Excitement flooded the theatre community today when Bard on the Beach unveiled its plans to construct a new stage in the Burrard Inlet. Now in its 26th year, the Shakespeare Festival has become an iconic summer tradition, bringing in a record 100,000 patrons over its 2014 season. Rising attendance has indicated a need for expansion but the site, bounded by water on two sides, is limited by its geographical location.

“At first we joked about it,” laughs Artistic Director Christopher Gaze. “We’d say the only place to expand was to go into the water – literally!”

Preliminary cost analysis for a water site was conducted in 2009, before the new Mainstage tent was purchased, but costs were prohibitive and the logistics of keeping actors in cold water for three to four hours seemed too challenging. However, when Robert Nemo, Oceanography Research chair at a local university, joined the Bard board in 2012, the jest gradually became an exciting reality.

Nemo has been developing deep oceanographic instrumentation for over 45 years. Working for both governments and private industries from scientific research to movie production, Nemo has had a wealth of experience dealing with the challenges of working in water. He has created state of the art equipment designed to allow the actors and crew to work underwater for hours at a time. The technology was developed in partnership with an instrument build team in Pasadena, California and researchers in Heidelberg, Cambridge, Boston and Toronto.

The third performance stage will be a purely liquid one, bounded on three sides with gradated viewing platforms. Resident costume designer Esther Williams has stated that she is “extremely excited to be working with neoprene,” and says that, “there will be more than a few surprises in store for audiences and actors.”

“I thought the material would constrain the creative process but I am amazed at the versatility it has allowed.”

The new aquatic stage will not be used until the 2016 season, but plans are already swimming at the Festival’s office. Associate Artistic Director Dean Paul Gibson has assured that the casting process will not discriminate against non-swimmers. “Obviously we’d like the actors to be comfortable in the water but, as far as swimming goes, we’re open to water-wings.”

Christopher Gaze is keeping the title of the stage’s first production close to his chest, but rumours of a watery Titus Andronicus are already surfacing. Regardless of the inaugural production, tickets are already in demand and it’s estimated that the aquatic stage will sell out well before tickets go on sale. In the words of the Bard himself:

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”