We go to Shakespeare in the Park. It is an abridged version of Twelfth Night. We go even though neither of us understands the dialogue very well but we love opening our camp chairs and sitting on the grass with a hundred other folks and seeing the great blue sky above and the giant park-old trees framing the plywood stage and the actors visible ‘backstage’ chatting waiting for their cues. At one point, we see a couple dancing, seemingly just for the joy of it.
As often happens, my attention drifts from the actors to the audience. In front of us is an older woman sitting in a walker that has a seat. She has long wispy hair in a side ponytail bolstered by a long braid. She is wearing a floppy hat with a narrow brim and has a small bottle of water tied to a long lanyard. Every few minutes she reaches over and rubs her husband back and this seems to make him happy. Sometimes, she slips him candies.
Next to us, a few people down, is a younger woman who is knitting. She studies the stitches like they are biopsy slides. I wonder how she can knit and listen to the dialogue because I am hard pressed to do just the latter but she is much younger and probably already knows the dialogue from the English class she took last semester.
The audience is very white despite the park being on the edge of Milwaukee’s black neighborhood. Segregation here is resolute even now so old timers like us know where the lines are though we enjoy crossing them. The park has many black patrons today – picnics and a large public water park draw families enough to fill the parking lot. But few venture over to Shakespeare in the Park even though the cast is wonderfully diverse. One black man walking by stops with his hands in his pockets watching a black woman deliver a long monologue on stage and I could feel his bemusement.
A young mom with two kids, a little girl of about six with wild curly hair and a younger boy with beautiful red hair, shelters all under an extra blanket when it begins to rain. And then, when the rain lets up just a bit, the little girl unfurls herself to lay on her belly to watch the show, followed by the boy, and then the mom. And from my vantage point, I watch all their perfect bare feet, especially the mom’s which remind me of my sister’s perfect feet which I remember watching as she slept in the room we shared growing up. Seeing this woman’s perfect feet makes me feel my age and miss my sister who returns my letters unopened.
The rain makes me cold so I wind my arms and legs in knots the way people do and then it is the end of the performance. We fold our camp chairs and put them back in their carrying bags and we walk back to our car, talking about the parts we didn’t understand.
Lovely piece but oh my goodness, you cannot even begin to fathom segregation in South Africa all these years after democracy kicked in, or was supposed to. Mr. Mandela was fond of calling us the rainbow nation, but we are defined by black and white and indian. XXX
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I wish I knew more about that. I guess once Nelson Mandela became president, I made the mistake of thinking all was fixed, though I know that was unrealistic. I need to learn more. Suggestions for a book to read?
Jan, enjoyed this piece very much.
“The audience is mostly white despite the venue being on the edge of Milwaukee’s Black Community”.
Jan, let me ask a probably stupid question. Why don’t more Black residents attend? Aren’t there Billy Shakespeare fans in the minority neighborhoods?
Is it a social thing? Do minorities not feel comfortable at the Bard performances?
Hang On. Just reread your piece. Looks like a social thing that should be resolved.
Maybe bring in Denzel Washington to show off his Shakespearian skills that Broadway has loved.
Samuel Jackson could be the festival host,
To sleep, perchance to dream.