Christopher is best known as the Founding Artistic Director of Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival. In addition to performing and directing for Bard, he has appeared in dozens of film, TV and theatre productions during his multi-decade career in Great Britain and North America. He hosts the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra's popular Tea & Trumpets series and their annual Christmas concerts and is an in-demand MC for community and fundraising events. His many honours include Canada’s Meritorious Service Medal, Honorary Doctorates from UBC & SFU, the Mayor’s Arts Award for Theatre and the Order of British Columbia. In 2015, he will play Frosch in Die Fledermaus for Vancouver Opera and then direct the world premiere of C.C. Humphrey's Shakespeare's Rebel, one of the four plays in Bard's 2015 season. Christopher plays a leading role in British Columbia as an advocate for the arts in general and his passionate dedication to Bard on the Beach has fuelled its growth into the largest professional Shakespeare festival in Western Canada, with attendance of over 100,000 in its 2014 season.
Artistic Director & Founder
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival
Born and educated in England, Christopher Gaze was inspired to come to Canada in 1975 by his mentor, legendary Shakespearean actor Douglas Campbell. He spent three seasons at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake then moved to Vancouver in 1983. After a couple of experiences with other outdoor Shakespeare events, Christopher recognized the potential in blending excellent Shakespeare productions with Vancouver’s spectacular location. In 1990 he founded Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival where Bard’s signature open-ended performance tent allowed to actors to perform against a backdrop of the city’s skyline and mountains.The first summer of Bard on the Beach was a huge success. Beginning as an Equity Co-op production, it staged one play in a rented tent on an 'ambitious' budget of $35,000. Today the Festival, now in its 25th season, has a budget of over $3.5 million and has seen its attendance rocket from 6,000 in that first summer to more than 91,000. The growth has been slow and organic, so the Festival has been able to sustain its mandate "to provide quality Shakespeare productions that are accessible and affordable". As audiences have grown, so has support from the corporate and private sector, again helping to keep ticket prices among the lowest in the city for a professional production. Not only has attendance burgeoned from the local community, but Bard has contributed significantly to the city as a major tourist attraction with approximately one quarter of its patrons from outside the Lower Mainland.
Bard on the Beach has also become a significant employer within the Arts, providing jobs in Vancouver annually for more than 200 artists and support staff. This includes a full time administration team plus more than 30 actors, 4 directors, 7 designers, 6 stage managers as well as the production crew, box office, front of house. The company’s “Bard in the Vineyard” project in the Okanagan in 2003 also created over a dozen additional jobs for Vancouver artists. Bard employs primarily Equity actors but always mentors a couple of upcoming talents each season both on stage and on the production team. Many emerging actors have cut their professional teeth at Bard and have gone on to secure major roles in subsequent seasons at Bard and with other major theatre companies. Christopher’s support and mentoring of these new talents has played a large part in their success.
Christopher also nurtured the “Young Shakespeareans” Acting Program at Bard which provides an opportunity every summer for over 250 young people to train with the season professionals on the Bard stages. The Festival has also developed a Student Matinee Series that annually sees more than 7,000 students introduced to the magic of Shakespeare’s stories and language. During the past two years, Bard has expanded its education programs with heavily subsidized Bard in the Classroom workshops for students and teachers. This commitment to youth outreach and education has made an important contribution to the development of a knowledgeable and enthusiastic “audience of the future” for the Arts in general.
Christopher, who trained as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, is an extremely talented actor and director. During his four decade professional acting career, Christopher has performed locally with the Playhouse Theatre Company and the Arts Club Theatre as well as in virtually every major centre across Canada, and England and the USA. In 2004 he was honoured with a Jessie Richardson Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the Playhouse production of Equus.
In addition to his role as Artistic Director, Christopher frequently performs and directs at Bard on the Beach. His directing credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2003 & 1990), Henry V (2002), The Winter’s Tale (1997) and As You Like It (1991). Favourite roles among the innumerable characters he has played at Bard are Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Malvolio in Twelfth Night, the title role in Richard III, Cornwall in King Lear and Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor. In 2008 he played the title role in the great tragedy King Lear and in 2009 he played Solinus in The Comedy of Errors
A gifted public speaker, Christopher frequently shares his insights on the theatre and Shakespeare out in the community with school groups, service organizations and local businesses. He works with several other Arts organizations, notably as host of Vancouver Symphony’s Tea & Trumpets and Christmas Concerts series, guest artist at selected Chor Leoni concerts, and as a guest host on the Knowledge Network. Christopher also works extensively as a character actor in film and radio, and he narrated the Emmy Award winning animation series Madeline. He serves as a Board Member on many different institutions and plays a leadership role as a cultural ambassador in BC. As an Olympic ambassador, Christopher was honoured to run with the Olympic flame for the 2010 Games.
Christopher’s many honours include induction into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame, Canada’s Meritorious Service Medal (2004), Honorary Doctorates from UBC & SFU, the BC Community Achievement Award (2007), the Gold Medallion from the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America (2007), the Mayor’s Arts Award for Theatre (2011) and the Order of British Columbia (2012).