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Review by Benjamin Hooper

of United Press International

The combining of Shakespearean text with such a freewheeling concept could easily end up with a show that feels forced, but actually ends up achieving what only the very best stagings of

The most impressive aspect of the show, I think you'll find, is the cast. The four thespians show up prepared to play any of the 27 roles, with lines and blocking already learned, but with inevitable spontaneity resulting from the near-endless possible casting combinations and the wild card aspect of audience participation (get it now? "50 Shades of Shakespeare," the title works on several levels).

Four actors take on 10 of Shakespeare's funniest, most dramatic and steamiest love scenes, but there's a twist -- the actors don't know who is playing which of the 27 available roles until it's time to go on. The result means you might end up with (for example) Romeo and Juliet being played by two men, two women or even a male Juliet with a female Romeo. Instead of such gender-bending combinations being played strictly for laughs, however, you'll find actors with a thorough understanding of the text putting on straight-faced (well, mostly straight-faced) scenes that might just cause you to consider how the gender dynamics of Shakespeare's time relate to a modern understanding of sexuality, both in how far we've come since then and how far we have yet to go (I know that sounds terribly serious, but don't worry, there are plenty of laughs as well).

"The first thing you need to know about Bare Backstage Productions' "50 Shades of Shakespeare" is that whatever you're thinking after hearing that title, you're probably wrong. This isn't the Elizabethan adventures of Anastasia and Christian, and this isn't yet another staging of a Shakespeare classic forced into a modern pop culture theme that never seems to quite fit. Instead, "50 Shades" is composed of selections from the Bard's finest works, performed by four versatile actors with a surprising amount of audience participation, the comedic energy of an improv show and an unexpected dose of gender politics (don't worry, E.L. James fans, they didn't forget to include a little BDSM, too).
the Bard's works can do: Making Shakespeare feel accessible, fresh and extremely fun to a modern audience, no matter what your previous exposure to his works might be. Love Shakespeare? This show is for you. Find Shakespeare inscrutable? This show is for you. HATE Shakespeare? This show is absolutely for you.

Bare Backstage is now preparing for its second year of "50 Shades," kicking off with
a Valentine's
Day performance at the Kalamazoo State Theater. Already have V-Day plans? Don't worry, encores in Kalamazoo are planned for Feb. 24 and 25. Heck, go to all three dates -- the very nature of the piece guarantees you a completely different show every time."

Encore Michigan: Review

Fifty Shades of Shakespeare titillates from Bare Backstage


REVIEW February 16, 2017

Bridgette Redman



How can a performance of Shakespeare be improvisational? After all, it isn’t as though the words haven’t been set down more or less in stone for the past five centuries.

That barrier didn’t stop Bare Backstage Productions from making the attempt in its very first production.

Making their company’s premiere performance on Valentine’s Day in Kalamazoo’s State Theatre, the theater got off to a rollicking start with their production of Fifty Shades of Shakespeare.

While I can’t claim to have seen the movies that the title riffs on, I’m pretty sure Bare Backstage Productions offers a more light-hearted and laughter-filled two hours. Not that they shy away from anything sexy or kinky.

The four actors who perform the 19 characters open the show by introducing themselves by name and safe word. They turn to the audience and ask them to draw names to determine which actors will play which roles—which means all four actors have to be prepared every night to play any role. The opening night production kicked off with some gender bending scenes followed by girl-on-girl and guy-on-guy action. ... While the show is definitely geared to entertain those who are familiar with Shakespeare’s work, Bare Backstage Productions keeps each scene accessible so that it is entertaining even if you don’t know the play from which the scene is set. It’s a fun way to spend an evening—and to launch a new theater company.

Article: The Herald Palladium


'Fifty Shades' celebrates love, intimacy

Kalamazoo theater troupe brings Shakespeare's steamiest scenes to The Acorn

By JEREMY D. BONFIGLIO - Sight & Sound Editor | 0 comments



British author Erika Mitchell, better known by the pen name E. L. James, has found unlikely literary success with her trilogy of erotic romance novels: “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed.”

Combined, the novels have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide – more than 35 million copies in the United States alone – and set the record in the United Kingdom as the fastest selling paperback of all time. The first two books in the trilogy, which traces the deepening relationship between Anastasia Steele and young business magnate Christian Grey, have been adapted into feature films, with “Fifty Shades of Grey” released in 2015, and its sequel, “Fifty Shades Darker,” currently in movie theaters.


“It’s a real celebration of love and intimacy across the board,” says Laura Henderson, executive producer of Bare Backstage Productions, a new for-profit traveling theater company based in Kalamazoo. [Fifty Shades of Shakespeare] features 10 of Shakespeare’s most famous and sometimes steamiest love scenes performed by four actors. What is decidedly different about the play is that the audience chooses which actor plays what role each night in this bawdy show that blends classic characters with comedic improv.


“The thing I think that’s unique about this show is that we all have to know all the parts,” cast member Katherine Harte-DeCoux says. “The audience draws our names out of a hat at the beginning of each act and because of that, literally every show is going to be different, because the role that chance plays at casting the show each night.”


In addition to the scenes, the four actors will do a number of improv games in between scenes, including a “mad-lib sonnet,” where the audience will help pick out words that will then be placed and read in one of The Bard’s famous works.

“This is not Shakespeare to be afraid of,” Dodd says. “You don’t have to know all of these plays to follow what is happening. All you need to know is what we bring to the stage.”

Contact:, 932-0364, Twitter: @HPBonfiglio









Wednesday, 01 March 2017 9:00


ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE: Bare Backstage Productions can perform anywhere

Written by Jane Simons



Laura Henderson's theatre company tends to take the stage in spaces better known for beers, bar food and bands. 

It may be unusual, but it's a gamle worth taking for the Otsego native and founder of both Bare Backstage Productions and Queer Theatre Kalamazoo (QTK).



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