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A new local theater company takes the stage, with its own twist on a classic.

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William Shakespeare portrait

The Bard (that’s William Shakespeare) is believed to have written at least 37 plays.

Tajha Chappellet-Lanier here, trying to recall my first experience with the plays of William Shakespeare. I’ve always been a theater lover; it was early. I remember slightly more detail about the first time I really understood Shakespeare. It was a Shakespeare Santa Cruz production of a comedy—Twelfth Night, perhaps. Except it wasn’t set in 1500s England as I expected but the modern day, with modern costuming and sets layered on top of the old text. Suddenly I was experiencing Shakespeare’s words in a whole new way—it was as though this play, written around 1601, was speaking directly to me, in 2005. My teenage, aspiring writer’s brain immediately understood timelessness to be an incredible superpower.

So it didn’t shock me at all to learn that a new theater company is preparing to perform some Shakespeare (an abridged version of Henry V, to be exact) in a bar in Monterey (Pearl Hour, to be precise) this evening. If there’s a playwright whose work will find a home wherever you take it, it’s Shakespeare.

For New Canon Theatre Company, this event is a debut. The nonprofit organization was founded in 2022 by Justine Stock (managing director) and Justin Gordon (artistic director). Stock, a lifelong actor whose roots are in Miami, has lived in Monterey County for the past 13 years; Gordon first came to work with Pacific Repertory Theater when he was in college, and now splits his time between here and travel for work. When the two met at the end of 2019, they realized they shared a vision of creating something. “We decided, you know what, let’s start a theater company,” Stock says. 

The two envision New Canon as an “edgier and more inclusive” theater focused on newer plays and newer playwrights, plus the “unboxing” of classics. They’re also interested in supporting diversity—of casting, of audience members, of plays and, more broadly, of the general Monterey Peninsula theater scene. “I think there’s a place for all kinds of theater on the Peninsula,” Gordon says. 

The Company doesn’t have a home base at the moment and instead imagines working from temporary locations—hence Pearl Hour. The one-night-only Henry V will feature a volunteer group of local actors and while Gordon is nominally the director, he says he’s followed a collaborative, “group theater” model. The $10 admission at the door will go to support Heart to Heart International and Save the Children in their work for Ukraine relief. 

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“It’s an experiment for us,” Gordon says. The experience, both what works and what doesn’t, will inform how New Canon moves forward. Stock and Gordon are planning a summer production (to be announced soon), plus theater education classes. Down the road, they hope to launch a Theater Lab to workshop new plays and offer feedback to new playwrights. 

But first it all starts with Shakespeare, in a bar. The show goes on at 6pm on Sunday, May 15—but seating is limited, so it’s best to get there early.

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