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Theatre company boasts education at its core

CRESCENT BEACH - Beach House Theatre, which has produced Shakespeare plays at South Surrey's Blackie Spit near Crescent Beach for the past three years, makes a nest at Camp Alexandra for rehearsals on a few weekday evenings up until its mid-August run.


The not-for-profit, spearheaded by Candace Radcliffe and Rick Harmon - both drama teachers at Earl Marriott Secondary - boasts that education is at the core of its mandate. A little fun is in the mix, too.


"I had this vision to stay Shakespeare to begin with out on the spit... the vision was to do one production of Shakespeare to begin with and then grow, in time, to incorporate something for young audiences," Radcliffe told the Now at the site of Beach House's rehearsal space at Crescent Beach.


"In our mandate... education and mentorship are very important to us."


In its third year, the volunteerrun production company is bringing Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors to the stage, incorporating some Earl Marriott Secondary students as actors, stage technicians and light and sound technicians.


Set in the Caribbean in 1725, the play stars Aaron Holt as Antipholus, James Walker as Dromio, Olivia Lindgren as Adriana and Madeleine Tuer as Luciana.


They're also producing an educational play for the (much) younger crowd, The Three Munschketeers, based on stories by children's writer Robert Munsch and adapted by Debbie Patterson.


"We've been trying to go with Shakespeare's lighter comedies and most accessible comedies, so that it's easy for people who aren't Shakespeare connoisseurs to understand the stories and have fun and just have an enjoyable evening," said Harmon.


Midsummer, Beach House Theatre sets up a tented stage seating 300 people on Blackie Spit, with the beach and ocean acting as a backdrop to the scene. The whole set-up is nowhere near what one would call "makeshift," as the productions are meticulously planned, from set design to sound to lights.


The beachside backdrop just happens to be a great setting for the flexibly interpreted Shakespeare comedies.


"We wanted to build a foundation for our company with Shakespeare, and the other cool thing about choosing Shakespeare for us is it allows a lot of artistic interpretation," said Radcliffe. "We can set it wherever we need to set it, being with an outdoor stage and the opportunities that that provides."


For The Comedy of Errors, for example, the scenery at Crescent Beach allowed the theatre company to go along with a Caribbean-style pirates theme.


And although Beach House Theatre shows do seem to sell out - the past two years have, anyway - Radcliffe and Harmon are sure to add that they couldn't run the plays without the generosity of their corporate sponsors and private donors.


Perhaps they have the patronizing community of South Surrey to thank for its success.


"It started off as a small idea that kept growing, and by the time we actually built the theatre and launched and it was really happening, it was kind of surreal," said Radcliffe. "We always hope for success but the response was so incredible. I think it was just for the love of theatre and for the love of crescent beach."


Radcliffe visits Oregon's Shakespeare Festival each year, which also has an outdoor theatre, as well as oft-patronizing Vancouver's Bard on the Beach.


"It's one of the best experiences you can have - sitting outdoors with a great backdrop, a natural backdrop and some live, fantastic theatre, and we just wanted to try to capture that," she said.


"I think the setting is the star of our show, as opposed to any one single actor or performer," said Harmon. "It's just magical at night with the lights and the water in the background and the sound of passing boats and trains."


A number of students act, operate lights and sound, with Beach House acting as a "mentoring experience for older students," Radcliffe and Harmon say, driving home the point that in the end, it all boils down to education.


"It's inspiring and life educating for people to have live theatre in their backyard."