Bringing The Bard Home

It took a fall off a tightrope to bring an innovative take on William Shakespeare’s work to rural Western New York.

Actor Joshua Rice was performing in an Arkansas children’s theatre company of “If You Give a Pig a Pancake” back 2011. He took a 15-foot fall off the wire, broke both his feet, and couldn’t walk for four months.  He moved home to Buffalo to fully recuperate and had the “a-ha” moment when he could finally ride his bike around Silver Lake. He would live here again, launch a theatre company, and target under-served rural communities.  Pretty ambitious for someone just short of his 30th birthday.

So that’s how the theatre company known as Shake on the Lake began back in 2012. It’s now grown to a full fledged theatre enterprise, touring with 90-minute Shakespeare performances. This summer Shake in the Lake brings Richard III to the Springville Center for the Arts Heritage Park Gazebo Aug 1.  Other performances at Silver Lake are Aug. 2, 3 at 6:30pm, and Aug. 4 at 2pm and 6:30pm, all at Perry Public Beach (42 Walker Rd, Perry).

Rice’s vision became an impressive mission to entertain, engage and enrich the rural community (“places where there are more cows than people,” says Rice) by using the beauty of a natural outdoor setting as the Bard’s stage. A key component is a commitment to education and outreach, and adopting eco-friendly and green business practices.

Rice says, “It’s a really great way to give back to a community that’s given me so much.” More than a free entertainment option, Shake on the Lake’s outreach program is building a theatre community for tomorrow, too. “We’re working with students during the school year in an outreach program, “he continues.

Shake on the Lake operates on a lean budget, with support coming in fee for services, fundraising, and support from the New York State Council on the Arts DEC program.

A point of pride for Rice is Voices Uncaged,  a unique prison outreach program at the Groveland Correctional Facility, now in its third year.  Rice says, “We work with inmates to create productions. This is work we really believe in.” Shakespeare’s bawdy humor and the human element in his work really reaches this audience. “They are eager and excited student actors,” says Rice, and “they hang on every word the way that other audiences don’t. They are active and cheering and they boo the villains. They are also supportive of each other and want to do well. They want it to look good. Reputation is important in that setting and they work hard to surprise people.”

From the lakefront to correction institutions , Shake on the Lake’s good work reminds us of the Bard’s astute words that “all the world’s a stage.”

For more information, check out Shake on the Lake’s Facebook page, here.