Bard on the Beach brings steampunk to Shakespeare

Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival has long been celebrated for its wild and witty interpretations of Shakespeare plays performed in a tent, and this season is no different. In the upcoming production of The Comedy of Errors, the Bard is reimagining the work with a steampunk touch, a modern punk rock take on one of Shakespeare’s most farcical comedies.

“It’s based in a reality about 120 years ago, but then it’s mixed with science fiction,” said Josh Epstein, who plays the Smuggler in the production.

Steampunk blends the characteristics of industrialist technology and aesthetic design, creating a more mysterious atmosphere. The set is made to look like the inside workings of a clock, and costumes are styled to look futuristic, incorporating elements such as goggles, timepieces and leather.

“It lends a real imaginative hybrid of the future and past, sort of the idea of the time of the late 1800s,” said Luisa Jojic, who plays Dromio of Syracuse.

Celebrating its 26th season this year, Bard on the Beach is one of the largest non-for-profit Shakespeare Festivals in Canada. Initially founded with the intention of providing affordable and quality Shakespearean productions, the Bard has now evolved into a professional theatre company, attracting critical acclaim and consistently selling out shows.

Epstein, Jojic and Dawn Petten are three UBC alumni featured in the production. Epstein studied commerce, while Jojic and Petten were in the acting program. Studying under Neil Freeman, they received comprehensive Shakespeare training from one of the world's top Shakespeare scholars.

“He really had a big influence on my appreciate of the language and performance of Shakespeare, said Jojic. "I had a wonderful team of instructors and it was just a great training ground for me, especially when it came to the classics. It was definitely something that I’ve gone on to do as a professional artist."

Directed by Scott Bellis, the comedy follows a set of identical twins that were separated at birth. Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio of Syracuse (played by Jojic), travel to Ephesus in search of Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant, Dromio of Ephesus (played by Petten). Through a series of mistaken identities, the play is a whirlwind of comical confusion and misunderstandings.

“It’s going to be hilarious, and I think it’s going to be very surprising for the audience," said Epstein. "There’s going be a lot thrown at them that they weren’t expecting. We’re going to encompass all four corners of that stage."

The forefront of the comedy is the perpetual confusion between which twin is which, often resulting in disastrous (yet hilarious) consequences for the servants.

“I, as the servant, get beaten a lot. That’s written right into the script; a lot of hands on discipline, shall we say," said Petten. "You have that hilarity of my character saying, 'No, I didn’t do that,' or 'No, I did do that!' I’m being honest and doing all the things I’m asked, but constantly getting punished for it."

One particularly symbolic aspect of The Comedy of Errors this year is that two of the lead roles will be played by women.

“Traditionally, [the Dromios are] a part that male actors play, but Scott is giving the opportunity to me and Dawn to take on these roles," said Jojic. "There aren’t a lot of female characters in Shakespeare … so it opens up a whole new type of role for myself."

“It’s a Comedy of Errors people have never seen before,” said Petten.

The Comedy of Errors will be performed from June 4 to September 26 at Bard on the Beach. Tickets are available online or at the box office.