and letting me be with you today to celebrate Shakespeare, to celebrate our accomplishment and our collegiality and friendship, and he says,
What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That met with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
Thank you very much.
Questions and Answers.
- When you take a play out of its original settings what factors determine what period you are going to set it in?A. That really is my job. Not necessarily to think up the ideas or contexts of these productions, and I’m very clear about that word by the way. Years ago Bard began and perhaps in the first decade or more I was very very nervous about moving productions around from ancient times to now. I just felt that it was a dangerous thing and people wouldn’t like it very much. I didn’t like it very much. But I was so affected by the concept, as opposed to context. If you lay out a concept of a production you can easily, unless you are very very brilliant, you can obscure what the piece is really about and the audience is left there thinking, “everyone must be smarter than me because I didn’t understand this. They are giving Shakespeare in a different way and I’m just not getting it.” If you provide a context and can drop the production in a time and a place that makes sense as we have done many times it can really give it new life. It’s like seeing the production afresh and that’s what I believe you’ll see in Much Ado 1959. He’s actually adapted it a little bit, we don’t often do this, and he changed about 100 words of the text to change the context. So instead of a general at the beginning of Much Ado the guys are coming back from a war or a battle. We never know where but they are coming back and they are welcomed at the house of Leonato to all get together and have a house party.
John Murphy who is directing this said, “Let’s have them coming back from a film shoot and they are coming to another filmmaker like Fellini coming to his home.”
So you have all these filmmakers and film stars all together and I think it’s a brilliant idea and I think it will work very very well. For those people who have seen the play once or many times before it will be like seeing a different production. Those ideas were all vetted by me and if you don’t like it you can blame me.
- Will the Playhouse ever rise again?
Well it could do but someone else is going to have to dream it up. It will just have to be invented because there’s no money. Someone will have to start it. I’d like to think that over the years Bard might be able to fill those shoes. I’ve never really said that publicly but let’s see what happens. I’m not suggesting that we’d ever be called the Vancouver Playhouse but be able to do the repertoire that the Playhouse did so many years so successfully.
- What are the top three theatre companies in Canada?A. Stratford is number one with a $60 million budget. The Shore Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake would be number two and both of those theatres attract a lot of Americans when they finally understand they need passports.
- When you opened in 1990-91 the fireworks were going on and you have a rather interesting story.
- Raymond Greenwood, we have a bit of an old boys network thing going here, but Raymond was able to start in 1990 with Benson and Hedges the Symphony of Fire and he can probably tell you much more about that. That extraordinary event started right here. Bard began in 1990 also and what was so interesting was that in their organization, I bet they never thought it was going to lift off the way it did, but thousands of people came down to Vanier Park on the night of the fireworks.We altered the start time of our show so that the fireworks wouldn’t be going off while our play was going on and we were very tiny at the time. Anyways, here we are with the first night of fireworks and they put lavatories or blue johns around but perhaps there weren’t nearly enough because huge crowds came.
I was sort of front of house, I directed the show and was doing everything. People kept on walking in past me and going to the lavatory while the show was going on and of course we had no money and I knew we had to empty this bloody thing and it’s going to cost a fortune with all these people. I suddenly said, “Stop” and people started to line up. “If you’d like to use our lavatory if you’d go first of all to our concession and buy yourself some of the nice things we have there.” In those days we had ghastly things like Mr. Big and red licorice. So people would pile out of our concession with cans of Coke and sticks of licorice and I’d hold onto these things as they then went to the lavatory and had the relief they desired and we made a fortune.
Q. Have you considered a satellite theatre?
- It’s a real genuine consideration. In 2003 I think it was, we started Bard in the Vineyard in the Okanagan at Mission Hill. We did it for one year and it happened to be the year when the fires came in Kelowna. So if you’ve been to Mission Hill you look right across to Kelowna. We did a production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. It was fantastic and very well supported and attracted 11,000 people but in the background you could see Kelowna burning down while the show was going on. It was sort of shocking and awful and incredible but then ash started falling from the sky. It was ghastly. You remember. I’d like to back to the Okanagan, I think that’s a huge market and I’d like to do that very much. We’ve got one or two things we want to do here first but I’d really like to bring that on the agenda.When we didn’t go back the second year we had communities all over BC phoning us saying, “Come here” but it’s not an easy franchise. It takes so much thought and singularity but I think there’s something in the air and let’s just see what happens over the next while.
- You are not sold out every night?A. No. Like any theatre, when you go to London or you go to New York I never accept it when they say there are no tickets. Someone has an auntie who is sick or couldn’t make it and they are dying to either give away or sell a ticket. We have tickets available. There are generally tickets available.
