The deep hidden meaning behind Gorilla Tango Theatre's Bikini Shakespeare

by

comment

The cast of Bikini Shakespeares production of The Tempest.
  • Gorilla Tango Theatre
  • The cast of Bikini Shakespeare's production of The Tempest
You wouldn't normally think of Shakespeare and bikinis (and Speedos) as things that would naturally go together. And yet Bikini Shakespeare's production of The Tempest, which opened at Gorilla Tango Theatre (1919 N. Milwaukee) last Thursday night, and which will run Thursdays at 9 PM through 4/25, is the actual Shakespeare play, condensed into a hour, performed by actors in bikinis (and Speedos).

This is actually the second Bikini Shakespeare production; the first, Much Ado About Nothing, ran last summer.

Surely, surely, there must be a Deep Hidden Meaning behind this, some sort of radical new interpretation or a bold artistic statement about the nature of clothed and unclothed and exposed flesh in the depths of winter. (Or so goes the mind of the former English major, trained as it is to extract those Deep Hidden Meanings and expound upon them in three-to-five-page increments.)

Alas, there is not.

"Gorilla Tango Theatre came to me with the idea," explains Bikini Shakespeare's director, Katie Horwitz. "They wanted me to do an hour-length Shakespeare production in bikinis, I guess because burlesque is a moneymaker. They could keep the fun crowd, but be an introduction to something else."

And so Horwitz graciously complied. For each production, she has repaired to her favorite coffee shop and spent hours poring over the original text, teasing out the main plotlines and choosing subplots, figuring out how to cut it down to an hour.

"The suit doesn't influence how I cut," says Horwitz. "After the first five minutes of giggling, the audience forgets and goes back to the text and the story. Some slapstick can happen, but we stick to the text. You want to find actors who can help you forget that they're in Speedos and bikinis and dive into the story." (Pun probably not intended.)

But wouldn't the bikini concept lend itself more gracefully to the comedies than to, say, Hamlet, which, aside from being tragic, is set in Denmark, a region inhospitable to bathing suits for most of the year? (True, there is Ophelia's drowning, but would she really have the presence of mind to change into swimwear before taking the fatal plunge?)

For Horwitz, though, the problem is less weather-related realism or the cognitive dissonance of actors performing a drama of guilt and sorrow and human misery while clad in costumes associated with frivolity and fun (see: the entire canon of 60s beach-party movies). It's more about the artistic challenge of condensing a play as complex as Hamlet into a single hour. "The actors and audience wouldn't have time to get into the story," she explains.

Well, then, fair enough.

Although The Tempest has only just opened, Horwitz is already planning for the next Bikini Shakespeare production. "I'm thinking about Titus Andronicus," she says. "We could do some crazy, fun body art. It's a bloody, sexy show."

Add a comment