VANCOUVER, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- Nearly 400 years after his death, the spirit of William Shakespeare is well reserved and enjoying life on the beach in Vancouver.
Starting off as an experiment for 22 years, Bard on the Beach has become an institution in the western Canadian city, attracting more than 1 million patrons over the years and the annual business yields as much as 4 million Canadian dollars.
With this year's schedule featuring performances of perennial favorites "As You Like It" and "The Merchant of Venice" on the 742-seat main stage, and "Henry VI" and "Richard III" on the 240-seat studio stage, Bard on the Beach officials forecast about 90,000 will attend this year's festival from its kick-off on June 2 to the curtain-closing on Sept. 27.
Christopher Gaze, Bard on the Beach's artistic director, in the manner of a Shakespeare thespian with a fine English accent, said the festival has walked a long way since its 1990 launch when just over 6,000 people came out to see performances of "A Midsummer's Night Dream."
At the time, the budget for the festival was about 35,000 Canadian dollars. For the 2011 edition, the not-for-profit festival has a host of corporate sponsors, media support and an army of volunteers to work for the shows.
"It's wonderful that it's been running this long," said Gaze, who first came to Canada in the mid-1970s, where he spent three seasons with the Shaw Festival in Ontario, performing the works of George Bernard Shaw.
"It's perfect for actors and directors. There aren't many contracts in the theater here in western Canada. It's very unlikely that any actor would be contracted for nearly six months ... so actors love it. And of course, one of the great things is that many of these actors have played here for many, many years, not all of them but many of them, and naturally, like anything in life, the more you do it the better you get," he added.
Gaze feels that Shakespeare, who wrote 38 plays and 154 sonnets during his lifetime, is getting more popular, particularly in the past 70 or 80 years though he died long time ago in 1616. Noting that the world is currently undergoing a revolution, electronically, he said it will be interesting to see how it applies to the live performances of the great Bard's work.
"I rest on the optimistic, more positive view that the more people see this, the more they will want to see it. There's nothing quite like it in the world. It's just a different experience that truly shows man, shows the viewer, the participant, who we are, and gives you a better insight into our condition as human beings in a very entertaining way."
With Bard on the Beach set up in a tented city in a park overlooking English Bay and the entrance to False Creek, local actor Ryan Beil calls the spectacular setting better than Stratford, Ontario, the home to North America's largest repertory theater that was named after Shakespeare's Stratford-upon-Avon birthplace in England.
"I think it is Stratford times 10. It's like Vancouver's personal Stratford because you've got so much more. You have a beautiful backdrop of the Vancouver skyline, and you've got the wonderful mentality and community of the village and a nice glass of wine to sit down and watch the world's best plays."
The 28-year-old Beil, who is doing double duty as Touchstone in "As You Like It," and Gratiano in "The Merchant of Venice," has performed at the Bard for the past three seasons. As one of the city's best young actors, he is better known to the public for his role as a laidback worker in a series of commercials for a fast-food chain, but the Shakespeare work keeps him sharp for all his other roles.
"I love it. In 'As You Like It' I do play the clown, so I look for those laughs. Sometimes I get them, sometimes I don't. And in 'The Merchant of Venice' I do play a more serious character, so it's nice to switch back and forth, work different muscles and sort of be more of a well-rounded artist," he said.
Beil called performing for children one of the best parts of Bard. Over the course of the festival's 19-week run each year, the 30-actor troupe performs numerous matinees for school children and conducts a Young Shakespearian summer camp. Over two weeks, the budding thespians, all between the ages of eight and 18, study Shakespeare and then take to the stage to perform what they've learned
"Sometimes the kids actually get it more than the adults," Beil said. "We've had student shows where they laugh at everything, they understand the story. You know it's really a beautiful thing when you can expose them to that and sort of light a fire under them to read some more Shakespeare."
Gaze was equally passionate about exposing young children to Shakespeare, calling it "part and parcel and a responsibility."
"That is essential. That is absolutely essential. That can change a person's life and that is the audience of the future, and yes, it's part of the mandate of the company. It's a wonderful thing when parents, grandparents bring their children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, friends and young people to a place like this," he said.