Dinner (and a drink) theater takes root at Taproom

A fight breaks out in this scene from Island Shakespeare Festival’s production of “The Three Musketeers

Island Shakespeare Festival is coming to a tavern near you this fall, winter and spring.

Once relegated to the summer months and an outdoor venue, the theater series is launching Bard & Brew with a staged reading of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” this Wednesday, Oct. 28 at Taproom at Bayview. Three more are planned in 2016 before the regular season starts in July.

Holding the interactive theater in a working taphouse, where people come to grab a drink and maybe a basket of bacon, serves a few purposes for the festival group. The festival markets itself during a long offseason for patrons — it opened in early July and its last performance was in mid-September — and keeps the creative minds who make the festival happen sharp.

“It’s a really fun way to stay on the radar in the offseason,” said Olena Hodges, a founding Island Shakespeare Festival company actress and the marketing and outreach director. “We put in a lot of work, then it’s really hard when the season ends like, ‘OK. See you in nine months.’ ”

Taking a seat is free for viewers, though patronizing the establishment with a pint or two is encouraged.

Think of Bard & Brew like dinner-and-a-drink theater. Instead of craning up to watch sports or news on the wall-mounted TVs, sit back, relax and take in the theater happening around and, sometimes, with you. A pontificating Macbeth may sit next to an unsuspecting patron at the bar, wondering about who is coming for his throne.

No need to worry for those unfamiliar with the Scottish play or Shakespeare. His works can speak to just about anybody, Hodges said.

“When Shakespeare was writing, it was for the masses,” she said. “There are a lot of gritty things in there, it doesn’t need to be high brow.”

“There’s a lot in it about just raw humanity,” she added.

“Macbeth” is a tragedy about power, political ambition and the damaging effects of both on the psyche. It is a bit like “Game of Thrones,” but without dragons or frozen zombies. There are, however, witches, one of which Hodges will portray.

Costumes are not required of the 10 or so actors for this first run of the Bard & Brew. So it may be hard to discern who is in the performance and who is just enjoying a porter.

For “Macbeth,” one identifier will be a crown for one of the three kings in the performance. Whoever wears the crown is king, though keeping power may prove more challenging than taking it.

The expanded offering represents a continued sharp growth for Island Shakespeare Festival. Once, it was a true Shakespeare in the park event, hosted out in the woods of South Whidbey. It grew to use the Whidbey Institute amphitheater before needing more space and raising enough money to purchase a tent located at Langley Middle School’s athletic fields. The festival again outgrew that location and found new space at South Whidbey Academy’s fields, its home for the foreseeable future, founder and artistic director Rose Woods has said.

As attendance grew, so did the festival’s production list. Once, there was just one production over a few weeks. This past season, there were two different plays over three months which drew an estimated 4,000 visitors.

Bard & Brew is an extension of that growth and one that will likely go on for the next couple of years.

“This is something we would like to see continued annually in our, I won’t call it our offseason anymore, slower season,” Hodges said.

The actors had only a couple of rehearsals, none of which were in the actual space at Bayview Corner. Taproom manager Damien Cortez is also one of the company’s founding actors, so offering up the establishment owned by his wife, Tiffany Cortez, was an easy decision.

That’s not to say it was simple. Given Seahawks and football fever, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays were all blocked out. Live music usually takes over Taproom on Tuesdays. Fridays are busy nights in general, leaving Wednesday as one of the ideal evenings for Shakespearian spirits.

Future Bard & Brew readings include “Twelfth Night,” “Henry V,” and “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”