by Dean Paul Gibson, Bard’s Associate Artistic Director
I came to Bard in it’s first year (1990) as an audience member and I still recall what a wonderful time I had. Charmed at first sight! The novelty of being under the tent while enjoying a magical production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a revelation to me. When it was suggested by a colleague at the college I was attending in the spring of ’92 that I should contact Bard as they were looking for an apprentice actor to join the company, I jumped at the opportunity. After a brief telephone conversation with Christopher I was asked to audition for him (and several others) at his then, home. It continues to be among my most unusual auditions inasmuch as the audition took place in Christopher’s small, yet quaint, basement office. I remember sitting in a wing-backed chair in this cozy space having a convivial conversation with Mr. Gaze, et al. Finally, I ended my meeting with a recitation of a ‘Chorus’ speech from Henry V. I then left the unconventional audition/interview in a cloud nerves and excitement. Later that day I got a call from ‘Gazey’ offering me a place in the ensemble of Twelfth Night and The Tempest.
Playing at Bard for the first time I remember on opening night I was so nervous that I actually fell on stage. The adrenalin of running down – at the time, a very raked – stage, together with a miscalculation of where that stage actually ended, made for a memorable ‘first night’ indeed, of my inaugural season. To be fair, I was masked and my vision was somewhat impaired but I shant make excuses. Okay, just this once. Anyway…
My second season I was cast as Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew directed by Douglas Campbell. He affectionately nick-named me ‘McGrumio’ as it was his idea to capitalize on my Scottish heritage and employ my natural Scottish burr only to be embellished by designer Mara Gottler’s bespoke patch-work kilt. Again, on the opening night of that production, I made another auspicious entrance and managed to fall at the feet of the then, Vancouver Sun theatre critic. Thankfully my recovery was swift and with only slightly bruised knee (and ego) I was able to continue my task at hand and enjoy the rest of the show.
Another ‘early years’ story was when I was preparing to go on the first night in a production of King Lear with our late-great pal and mentor Douglas Campbell. We were standing on the stairs backstage awaiting our first entrance when he looked down at me and asked ‘How are you my boy… are you nervous?’ ‘Yes’ I replied, to which Douglas responded – ‘you should be you’re awful in the part!’ All in good humour of course. Later that season and in the same production, myself and a few fellow actors were ‘yakking away’ back-stage one night and enjoying the spectacular sunset when we all suddenly realised we had completely lost track of time and missed our entrance cue leaving Douglas (as Lear) entirely alone on stage improvising his ‘madness’. After what seemed like an odd time warp and slow-motion reaction, we all ran on stage with a sense of urgency that made for a very impressive and real response to the situation. Let’s just say you’ve never seen three more ‘present’ actors! After the scene we all came off stage and sheepishly apologized to Douglas one after another to which he responded
‘I didn’t even know you were all late… I just kept talking because I thought it was me who had missed something.’
Of course, weather can play a dramatic part in many of the plays at Bard. The old tent opening at the back of the stage used to be much larger and a gust of wind, torrent of rain (and earlier alluded to raked-stage) could make for treacherous playing conditions.
I remember being perched on a scenic balcony observing the ‘trial scene’ in The Merchant of Venice when Denyse Wilson began Portia’s famous speech: ‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath’ which happened to coincide with a deluge of summer rain that stopped the play immediately. After clearing the stage for 20 minutes and a quick impromptu mopping by stage management, the inclement weather began to ebb and we were allowed to return and finish the show. There were many wild and windy nights where the stage managers, volunteers and staff had to hold tents and flaps from blowing angrily and interfering with various productions that have been affected (in some cases enhanced) by the ever-changing weather patterns. We are, after all, making theatre in a tent!
Throughout the years the essence of what makes Bard successful has remained and it has become a much beloved fixture in the arts and cultural ecology of Vancouver. When you see the tents going up in Vanier park you know there will be another opportunity to share stories that continue to inform and entertain both on and off stage. It’s been a delight for me to encounter people in my community and around the world that have played a part in the Bard story. I’m still tickled when they take the time to stop me in the street, at the market, at another festival or wherever, to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed their Bard experience. It’s incredibly gratifying and profound knowing that the Bard family extends beyond so many borders. More, I am deeply grateful that I have had the opportunity to learn and grow myself as an artist and person over this past quarter century.
And yes, it still feels like opening night!
We have so many great stories from the last 25 years at Bard. Consider donating to our 25th anniversary campaign to help us create many more. And if you haven’t had a chance to see Dean’s spectacular production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this season it runs through to September 20 so you’ve still got time!