The ‘Barden Party’ born in a New Zealand backyard

WAIPAHU, Hawaii — Shakespeare in the backyard? At the height of New Zealand’s COVID-19 restrictions, Laura Irish had an idea.

What You Need To Know

  • The Barden Party premieres at Hawaii’s Plantation Village, 5-7 p.m. July 6 and 7
  • Reservations are encouraged by calling the venue at 808-677-0110, or pay at the gate
  • The $20/person ticket includes a complimentary drink and bento

“I had just experienced being let go from another canceled theatre show due to COVID,” said the American/New Zealander. “I was standing on my deck thinking, ‘This is bigger than most stages I have performed on.’”

A Shakespeare buff, Irish pondered the thought: The Bard + a Garden Party. The Barden Party was born. She envisioned a fluid show that could adapt to any space performed by a nimble traveling cast, just as traveling troubadours did hundreds of years ago. It was sure to be a good time for all, just what was needed during tough pandemic times, thought Irish.

Irish and her musical director, Jake Robinson, who had just finished working on London’s West End, came up with a way to contemporize Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” They would fuse pop music throughout the centuries-old play.

The talented cast of the Barden Party navigates through Shakespeare’s tale of magic, mischief and love by peppering the story with pop songs fused into folk ballads. It was the perfect way to introduce audiences of all ages to Shakespeare.

Their handful of performances ballooned into more than 50 throughout New Zealand with the group performing at festivals, retirement parties, birthday celebrations and neighborhood gatherings.

“The result was just this pocket of fun and joy that people all around the country wanted to share with their friends from the comfort of their own homes,” said Irish in a release. “We found that people were craving connection, and that is what theatre and music can bring.”

Irish added, “The show is so adaptable we can literally perform in any space. We just turn up on the day and make the magic happen.”

With the goal of spreading fun and joy across the United States, the Barden Party kicks off its U.S. tour on Oahu. Their premiere performance is at Hawaii’s Plantation Village, 5-7 p.m. July 6 and 7. Reservations are encouraged by calling the venue at 808-677-0110, or pay at the gate. The $20/person ticket includes a complimentary drink and bento. Chairs will be provided, but guests may bring their own chair or blanket.

From Hawaii, the Barden Party moves on to performances in Illinois, Massachusetts and New York.

Sarah Yamanaka covers events, tourism and community news for Spectrum News Hawaii.