One of the rewards of following an ensemble theater over many years is the chance to see core company members extend their boundaries by taking on different roles, both in shows and in the organization. For example, when I saw Sheila Berotti welcoming audience members at her directorial debut with Mr. YooWho’s Holiday earlier this season, my mind drifted back to one of the first times I saw her perform in a Yugen work: she was the boy in our Noh-influenced adaption of The Old Man and the Sea, which was also the main-stage directorial debut of our current Artistic Director, Jubilith Moore. Another early appearance on our stage was in one of Sheila’s own theatrical creations, a comedy called Shandyland in which she played a sweet, funny ingénue. (I notice her professional bio says “she plays herself.” Well…yes.)
During subsequent seasons, I have seen Sheila as the lead in Candide, as Annie Sullivan in Erik Ehn’s Dark, Silent , as Polly Klaas in Erik Ehn’s Pretty, and as various characters in Yugen’s classic kyogen repertoire. She was Mosca in Volpone last fall, and in our Dogsbody production at Yerba Buena Gardens in 2009, she played several roles, including that of a female character with a sinister persona that I was amazed she could make convincing, given her small size and the youthful, light-hearted air she projects in comic roles and when one speaks with her in person.
In Cordelia, Sheila is the chorus. Her lyrics, which she mostly chants, are all drawn from the lines Lear speaks after famously entering “with Cordelia dead in his arms.” But it would be incorrect to deduce that she is playing the role of Lear. The chorus in a Noh play is not a distinct character but primarily conveys the thoughts of the shite. In this case, Sheila articulates Cordelia’s memory of her father in mourning—a memory that, as I explained in an earlier post, Cordelia can have because she is a ghost and has therefore witnessed her own death and its consequences.
When I asked Sheila what she most enjoys about “this kind of theater,” I was thinking of Noh and kyogen. I already knew that, in her education at Bard College, Sheila had been exposed to a variety of acting methods, as well as years of training in dance and movement. But her reply made it clear that she had interpreted my question to mean, “What is it that you like about working in this kind of ensemble theater?” She explained that she especially appreciates the opportunity to work, intensively and expansively, with an intelligent, tightly knit group of people and that a project like this one, for example, gave her the chance to reread Shakespeare’s King Lear, to interact directly not only with the other actors but also with playwright Erik Ehn and the musicians, and even to learn to play the shruti box, an Indian percussion instrument that provides the drones you will hear during the first act of the play. As far as “the form” is concerned, she appreciates the challenge of “acting believably in a stylized way” and cites as one of the benefits of sustained work as an ensemble that the group grows continuously better at collective storytelling.
In addition to her acting, Sheila is a Development Intern with the Theatre of Yugen and teaches yoga at a local studio called Pretzel’s Yoga & Pilates.