On a recent Saturday afternoon, Kim Krane sat in the Albion Bar’s back garden, sipping water.
A bell rang from within the Kips Bay bar and Krane, wearing jeans and a tank-top, stepped into the bar window. She took a selfie, and morphed into a star-crossed teenager.
Krane was among the cast of an unconventional rendering of Romeo and Juliet by the New York Shakespeare Exchange, which since 2009 has put the bar in bard.
With a pub-crawl turned performance on June 6 (with a reprise on June 13), the nonprofit theatrical program invited audience members – some of them captive – to rub elbows, and bar stools, with actors on four tavern stops during ShakesBEER 2015.
“The goal is to surprise the audience,” said Kelli Ruttle, who played Lady Capulet in the group’s production of Romeo and Juliet. “People don’t know who is an actor or not.”
As the actors climbed over tables and chairs, makeshift stand-ins for a stage, they were careful not to step on the audience members seated at their feet.
“We call it gateway Shakespeare,” said associate producer Casey Van Driest. “As an audience member, it’s easier to understand when it’s done like this.”
Later in the afternoon, Amy Jo Jackson, 32, sat on the bar at the Rose Hill Tavern on Third Avenue to play Rosalind in a scene from “As You Like It.” At one point in the scene she took an unsuspecting audience member by the hand and dragged her into the scene.
Jackson said she finds the interaction between the audience and the actors afforded by an alternative performance space such as a bar to be more faithful to the spirit of the original text. In Shakespeare’s time there was a stage, but no lights or sound equipment to separate the audience from the actors. “It was written that way,” she said. “It was daylight.”
“The audience is part of the experience,” said Van Driest. “It’s what the soliloquies were originally for.”
Scott Dexter, a professor of computer science at Brooklyn College attending the ShakesBEER Pub Crawl, said: “I feel like both the actors and the audience are much more loose,” he said. “I don’t think it’s from the alcohol, it’s from the informal environment.”
But not everyone at the bars was there for the performance. Plenty of surprised patrons had gathered to watch European soccer powers Barcelona and Juventus play in the Champions League final. They had not expected live theater too. “I’m a Messi fan,” said Mike Chanzis, 26, “but Romeo and Juliet is my jam.”
Chanzis was wearing a Barcelona jersey at a back table at Tavern on Third with a group of friends. “It was really good,” he said of the performance. But he was not so sure he would have been as appreciative if the performance of “Love’s Labor Lost,” had begun before the blow of the game’s final whistle.
The project’s organizers are hoping to connect with both the intended audience and the people who just happen to be in the bars they take over for each 10- to 20-minute performance.
“We’re looking to reach audiences who might not yet be there to buy tickets to a regular company show,” said Ross Williams, Shakespeare Exchange’s producing artistic director. “Hopefully this turns into more audiences for every company, including ours.”
By bringing Shakespeare’s work into the everyday, Williams and the Shakespeare Exchange hope to awaken the inner Shakespeare fan they believe lurks in all of us. “A lot of people in New York have Shakespeare in their worlds already,” Williams said. “The just forget about it.”