Tyler Rosati almost didn’t audition for his first Shit-faced Shakespeare play. After feeling overwhelmed by a perceived lack of experience and unpreparedness, he left the room and started crying.
“I sat on the bench outside of The Rockwell, and put on weird versions of people singing [the song from the hit musical ‘Wicked’] ‘Defying Gravity’ on YouTube,” he says. “I thought, ‘if this person could upload this video, then I can just go down there and do it.’”
So, he went back into the audition, waited his turn—and then took the director’s advice to “do whatever you want to make it interesting” very seriously. Rosati says that while performing his monologue, he pulled a bag of chips out of the director’s hand, pulled him up on stage, jumped on his back, and insisted that the director pretend to be a dolphin.
“I left thinking one of two things: I either definitely got into this show, or I am never going to be allowed in this building again,” he says.
The audition was on a Wednesday night, and Rosati performed in his first Shit-faced Shakespeare show the following Friday. Four-and-a-half years later, he is still a consistent performer with the company.
This origin story fits tidily with the Shit-faced Shakespeare M.O., which is to expect the unexpected. The company’s take on making the Bard accessible is simple: Take a classic play, shorten its runtime slightly… and have one cast member perform while completely drunk.
While unorthodox, in a way, this method actually does line up with the original audiences who saw Shakespeare’s plays during the 16th and 17th centuries. Lower-class attendees, known as “groundlings” since they typically paid a penny for a standing-room spot on the ground in front of the stage, were known to walk around, visit and speak with friends, and bring in food and ale.
“Shakespeare was always about chaos,” Rosati says. “Shakespeare is dirty. Shakespeare is wild. Shakespeare is fast and ridiculous. … We’re returning Shakespeare to that ridiculous audience participation. We love it, and we respect it, and we care about it, but Shakespeare should not be on this fancy pedestal. That’s not what it’s for.”
Shit-faced Shakespeare takes the chaos a step further, and calls upon its actors to be able to react quickly and naturally, letting the inebriated cast-member take the play into uncharted territory. There have been performances of “Romeo and Juliet” where the drunk actor playing Romeo kills himself in the first scene, and was later brought back to life with magic to finish out the show.
Similar to the classic improvisational comedy rule of saying “yes, and…” in response to bits introduced by fellow performers, Shit-faced Shakespeare actors roll with the punches. This is accomplished through a lot of backstage communication between the sober actors, Rosati says.
“You gotta keep chatting, or you’re just going to fall apart,” he says. “That is the magic of Shit-faced Shakespeare: When the drunk utterly destroys the play, and then the sober cast beautifully builds something new from the rubble.”
While he enjoys both experiences, Rosati says he prefers to be one of the sober actors during the performances. He loves the challenge of trusting that things will work out in the end, regardless of how ridiculous and messy they seem in the moment—which also echoes the experience of reading a Shakespeare play.
By this point, his fellow actors know when he loves a particular bit. With a move dubbed “the Rosati drop,” he literally falls to the floor with laughter when one of the actors takes a joke too far.
In the current production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Rosati is doubling as a cast member and a production manager—meaning that he has a few extra responsibilities like scheduling, picking actors, choosing who is drinking and when (and who will be watching the drunk actor,) and making sure the actor gets the alcohol and food they want for the night.
On the stage, Rosati will be performing the roles of the mischief-loving fairy Puck and one of the lovestruck male leads Lysander. The cast spends about two-and-a-half weeks prior to the show rehearsing, with no alcohol. A detailed drinking schedule is made in advance, to avoid mishaps like an actor unexpectedly having to go to work hungover the following morning.
During the day, Rosati is the director of education at Greater Boston Stage, a local company where he teaches children’s theater. His ties to Somerville are deep, as he grew up in the area and stuck around after receiving a degree in chemistry from Clark University in Worcester, Mass.
To purchase tickets for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” visit shitfacedshakespeare.com. The production will run at The Rockwell in Davis Square until April 11.
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