After the success of Black Watch in 2011 and 2012, the Shakespeare Theatre Company will again work with the National Theatre of Scotland to host one of its productions as part of its STC Presents series. But when it opens next month, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart isn’t bound for the Lansburgh or Harman Hall stages. Instead, it’s heading to a more intimate venue: the Bier Baron Tavern in Dupont Circle.
Presenting a play in a bar may seem unusual, particularly for a company as highbrow and well-established as this one. According to Chris Jennings, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s managing director, however, because Prudencia Hart was originally conceived and performed in pubs throughout Scotland, staging the work in a D.C. bar made the most sense. While some D.C. companies, like Arena Stage, allow drinking in their theaters, STC isn’t one of them. Besides, who doesn’t like having the option to openly imbibe while enjoying a new work?
Inspired by a night that writer David Greig, director Wils Wilson, and composer Alasdair Macrae spent at a pub in Kelso, Scotland, while researching the traditional Scottish “Border Ballads,” the play follows the journey of Prudencia Hart, a rigid scholar who also sets off for a conference in Kelso one winter morning knowing not what awaits her. Heavily influenced by old tales of mysticism and the supernatural, the story is meant to be told, absorbed, and passed on—-presumably while its audience is in some kind of booze-informed state—-just like the songs that inspired it.
Since Black Watch, Jennings and STC Artistic Director Michael Kahn have been looking for another opportunity to collaborate with the National Theatre of Scotland; after seeing Prudencia Hart performed in Edinburgh, Jennings says he knew it had to be shared with D.C. audiences, as soon as he and his team found a suitable venue. Because the National Theatre does not have its own theater, it frequently presents its works in nontraditional venues. But because Prudencia Hart marks the first time STC will stage a production outside the comfortable confines of a theater, Jennings knew the location had to be perfect. He originally considered the Forum, a smaller venue within Harman Hall, but quickly realized that a traditional tavern was the only acceptable venue for the show.
When it came to finding a bar in Washington with enough space to allow the troupe of actors to perform eight times a week as well as the right look and atmosphere, only one place fit the bill, Jennings says: the tavern formerly known as the Brickskeller. Because the location occupies two stories, the show can go on upstairs while business can continue downstairs. And because the Bier Baron will remain open while the play runs, Jennings hopes the location will attract new theatergoers as well as old.