Fun, fast and physical. That’s the way Shake on the Lake co-founder and managing director Pilar McKay describes their group’s Shakespearean performance style. As an art form, theatre is subjective to the taste of the particular members in the audience. And to a purist, performing one of Shakespeare’s works in its truest form may seem like the only correct way to do it - but Shake on the Lake, of Perry, NY takes a different route.
“We work with the structure Shakespeare gave us,” McKay said. “When he was writing his works, he would incorporate pop culture and ‘sick burns’ to the period’s elite. He gave us the texts - we’re just inserting them in the areas that would make sense. Shakespeare style, but applicable to today.”
When Shake on the Lake comes to the Ellicottville Gazebo on Friday, August 10 for a performance of the classic Richard the III, don’t expect to be bored to death. One of the theatre group’s specialities is keeping the audience engaged. McKay, Josh Rice, and Richard the III director Chad Bradford try to keep the shows around the 80-minute mark. That way, they’re doing Shakespeare’s work justice while not drawing it out too long.
“Nobody wants to sit through a boring, drawn out play,” McKay said. “People want to be entertained. So we’ll incorporate music - for this show, expect some late 1980s/early 90s punk. The audience is just as part of the show as the actors are, and they’ll feel involved without actually getting up on stage.”
McKay, of Perry, attended high school with fellow co-founder Josh Rice. After an advertising stint for her and professional acting career for him, they connected on Facebook (“when Facebook was still fun,” she added) and Shake on the Lake was born.
“We were so successful in Year 1, we knew we were on to something,” she said, before adding that even though she herself isn’t a performer, that doesn’t mitigate her passion. They recruit actors from all over the country. First, they’ll look locally. Then the gaze turns to Little Rock, Arkansas (where Rice worked for a time) before drawing actors in nationwide.
“This is a professional theatre company, and that solidifies our reputation,” McKay said. “We have someone who came in from Denver for our performance round of Richard the III. So that’s pretty cool. Actors who come in have to be flexible - for this show, we only have six performers. So they’ll be switching roles, but that adds to the fun of it.”
While Ellicottville’s Gazebo may be the most prolific public place they’ve performed, Shake on the Lake has done shows in historical houses, parks, and the beach in Silver Creek where they first started. They strive to be adaptable to any of the venues they’re performing in.
“Space isn’t a constraint for us,” she said. “Creative placemaking - which means we’re here to bring theatre to a place that isn’t a theatrical place. People can experience theatre anywhere, but we started at a public beach. The community really embraced it, and before we knew it, had started renovating the area of the beachhead. So it’s cool that what we’re doing is having an impact.”
Shake on the Lake aims to bring high-end theatrical performances to rural areas that people can consume, see and experience. So far, they’re nailing it.
“First and foremost, we want people to have a good time. Bring a chair, hang out and enjoy the show. Our actors do this as their day jobs, so they’re passionate. We want to create a really awesome product that leaves people wanting more.”
For more information on Shake on the Lake, head to www.shakeonthelake.org. They’ll be performing Shakespeare’s Richard the III on Friday, August 10 at the Ellicottville Gazebo. This is the only time they’ll perform later at night, so don’t miss it! Admission is free!