Seton Hill University actors go extra mile in 'The Winter's Tale'
Theater professionals know that performing William Shakespeare takes a little extra effort to fully understand and effectively communicate the classic plays he wrote some 400 years ago.
Denise Pullen, associate professor of theater at Seton Hill University, is going the extra mile to help her students prepare for their production of Shakespeare's “The Winter's Tale,” which she is directing Feb. 23 to March 4 at Seton Hill Performing Arts Center in Greensburg.
Pullen has enlisted the services of a Seton Hill student, Elena Bravo, who has researched the language of the playwright to enhance the actors' performances and to help audiences follow and enjoy the show.
“My work as dramaturge has mainly involved helping the cast with scansion, which is determining the rhythm of the lines, looking up the history of the play, and looking up etiquette of the time,” says Bravo, a senior theater performance major from Plum.
“The Winter's Tale” comedy/romance is a story of kings and queens, jealousy and betrayal, and true love and forgiveness that spans 16 years.
The director says this Shakespearean play isn't produced as often as others.
“I think audiences will wonder why it isn't, as it is filled with fantasy, intrigue, punsters and pickpockets, and heartbreaking and heartwarming events,” she says.
Nicole Castelli of Canonsburg, a junior musical theater major, portrays Hermione, one of several strong female roles in the play. Hermione is the queen of Sicilia, who is wrongly accused of adultery by her husband, King Leontes.
“We only see a glimpse of what normal life is for her in the beginning, but by the end of the first act she has truly lost everything that matters to her. Even when she is at her lowest point, she remains strong and I really admire that about her,” Castelli says.
Robert Tramontina of South Park, a senior musical theater major, plays King Leontes, who suspects his wife of cheating on him with his friend and fellow King Polixines of Bohemia. His jealous fantasies lead him to publicly accuse the two of them of adultery, for which he takes Hermione to trial.
“The most challenging part of playing Leontes is his arc through the play. He descends further and further into his jealousy in the first three acts, and when the play returns to Sicilia in act five, he is significantly older and emotionally weathered,” Tramontina says. “It has also been a challenge understanding and interpreting the language of the play, and translating that into clear actions.”
“Students know that Shakespeare means extra work,” Pullen says. “The cast returned early from holiday break to do days of table work on the language of the play. I heard not one complaint about this – I never do.”
Some of the students are performing Shakespeare for the first time, “but all are giving their all,” she says. “A typical rehearsal and performance process eats upwards of 250 hours of students' time – and then they have to do their homework.”
Castelli says “The Winter's Tale” features both dramatic, tense scenes and comedic fun.
“The characters are so strongly written, I feel like they are relatable in some aspect to anyone,” she says. “People will take away from this production a better grasp on how time can heal and the power of forgiveness.”
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.