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Playing an Icon

By Sharyn Beal

Cleopatra.  Egypt, Mark Antony, snakes, wigs, elaborate costumes, glamour and pageantry and death…. it seems everyone knows something about Cleopatra. I was so excited to be cast in this amazing role, but at first did not realize the full weight of stepping into a role that has become rather iconic in our culture. Challenging? Yes.  Exciting and amazing? YES! 

My initial preparation for this show consisted of spending time with the script…lots of time with the script.  I wanted to truly put all preconceived ideas out of my mind and hear what Shakespeare wrote with a fresh perspective.  I wanted to get to know Cleopatra as a “person” and not simply as the cultural symbol she has become.  Fortunately, the words written by Shakespeare are so incredibly rich and precise and exquisite that finding nuances of her character has been a joy.  

So who is Cleopatra? She is a strong, intelligent woman, a formidable leader, a passionate lover, a playful girl, a manipulator, a proud queen, a fierce protector, a force with whom to be reckoned.  Sometimes, she is several of these things within the span of a very few minutes!  Her emotions and thoughts are vivid and varied, and playing with those has been a breathtaking challenge. Once again, the richness of Shakespeare’s text has given me both direction and freedom (O heavenly mingle!) to dive into the unique characteristics of this amazing woman.

Much of the development of any role comes from the interaction of the characters and actors in the rehearsal process.  To me, there are so many choices that become apparent only through that interaction. I have enjoyed working with this truly talented cast and seeing relationships develop within the world of the play.  I have loved experimenting and collaborating to bring to life a story, this story.  At heart, this is a love story about so many types of love.  We are so excited to tell the story of Antony and Cleopatra, and to share the love with you.

Jen Czechowski

Master of Market at Sweet Tea Shakespeare