Bard on the Beach is Western Canada's largest professional Shakespeare festival. The theatre Festival runs annually from early June through September and is produced by Bard on the Beach Theatre Society whose mission is to perform, explore and celebrate the works of William Shakespeare. In addition to the annual summer festival, the Society runs a number of year-round theatre education and outreach programs. The festival celebrated its 30th anniversary season in 2019.
Bard on the Beach began as an Equity Co-op in the summer of 1990, funded primarily by an Explorations Grant awarded to Artistic Director Christopher Gaze by the Canada Council for the Arts. Following his graduation from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Gaze had moved to Canada on the advice of his friend, mentor and theatre legend Douglas Campbell. After performing with a variety of theatre companies and festivals across Canada, including three seasons with the Shaw Festival, Gaze moved to Vancouver in 1983 where he performed as Richard III in the 1984 season of the now defunct Vancouver Shakespeare Festival.
While in Vancouver, Gaze became acquainted with a group of actors and fellow Shakespeare lovers when he was asked to direct a production of Under Milk Wood for the 1989 Vancouver Fringe Festival. The following summer, this same group staged A Midsummer Night's Dream in a rented theatre tent in Vanier Park as the inaugural Bard on the Beach production. The company's initial four-week run drew a total of 6,000 people and signaled the need for a more formal company structure. Bard on the Beach officially registered as a not-for-profit under the Society Act of BC in December, 1990.
Bard is located in Vanier Park at the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge. It consists of two performance stages: the BMO Mainstage and the Howard Family Stage. There is also a group of tents known as the Bard Village which contains the box office, Bard Boutique gift shop, and concession stands. The festival grounds also contain dressing rooms, administrative offices for seasonal staff and an event Marquee along with two large picnic lawns and portable washrooms for patrons.
Bard purchased its first 500-seat saddlespan tent in 1992. By the end of the 2010 season, the Mainstage theatre tent was in need of replacement and, following the "Staging our Future" capital campaign, the Festival built a custom-designed Mainstage theatre tent. The new tent expanded the seating capacity to 742 seats and included a redesigned stage. The new tent maintains an open-backed design and Bard's signature backdrop: False Creek; the Coast Mountains; and city skyline. The physical playing space within the theatre was named after the Bank of Montreal in recognition of their lead contribution to the Festival's capital campaign.
Bard on the Beach typically stages two productions in repertory on the BMO Mainstage in each season, alongside a selection of choral, symphony and opera presentations. The set presents a unique challenge and opportunity for set designers from year to year as it must incorporate elements which can be shared by both productions during season.
The Douglas Campbell Theatre tent was added in 1999 as part of Bard's 10th anniversary season as an intimate space for the staging of Shakespeare's lesser-known works or for more modern, innovative stagings of the established canon. Beginning in 2005 with a production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, the theatre tent has also served as a space for productions of plays which, while not by Shakespeare, serve to examine the context of his work.
The theatre is named for the Canadian stage actor Douglas Campbell. Campbell was a good friend and mentor to Christopher Gaze and had either performed in, or directed, plays in Bard's earlier seasons. Campbell and his son Torquil Campbell also performed together in productions of Henry IV, Part I and Macbeth at Bard on the Beach.
This smaller theatre tent seats 240 people and its adaptable layout and seating configuration are similar to that of a black box theatre. The tent structure was replaced at the beginning of the 2013 season as part of the "Staging our Future" capital campaign.
In 2014 the playing space was named the "Howard Family Stage" in honour of Vancouver philanthropists Darlene and Paul Howard.
In addition to operating the Festival, the Bard on the Beach Theatre Society operates a host of youth-oriented outreach programs under the umbrella of Bard Education. Collectively, the programs endeavour to inspire the community through dynamic, engaging experiences with the language, characters and plays of William Shakespeare.
In addition to the four plays, there are a number of events throughout the summer: * Bard-B-Q and Fireworks * Wine Wednesdays * Family Days * Opera & Arias * Exploring Shakespeare * Talkback Tuesdays * Chor Leoni Men's Choir (see their web page)