Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Shakespeare & the comics collide in Knight of the Bat

Playwright Dan Bray asks the age-old question: what if William Shakespeare were a superhero?

In 2019 Halifax-based playwright and theatre artist Dan Bray brought zombies to Elsinore in The Villians Theatre’s Zomblet. In 2022, Bray returns to the unconventional with his latest Shakespeare mash-up, Knight of the Bat, at this year’s Halifax Fringe Festival.

This new witty, fast-paced action-comedy takes familiar comic book figures and reimagines them in an Elizabethan context. – Dan Bray

In this Q&A, we find out more.

Knight of the Bat plays at the Bus Stop Theatre from September 1-11. Visit tickethalifax.com for tickets, dates and times.

This interview has been edited.

Tell us about Knight of the Bat. What can audiences expect?

Knight of the Bat asks the age-old question: what if William Shakespeare were a superhero?

This new witty, fast-paced action-comedy takes familiar comic book figures and reimagines them in an Elizabethan context. Audiences can prepare to expect the unexpected™, including special effects, fights, puppets and maybe even some cameos.

And, of course, all the easter eggs and deep-diving jokes a fellow nerd could ever ask for, be they die-hard Shakespeare fans or comic book enthusiasts.

What was the inspiration for Knight of the Bat?

After devoting over a decade of my professional career to staging and performing the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, I feel like I’ve acquired a bit of a superpower of my own: a really deep knowledge and familiarity with Renaissance drama, language, and tropes. This has led me to begin exploring new ways to celebrate and mine these great plays.

A couple of years ago, I wrote Zomblet, which took the premise of Hamlet but swapped out ghosts for zombies. Audiences responded positively, making me wonder how else I might apply this nerdy mutation. Recently, there has been a resurgence in popular culture, or more accurately, a surgence of comic book movies. I couldn’t resist thinking about what it might look like if I Bard-ified some of these classic characters.

Why this particular show now?

Referring again to the sudden prominence of comic book culture, I think it’s important to be able to have a bit of fun with these properties; to let the air out of them a bit and explore what’s going on inside, especially since we basically get a new one every other week.

I love comic book movies, but I also need to be able to process them in my way. The one we’re focusing on – which I won’t name – also tends to take itself super seriously – to be gritty, dark, and brutal – so this is my way of saying, “No, you’re silly too. You’re all ridiculous. Let’s just have some fun already.”

I also think comic book culture has a poisonous side: fans online are truly nasty when it comes to their criticism, and I think there’s a better way to poke fun at them without becoming another harmful, misogynist, boring troll. So this play offers commentary on these fan favourites in a positive, fun, and (I hope) healthy way.

Finally, I’ll say that since COVID struck, I’ve written more plays than ever, all of which are comedies! I think it’s my brain’s way of helping me cope with this global trauma, and it taps into my desire to spread laughter during these dark, weird times. Comedies are needed now more than ever, and I think it’s vital for audiences to have a safe space to come together, have fun in a communal way, and forget about the many stresses of our world.

What do you hope audiences leave Knight of the Bat talking about?

I hope people leave the show surprised. I know that sounds cliche, but I hope they leave feeling like they saw more than just a simple comic book parody. So instead, I’ve tried to create a play that people can still enjoy even if they don’t read Shakespeare or comics; it explores friendship and loneliness and has been written to lift people up and make them laugh.

Also, I would love for folks to leave raving about the cast since I think this team is hugely talented and hilarious, and they are working hard to create something unique while also giving the fans exactly what they’re after. And if they leave feeling like they’ve also just somehow seen a big-screen action movie on a small black-box stage, that’s just gravy.

Why should someone come to see Knight of the Bat?

If you want to have a really good time with some of Kjipuktuk’s finest and funniest actors, perform in a strong ensemble comedy, and poke fun at these pop culture giants who have taken over our screens, then this is the show for you.

If you’ve seen any of the other recent Villains’ shows, including Zomblet, Hansel und Gretel, and Shakespeare’s Time Machine, it builds on our legacy of creating zany, larger-than-life spectacles with equal parts laughter and heart. We’re creating something that takes the familiar, blends it, and transforms it into something different and unforgettable.

Knight of the Bat runs at the Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen St, Halifax) as part of the 2022 Halifax Fringe Festival. Visit tickethalifax.com for tickets, dates and times.

The Halifax Fringe Festival returns to live in-person performances from September 1 through September 11, with more than 55 productions taking place at venues across the downtown and North End neighbourhoods.

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