Shakespeare’s comedies and romances are known for their magical elements and fantasy locations, and The Winter’s Tale is no exception. Livermore Shakespeare Festival is producing the play at Wente Vineyards Estate Winery and Tasting Room, July 12th through July 29th. Faced with the challenge of creating a world for “Bohemia” artistic director Lisa Tromovitch and costume designer Jennifer Barker-Gatze chose a meta-theatrical approach. Since Shakespeare’s Bohemia is not an accurate representation of the real Bohemia of the time, theater makers are afforded the opportunity to create a new world through costumes, movement, music and scenery.
Artistic Director Lisa Tromovitch states “Shakespeare’s Bohemia is a made-up place. He sets it on a seacoast, yet Bohemia at that time was land-locked. At Shakespeare’s time, Bohemia, a part of central Europe, included a people the French called ‘gypsies’ because they believed they came from Egypt, though scholars suspect their actual place of origin was India. They spoke a different language, and gypsy life appeared carefree and romantic, perfect for one of Shakespeare’s later romances.”
During the casting and design phase, Tromovitch met Avanthika Srinivasan, an MFA Candidate at American Conservatory Theater, who was auditioning for the role of Perdita, the Princess. “Her resume listed her training and her skills in traditional Indian music. Since we needed a ‘Dance of the Shepherds and Shepherdesses’ in the part of play that takes place in Bohemia, I asked her if she’d be willing to collaborate with us and choreograph the dance, as well as provide the music through singing. Avanthika expressed a keen desire to share her Indian culture, which then inspired the costume designer, Jennifer Barker, to lean our imaginary world toward Indian culture. The clothing, the saris and tunics are so beautiful, that imagining our Bohemia as adjacent to India, and sharing culture with India was a great opportunity to feature not only the song and dance, but the costuming as well,” adds Tromovitch.
Said Srinivasan, “When Lisa approached me about collaborating on the dance in The Winter’s Tale and suggested that we use India as an inspiration for the world of Bohemia, I eagerly agreed as I saw it as an opportunity to combine my passion for theater and love for Indian music and dance. I have been learning Indian Carnatic music for the past 20 years and have given concerts in Singapore, India, and the U.S. My mom is also an Indian classical dancer and runs a dance school where she teaches both Kathak and Bharatanatyam. “
Srinivasan continued “This particular dance is called Kolattam, and it originated in Southern India where people would dance at spring harvest festivals and celebrate love, prosperity, and nature. It is also important to add that in this show, Bohemia does not actually represent India, nor are the actors pretending to be Indian, therefore putting on accents etc. The world of Bohemia, along with the costume design, is influenced by Indian culture and is simply a celebration of its heritage, but in no way tries to imitate the actual place during that time period.“
Livermore Shakes costume designer, Jennifer Barker did research within the Indian community in Stockton and conferred with the proprietors of Indian wedding stores in order to design the look that would mirror what one would see at an Indian wedding. In the wedding scene, the character of Florizell (played by William Hoeschler) appears in an authentic wedding tunic and turban, an appropriate attire for the bridegroom, regardless of his ethnicity!
As is typical for Livermore Shakespeare Festival shows, The Winter’s Tale features a diverse cast. Tromovitch states “In the theater industry in recent years, the term “color blind casting” has been replaced by “diverse casting”. We are not asking anyone to pretend their character is an ethnicity different from their own. We are creating fictional worlds in the Shakespeare plays, and the worlds we are choosing to create are ethnically diverse. Some plays treat race specifically, and those plays are cast accordingly, but the new tradition in Shakespeare is to cast diversely, and allow ourselves to experience these integrated communities.”
The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. July 14th – July 29th, 7:30 PM.. Wente Vineyards Estate Winery & Tasting Room, 5565 Tesla Road, Livermore, CA 94550. Tickets: $25-$58. (925) 443-BARD or www.LivermoreShakes.org