Chickspeare brings The Bard to brewpubs


By Jenny White

Monday, June 24, 2019

“I would give all my fame for a pot of ale.”

— William Shakespeare, from “As you Like It,” Scene 3

If you are the type of person who thinks Shakespeare just isn’t for you, you’re Sheila Proctor’s favorite kind of person.

Proctor is one of the founders of Chickspeare, an all-female Shakespeare Company that started performing shows in 1998 at (the now defunct) Johnson Beer Company in Charlotte. They now produce and perform 2-3 shows a year at NoDa Brewing Company in Charlotte. Owner Suzie Ford has been welcoming the troupe in for the past seven years.

“After 20 years, I can tell you that we have earned William Shakespeare hundreds of new fans — people that had never seen or read a Shakespeare play realize they absolutely LOVE Shakespeare,” Proctor said.

Proctor said first the Johnson Beer Company and now the NoDa Brewery have always had the right kind of people to appreciate Chickspeare’s work.

“There’s a sense of camaraderie in these craft brewery taprooms and the audiences are open to being interactive with the actors. They’re just our kind of people,” Proctor said.

Proctor said the genesis of Chickspeare evolved out of a local crew of women who yearned to act in Shakespeare plays.

“There were few productions and even fewer female parts,” Proctor said. “So, we did what women typically do – we solved the problem and created our own productions.

“We started brainstorming in May of 1998 and by winter, we put on our first show.”

Chickspeare performs full Shakespeare productions as well as Quickspeare productions, which are abridged interactive versions of Shakespeare’s plays that also utilize improv. Proctor said most of the Quickspeare scripts are written by the Chickspeare group and are usually comedies.

Another fan favorite show is when Chickspeare performs a play backwards, from the ending to the beginning. “We like to mix it up,”

“We like to be adventurous,” Proctor said. “And that has always fit in well with the craft brew scene and the people that like to gather at the breweries.”

Ford, the owner of Chickspeare’s regular production location, NoDa Brewery, is a big supporter of Chickspeare productions and has welcomed the performance team and their quirky productions at the brewery’s tap room for several years. NoDa has two taprooms in Charlotte and offers large batch brews and smaller batch brews, which appear seasonally.

Chickspeare is planning a holiday production on Dec. 19 and 20 and a spring 2020 show at NoDa Brewery.

All of the Chickspeare actors are paid. The production company makes money by selling tickets to their productions. Proctor said that for some of their larger productions, they may hold auditions — but most of the time, their regular crew puts on the two or three yearly shows.

As an all-female Shakespeare Company, Chickspeare has been breaking gender barriers, giving women the opportunity to explore characters not otherwise available to them in most modern productions of Shakespeare. Chickspeare’s shows engage the audience and provide a creative, provocative environment for female actors to explore and experience Shakespeare’s plays.

This desire to break down gender barriers for women in Shakespeare fuels the next stage of Chickspeare’s future. While the company continues to be a vehicle for women and girls to explore their performance of Shakespeare’s roles, the company plans to promote the development of new plays, providing the voices of female playwrights the opportunity to create new work based on Shakespeare’s plays.

Proctor hopes to meet many more new Shakespeare fans in local breweries.

“Shakespeare and a good beer is a great combination in my opinion,” Proctor said.