There’s nothing quite like speaking iambic pentameter when you’re three sheets to the wind. Outré Theatre Company’s annual Drunk Shakespeare production, a staple of inebriated South Florida theatre since 2016, returns to The Irishmen in Boca Raton on June 22 for another unpredictable evening of sometimes flawless, sometimes mangled verse from the Bard.
It’s the kind of show that earns our attention from its title alone, which this year has been altered to the abbreviated “Drunk Shakes.” But what does it take to pull it off? We spoke to Skye Whitcomb, Outré’s artistic director, about his company’s version of PUI—performing under the influence.
Is Drunk Shakespeare a thing in other communities, or did you make it up?
The inspiration came from an off-Broadway show that’s on-running called “Drunk Shakespeare.” Ours is a little different. Their idea was a full production, where you got one actor who is absolutely trashed and the others are sober and trying to keep things on track. What we do instead is we get everybody trashed! And we do a series of monologues, scenes, songs and all sorts of things from Shakespeare ranging from the ridiculous to the very serious. It’s a fantastic time.
How do you plan the evening out?
To be honest, there’s not a whole lot of planning that’s done. We know the actors. We speak with them beforehand about what pieces they’re planning on doing. But as for where exactly the evening is going to go, we really have no idea. Sometimes actors will jump into another actor’s scene, or will have silliness abounding. You’ll get an actor with four or five shots of alcohol in them, and they tend to lose any sort of rational thought process, and just have at it.
Is it closer in spirit to improv than to scripted theatre?
In a lot of ways, yes. We do ask that they stick as close to the script as they possibly can, and for the most part they do. A lot of the silliness comes more from intensity and physical action.
Do the actors generally know the text well prior to getting smashed?
Yes, we ask that they have at least three pieces absolutely memorized. Past that, if they want to try something new that they don’t have fully memorized, and they just want to have a copy of it with them, they’re welcome to do that as well.
What is their drink of choice? Beer, wine, liquor?
It is all shots.
Well, that’s the quickest way to get drunk, isn’t it?
Yes it is. Generally, what will happen is, we arrange it with the owner of the Irishmen ahead of time, and ask the actors, what is your spirit of choice? And we’ll have those shots on a tray onstage with them. At the beginning of every round, all of the actors will do a shot together, and right before each one of them performs, they’ll take another shot. By the time we get to the end of the evening, every actor has had at least six shots. Six actors, six shots a piece, 36 shots of alcohol—it makes for an interesting evening.
What does alcohol do to actors’ brains when they’re trying to recall lines and perform scenes?
Talking to the actors before and after, what they tell me is that if it’s a piece you know well, your mouth just goes on autopilot. But suddenly the words and the intensity and the intention take on a new urgency. You know the words, you know what you’re supposed to do, but you’re trying to make your body obey. That’s where a lot of the fun comes in, trying to stay upright and make your mouth move in the way that you know it’s supposed to move, especially when dealing with this very intricate text.
Can you talk about the unpredictability of these productions; what have been some of the more unusual physical or linguistic detours in years past?
They’ve ranged from Joey de la Rua trying to do “King Lear” from the top of a barstool, to Jordon Armstrong falling over the front table and us having to pull him back onto the stage while he’s trying to steal people’s drinks. The audience takes it in good fun. It’s sort of like “Drunk History” live mixed with a professional Shakespeare troupe mixed with a Renaissance fair almost, where there’s a feeling of almost anything goes.
How much money have you raised in the past, and how much are you hoping to raise this time?
We generally raise a couple thousand dollars. We don’t charge a lot for it. We promote it heavily to the FAU students. We’re hoping to raise about the same amount. The tickets are only $5 for students and $15 for general admission. It’s not just a fundraiser; it’s an excuse to come out and have a good time.
Lastly, it’s hard for me to imagine a Drunk Lucas Hnath or Drunk Ayad Akhtar or even a Drunk Mamet. Is there something about the contrast between this sacrosanct text with a treatment of it that’s … not?
I think you’ve hit it exactly. The heart of taboo is when we take something that is sacred and make it profane. We as actors and as a society hold up Shakespeare as being this phenomenal genius, which he was, but he was also a drunk! And all the historical records point to numerous affairs, and alcoholism—he was a human being, and he had a wonderful time in his life. [We take] this elevated language and this sacrosanct, as you said, verse that has permeated our culture, and say, it’s not just that. It’s also this feeling of hilarity and community and commonality.
“Drunk Shakes” returns 8 p.m. June 22 at The Irishmen Pub, 1745 N.W. Boca Raton Blvd., Boca Raton. Advance tickets can be purchased at b.link/drunkshakes.