Contributor: Sarah Bernstein
I won't deny that I am more than willing to get caught up in the insider trading of literary-historical trivia -- and that the back-stories of the plays of William Shakespeare DO make for engaging dialogue. But what I find even more interesting than understanding his plays in the personal, cultural and historical contexts in which they were first written is how fresh and pertinent their content is in today's context.
Like Shakespeare's London, Milwaukee is a port city, a city of immigrants, a city with deep class divides, and a city with a rich industrial, mercantile and artistic history. And, here in Milwaukee, in this year alone, the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, we are lucky to have many diverse points of entry into Shakespeare's work: Fly Steffens' collaboration with Pius XI High School on The Tempest /#LATEMPESTAD; a therapeutic program, dubbed the Feast of Crispian allows local veterans prompted by Shakespeare's words, to tell their stories; Off the Wall Theatre's sexagenarian Romeo and Juliet; and of course, Optimist Theatre's (always free) Shakespeare in the Park is presenting The Winter's Tale.
There is a "ripped from the headlines" quality permeating The Winter's Tale with its sex scandal in the highest level of government; political cover-ups and double identities; broken family; social inequality; and even its fatal wild animal attack. The plotlines possess currency and universality that resonate with the issues of our time as they did with those of Renaissance England. But it is the rhythm, rhyme and repetition of Shakespeare's poetry, ably assisted by the power and grace of the acting and production, which pulls us again and again into this "realm of relevance."
"Is this nothing?
Why then the world and all that's in't is nothing;
The covering sky is nothing; Bohemia nothing;
My wife is nothing; nor nothing have these nothings, if this be nothing."
(I, ii, 292-96)
Sarah Bernstein is a longtime Shakespeare in the Park supporter, President of the Wisconsin Chapter of the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement, and blogs about fundraising, research and whatever else strikes her.
What brought you to acting?
Both my Grandfather and Mother were actors. They got me into it and I just kept going.
What did 10-year-old Beth think she'd be when she grew up?
Probably a librarian, or a back-up dancer for Michael Jackson.
What is the greatest challenge of playing Hermione and Autolycus?
The amount of memorization. All that text is a daunting challenge. I've always had to work really hard to get lines to stick in my brain.
What do you hope that Shakespeare in the Park fans will take away from The Winter's Tale?
That life and how we respond to what is presented to us is all about choice. Whether we chose fear or love, anger or forgiveness, determines how our lives play out. Every moment we make choices based on how we PERCEIVE our circumstances, or how we PERCEIVE the words, worth or ideologies of the person in front of us. We have the choice and the power.
Who should play you in the feature film of your life?
What Shakespeare character to you most resemble?
Actually, I think Hermione. She loves her husband and being a mother above all else. She's not afraid to speak her mind or get a little cheeky, but remains true to her values and impeccable with her words. I relate to her, and strive to live this way.
What's your superpower?
Intuition. I like to think my instincts are pretty good. But if I could acquire one, I want to fly. I used to have a recurring dream as a kid about flying through the Streets of Old Milwaukee at the Public Museum!
Tragedy, comedy or history?
Comedy, definitely. Probably romantic comedy, at that -- I love a happy ending!
Truth or dare?
Truth. I allow myself to be vulnerable and try to be an open book. Plus, I'm kind of a chicken when it comes to daring behavior!
Any dessert. ANY. DESSERT.
More about Beth:
Beth Mulkerron will make her Optimist Theatre debut in this summer's The Winter's Tale. You may recognize her from her recent parts in A Christmas Carol or Ragtime with The Milwaukee Rep. She has sung in concert with Davis Gaines and The Milwaukee Symphony and performed across the country including Off-Broadway and locally at The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, The Fireside and Skylight Music Theatre. Television and voiceover credits include Miller, General Electric, the Wisconsin Lottery and NBC. Beth has also appeared in independent films and has enjoyed recording extensively for Hal Leonard.
Beth studied Musical Theatre at the University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music and received her BFA from Florida State University.
The names that Shakespeare chose for his characters in The Winter's Tale gave his audience and now ours, hints about the qualities they embodied.
In The Winter's Tale many of the characters were named after legendary Greek and Roman heroes. He added nuanced meanings perhaps best appreciated by audiences educated in classical Greek history and drama. We have provided some clues as to their meanings for those who may need a refresher in Greek studies!
Leontes suggests leonine/lion-like tendencies (think Leo!); he is 'the king' after all.
Hermione means pillar queen (she's so 'statuesque').
Polixenes has a dual meaning: guest or host.
Perdita means lost; this character also symbolizes spring and renewal during the play.
Paulina means small (but big in character).
Camillo means perfect (good to have in your corner).
Florizel means flower-like, which certainly suits the pastoral nature of the last part of the play in which he's a main character.
Mamillius means dependent on mother for life. As a form of Maximilian, it means greatest/great promise.
Cleomenes translates as praise, glory.
Antigonus literal meaning is 'one who is against birth; although Shakespeare's Antigonus tries to escape the horrific task set before him.
Autolycus translates to self/same (from auto) and wolf (from lycus). Autolycus implies a skill in trickery, which Shakespeare's character has in spades.