Raise a Glass to These 2 Drunk Shakespeare Troupes

Two Milwaukee theater companies are staging booze-soaked renditions of the Bard’s work.

Mix equal parts hard alcohol and hardworking actor. Shake vigorously, garnish with a love of Shakespearean language and serve in venues like Best Place and the Arcade Theatre. It’s a recipe that not one but two local theater troupes have perfected.

Boozy Bard and Bard & Bourbon were both founded in 2014, after Comedy Central launched “Drunk History,” and deliver spirited (ahem!) renditions of the classic works.

But is this city big enough for both? It is indeed, says Bard & Bourbon founder Katie Merriman. “In fact,” she says, “with our reputation for both beer production and consumption, I’m surprised there are only two.”

Boozy Bard actors know which work they’ll be staging, but don’t learn the role they’ll play until just before curtain, when they draw character names from a hat. Then they grab scripts and start drinking. Conveniently, their performances typically take place in a beer hall.

Bard & Bourbon tends to perform on a stage. Actors memorize their lines and rehearse, but before each performance one of the actors is plied with several shots of 80-proof whiskey.

Boozy Bard founder Jeremy Eineichner believes that, by putting hooch at the forefront, he can capture some of the immediacy of Elizabethan premieres – events likely much rowdier and more participatory than most stagings put on today. Eineichner even encourages audiences to cheer on the actors, much as they would have in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The drinking is not limited to the actors, however. Both troupes encourage the audience to indulge as well. Mutual inebriation is key to the experience, according to Reva Fox, who was cast in her first Bard & Bourbon production in 2015. “It takes the fear out of both theater and Shakespeare,” she says. “Because the audience has a drink in hand and is watching us do shots, there’s no worry of not understanding it.” ◆


You can see Boozy Bard’s next production at Best Place in spring 2018 – check the company’s Facebook page for updates. And Bard & Bourbon brings The Merry Wives of Windsor to life at the Underground Collaborative’s Arcade Theatre November 24-December 2, with a pay-what-you-can preview on November 22.

‘The Taming of the Brew’ appears in the October 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning October 2, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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Lindsey Anderson covers culture for Milwaukee Magazine. Before joining the MilMag team she worked as an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and wrote freelance articles for ArtSlant and Eater.