Author: Becca Vaclavik

Visions of Possibility: How Fantasy and Reality Mingle in ‘The Winter’s Tale’

Following major tragedies, there’s a Fred Rogers quote that often makes the rounds online. For those who aren’t familiar, when giving advice to parents on helping children process grief, he once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

It’s a hopeful observation for those who feel hopeless, a reminder that even in times of great sorrow, there is always light to counter the darkness. For every bad action, there is a community that will inevitably come together to repair and to heal and to tip the scales in favor of goodness once again.

So it is in “The Winter’s Tale,” one of Shakespeare’s later plays that, on its face, is about jealousy and its terrible aftermath. But to describe it as such doesn’t do justice to the nuance and beauty of the play, says CSF Managing Director Wendy Franz, who directs this summer’s production.

“The first half of the story is high stakes; some very heavy stuff happens. But the second half is a comedy where this snarled web of sadness all resolves in a simple but theatrically fantastic way.”

Which is only possible thanks to an ensemble of characters who go out of their way to do the right thing, even if (and when) doing so puts them in danger, notes Franz.

“This collective of helpers works together to tell the story and to protect the vulnerable and right the wrongs. It’s a really inspirational thing.”

This hard-won resolution, which takes nearly two decades to come to fruition in the world of the play, provides one of the thornier challenges of producing “The Winter’s Tale.” Audiences don’t have 16 years; they must welcome a happy ending for the characters after just a few hours. To do so, Franz is leaning into a mindset that would surely make the late Mister Rogers proud.

“I love the idea of a child’s power to imagine. As an adult with a lot of responsibilities, it’s something personally I am always seeking. It’s so easy to get caught up in a world of logistics and practicalities. But when we let our minds expand with the wonder of a child’s imagination, what’s possible? The way a child’s mind can process things through fantastical stories is really powerful.”

The production design, which pulls elements from fantasy, fairy tales, and even some of Franz’ own childhood memories, will work to help the audience on that journey of childlike wonder and delight.

“The key with so many popular fantasy stories is that characters face serious hardships, but they also experience beautiful friendships. And the things they endure together make them stronger because they’ve looked out for one another. I want audiences to feel that at various points during the show.”

Hopefully, the final effect is that audiences take away a lesson that would feel right at home with a certain cardigan-wearing neighborhood mentor: When we help one another along, no one is beyond the healing power of forgiveness. 

Even if that’s not how our world exists today, Franz invites us to imagine it’s what our world could still become.

“I’m always interested in making aspirational art, especially with everything we’ve endured over the last few years. As artists we need to offer visions of what could be if we made better decisions … visions of possibility.”

“The Winter’s Tale” opens June 25th in the newly renovated Roe Green Theatre (indoors).