Features & Columns

ShakesBEERience Returns:
'As You Like It'

McCluggage and his team will launch their fourth season of ShakesBEERience with a rollicking performance of "As You Like It"
John McCluggage and company will pair with San Jose Chamber Orchestra members to perform an uncuffed version of 'As You Like It.'

ShakesBEERience and the San Jose Chamber Orchestra go together like peanut butter and chocolate, says John McCluggage. Now few years in, he should know. On Monday, McCluggage and his team will launch their fourth season of ShakesBEERience with a rollicking performance of "As You Like It."

Since the play is one of Shakespeare's most lyrical endeavors, Barbara Day Turner, director of the Chamber Orchestra, will supply the music.

The production can be described numerous ways, but in my view it's a site-specific event that takes over Cafe Stritch for one night. A Shakespeare play is performed, but the entire venue becomes a stage as participants act out the script and play roles while moving around various parts of the club. Even the staff might jump in for a moment or two. No one knows what to expect, with beer being the only predictable ingredient.

This is not a stuffy upmarket affair. The lights don't go down and no one hands out cough suppressants ahead of time. Instead, the audience experiences a free-form, improvised, casual reading. Customers order food or head straight for the bar like any other night, while actors perform in and around the audience. Sometimes the performers will even sit down and have a beer in between lines. The barrier between the crowd and the stage is thus dissolved. It's totally punk rock.

"We use the balcony, we use the bar, we use everything," McCluggage says. "So it's meant to dig in deep, deconstruct, and not make it about, 'You are the audience, and we are the performers,' and there's this space between us. No, no, no. There's no space."

An audience member familiar with Shakespeare will love the event, but McCluggage also wants to demystify the experience for anyone who might be unfamiliar with or event hate the old bard.

"People say, 'I will never like spinach' and then you put a cream sauce on it, and they go, 'You know, I've always loved spinach,' " McCluggage explains.

Turner will bring a fearless foursome, a quartet that includes herself on the Cafe Stritch piano, two violinists—Philip Brezina and Angela Schillace—and Michelle Kwan on cello. Brezina also plays fiddle for the bluegrass group Brothers Comatose, while Schillace plays mandolin, which could be seen during the play.

"We're having what in a recent era would be called a broken consort, a group of instruments that are not of all the same family," says Turner, adding that she will be arriving with a prepped repertoire of musical fragments of Elizabethan-era music. She'll focus on some of the English madrigals and then music by Thomas Tallis, John Dowland and William Byrd.

Expect at least 25 melodic fragments of those composers' works to form the basis of what might crop up into the evening. A prelude, a ritornello, incidental returns, or any improvised elements might come into play. We may even see thematic material with the two violins underscoring the scenes with a male and female character. You may witness a violinist wandering around in the kitchen or standing on top of the bar or next to the garnishes. Anything is possible.

McCluggage originally heard about the Chamber Orchestra's recent adventures with pop-up events—that is, sending its musicians to perform in any number of alternative environments, in order to reach new audiences. Coffee shops, street corners, art galleries, shopping malls and other such spaces have all been targets for the group's classical attack. Turner and McCluggage met and discussed a potential collaboration, and everything seemed to make sense. The experience provides a chance for both groups to operate outside their usual comfort zones.

"And for us, it's a different audience," Turner says. "It'll be a chance for some of our regular audience to come see what we do in a different light and experience something different."

McCluggage is more ambiguous: "I have no idea what's going to happen except that it's going to be fun and unique. And one night only."

ShakesBEERience SJ: As You Like It
Mon Aug. 28 6:30-8:30pm
Cafe Stritch