- What was your favourite play?A. My patent response and because I’ve always had so much fun in it is A Midsummer’s Night Dream. It’s the most accessible, fun, fairy-like magical play and everyone has a good time. In the first year of Bard when we began in 1990 I said, “We’re going to do A Midsummer’s Night Dream every year, that’s going to be part of our standard repertoire.” And we did a production in 1990 which I put on. The second year I had a chum of mine put on a different production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream and then I recognized that we don’t need to do this for a while. We need to put it in our back pocket and bring it out when we need it because it’s such a marker and it does well. So we try to bring it up for anniversaries or whenever.
We went through a rough patch. If you like the business aspect of this I’ll be quick. In 2011 when we put up that new theatre and started to renew the site and spend that 3.4 million I told you about. Change is hard and I think the capacity to do something much bigger to put this first of all just the infrastructure, putting it up and taking it down, costs so much more. To store it, costs so much more. More people and everything. We struggled. When we put that big theatre up… my voice can be heard in here because I’ve got a good voice but even my voice in that 740 seat theatre, somebody told me one day when I was introducing somebody, that they couldn’t hear me. I knew from watching the actors that it was hard to hear because it’s huge and plastic. It’s not reflective.
So in the second year we spent a lot more money on microphones. So that’s the way it works in that theatre now. Incidentally, if you’ve ever been there and said, “I can’t hear in there” you can hear in there because it’s a very sophisticated system. Everybody can hear.
- What made you pick Shakespeare to hone in on?A. I think it was just those two incidents really of the 1980 in Edmonton and 1983 here where I saw Shakespeare be so successful and as you hear me talk I don’t try to do this I’ve never tried not to talk like I’m an Englishman. I sound British and I think it’s a mark against my own career if I started trying to adjust my speech to more like how many of you speak as a North American. I get a lot more work here when I sound like an Englishman. I was pigeon-holed as an actor. I was in a Canadian play and that was it in my career otherwise I was always cast in Cowell, Shore or Shakespeare so it became something that I have an affiliation with. Somehow with Shakespeare’s text not everyone can wrap their chops around it. I have a facility, bragging aside it partly speaks against me in fact, I could always read any piece of Shakespeare you gave me even if I’d never seen it before and almost make you think I knew what I was talking about. I just have a facility with the words and I love it and they are the best words in the world and that’s the way we’ve won our ground.
- Could you tell the story about your first job in Canada?
- I ended up in the Black Angus at Thurlow and Davie and the nice Romanian woman said, “You come tonight Christopher.” I had been in Canada for four days and I needed a job because I had no money. I said, “Okay” and she said, “Come at 11” and I said, “Why do you want me to come at 11?”
“We are a 24 hour residents.” So I showed up at 11 and I ghosted for the first night and understood how to do it. On the second night I was on my own and people came in, I served them and got along quite well. Some of the daft questions they asked, “I want a turkey sammy!” and I said, “what’s that?” So I go to the little window and said, “there’s chap here and he wants a turkey sammy. Do you know what that is?” “It’s a turkey sandwich!” They handed it to me, this ghastly piece of white bread with turkey on it and gravy and mashed potato. It’s quite good to eat actually but it looks terrible.Then a couple of good old boys come in, they tottered in, they were quite drunk. They say, “Hey you! What’s your name?” I said, “My name is Christopher.” They said, “Yeah Chris you got a surf and turf?” and I go to the window and ask, “Do you know what surf and turf is?” and they said, “It’s lobster.” Out it came 20 minutes later and I took it to the chaps and one had gone. I said, “Where’s your friend?” and he said, “He’s gone.” I was afraid they were going to charge me. He said, “I’ll eat it.” Twenty minutes later this guy is snapping his fingers and I said, “Yes, how can I help you?” And he said, “I want you to do something for me,” and I said, “What’s that?” and he said, “I want you to get me a woman.” I went to the other waiter and said, “I think I’m in a bit of trouble here because this fellow over here wants me to find him a woman!” He said, “Christopher, look around the restaurant.” And I look around, it was almost 3 in the morning, and there’s a woman there and a woman there. Right. I went to the first woman and said, “Madam, nice to meet you my name is Christopher. There’s a gentleman over here and he’d very much like to see you” and she said, “How much is he going to pay?” “I have no idea.” “Well find out.” So I said to him, “I think I’m on to a hot one and I need the business side of this. How much are you willing to pay?” And he said, “$100 and a taxi ride home.” I said to her, “Madam, I’ve got the deal, it’s $100 and a taxi fare home.” She said, “No, no.” I said, “Never mind, let me get you some more coffee.” And then I found someone and said, “let me introduce you,” I escorted her over and introduced them to each other and he got up, remember I had no money, he tottered out the door holding this woman and he turned around and said, “Hey, Chris” and he had his hand out just like my grandfather used to and I went for it and a note dropped into my hand. And he said, “Thanks Chris” and walked.
I opened my hand and it was $20. In that moment my whole life was in the balance because I was an actor but I could have been a pimp.