I, like many others, last studied Shakespeare and his dirty jokes in high school, which was well before turning the legal drinking age. By the time I reached 21 the last thing I cared about was ol’ Billy and his sonnets. I stand today ready to be cultured but unwilling to stop drinking. Enter Boozy Bard and their Shakespeare Raw productions.

Nothing pairs better with a white man playing an African prince than a pint of PBR.

Nothing pairs better with a white man playing an African prince than a pint of PBR. All photos by Joe Powell.

Every month, a group of talented, priorly-sober local actors gets together to put on a different Shakespeare play at the Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery. The space itself is wonderful; once the home of Pabst Brewing Company (and soon to be again), this original building has been lovingly transformed into an event space and bar. The whole brewing complex is experiencing a renaissance and turning into a completely new Milwaukee neighborhood.

The classic sign just recently was lit again, after Will Ferrell demanded it.

The classic sign just recently was lit again, after Will Ferrell demanded it.

Though Best Place is as beautiful as other Shakespeare venues, such as the Up-The-Hill Theatre in Spring Green, it’s still an old brewery hall and its shows are tailored as such. You see, the script is shortened, the actors choose their roles out of a hat in front of the audience, and everyone gets rip-roaring drunk. That sounds more fitting for the locale.

Picking roles often becomes violent.

Picking roles often becomes violent.

While the audience grabs a beer, the actors have a few minutes to put on a makeshift costume and review their newly-picked role. Genders are not locked, nor is age. Shakespeare was all about cross-dressing, anyway. On this night we were treated to one of my favorite plays, the Merchant of Venice.

He made a lovely Portia.

He made a lovely Portia.

The set is minimal, but the acting is professional…even as both the talent and the audience gets progressively drunker together. It’s easy to do, as there are drinking games that vary for each play, and both actors and visitors are participants.

When a woman gives you a ring, do not give it to another man.

When a woman gives you a ring, do not give it to another man.

The idea behind Shakespeare Raw was to re-create how most people first saw Shakespeare plays: in local bars where the actual actors rehearsed prior to putting on the show in the theater. It’s definitely the Shakespeare you read as a teen, but it’s also a new and intoxicating show every night.

I'd pay a pound of flesh to see this show again.

I’d pay a pound of flesh to see this show again.

Next week, October 5 – 7, Boozy Bard is putting on their tour de force in honor of the Halloween holiday: Macbeth (dun dun dunnnnn). Its only $10 to get in, or $5 with a Halloween costume on. Shakespeare Raw allows you to simultaneously support the local arts while still enjoying your favorite Wisconsinite pastime (drinking). These actors follow what the Bard once wrote, “I would give all my fame for a pot of ale.”

Each night is a completely different show.

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