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Boise Bard Players bring low-cost Shakespeare to Treasure Valley

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When Chris Canfield saw Shakespeare at the Globe theatre in London, he knew some of it had to come home to Idaho with him. 

He was awestruck by the simplicity of the performance of Macbeth, even if it was on one of the world’s most famous stages. There were no fancy special effects, glittering costumes or other elements to distract from Shakespeare’s words. It was the play as Shakespeare himself likely had it performed. 

“(The play) was super stripped down, super fast, quick and dirty, but it was the clearest I’ve ever heard the language and I left the theatre wanting to do that,” Canfield said. “The language was the focus.”

Canfield returned to Boise State University from his study abroad in England, graduated with a bachelor’s in theatre and spent nine months slinging pizza before he decided to chase his dream of performing Shakespeare. He gathered a group of fellow graduates and they put together a barebones performance of Macbeth in a downtown coffee shop in 2014. It ended up being such a success they came back the next year, and the next. 

This group eventually became the nonprofit Boise Bard Players, a mobile theatre company aiming to perform three Shakespeare plays a year in a range of venues across the Treasure Valley. The company just wrapped its run of Shakespeare’s comedy “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and will return in the winter with its take on another comedy, “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

‘Emotionally and economically accessible’

A Boise Bard Players show is not flashy. 

Actors wear contemporary clothes and use minimal props while belting out the famous lines you might remember from English class. There are some props, but they’re minimal and the vast majority of the shows the company has performed are in non-traditional venues like parks or other community spaces. The first time Canfield’s group performed in an actual theatre was one of its “Merry Wives of Windsor” shows in July at Watson’s Mystery Cafe and Spirits in Boise. 

Canfield said some Shakespeare performances lean heavily into themes or big set pieces to keep audiences engaged and following along with the action, but he wants the viewers to use the language to follow the story. And at a maximum ticket price of $20 each, he said the goal is to keep things ‘emotionally and economically accessible’. 

The Boise Bard Players perform “Merry Wives of Windsor” at Watson’s Mystery Cafe and Spirits in Boise. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

“I am going to ask the audience to meet us halfway using their imagination, which is what Shakespeare had where the language can suffice for everything and I don’t need something to step over top of the language. That’s my working theory. I don’t claim it to work all the time, but I keep testing it and so far it’s been successful.”

He edits every script down so the runtime is roughly two hours per performance and the lines move at a fast pace. And although The Boise Bard Players have performed some tragedies, Canfield said they have leaned into performing Shakespeare’s comedies in order to draw in audiences who might be leery of a tragic show filled with old-style language. 

But, no matter what genre each play is in, Canfield said there are laughs and serious moments around every corner in a Shakespeare play. He hinted at a production of Hamlet coming soon but gave few details. 

“I am very keen to bring out the dark comedy in Hamlet and I think people are not expecting it,” he said. “Then it’s just down to marketing it and saying ‘This is not a 3-hour plod through depression, this is a true wrestling with life and everything it means and it gets bitterly comical at times.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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