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Actress Lanise Shelley stars as Eurydice in The Milwaukee Repertory Theater's production.

Shelley hopes "Eurydice" sheds light on Haiti


For Lanise Antoine Shelley, a resident actor at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, this season's production of "Eurydice" is more than a show. Playing the show's lead role and namesake, Shelley hopes to use the spotlight to shed light and generate awareness for her home country of Haiti.

Born in St. Michele, Haiti, Shelley comes to Milwaukee after recently studying at the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, England. Originally beginning with the Rep in an acting internship, Shelley went on to perform in "The Night is a Child", "The Glass Menagerie," "King Lear" and "The Crucible." She has since joined the Rep's Resident Acting Company.

"The Rep has been fruitful, to say the least," says Shelley. "I'm constantly stimulated and challenged by the people I work with. The Midwest took some getting used to, but I've unraveled my acting strengths and weaknesses here and also discovered some of my most cherished friendships."

Shelley was adopted from an orphanage in Port Au Prince called the Foundation for the Children of Haiti. Both to give thanks and to gain understanding, Shelley returned to Haiti last summer to work with the children in the orphanage.

"My mother takes a group from the States each year, but once a year is not enough and there is so much to be done. I am helping my mother along with Gladys Silvestre-Thomas (founder and administrator of FHC) to give food, clothes, and education to the orphaned children of Haiti," Shelley explains.

"The people of Haiti just narrowly survived a monstrous hurricane. Many people are now displaced, hungry, lacking medical aid and basic needs."

Vehemently advocating on behalf of political, economic and social conditions in Haiti, Shelley hopes to combine her two passions and bring her past cultural experience to her present acting endeavor.

"Eurydice," written by Pulitzer Prize nominee Sarah Ruhl, retells the ancient Greek story of Orpheus descending into the underworld with a contemporary twist.

"Eurydice is young, vibrant and curious. She believes that she has found her 'soul mate' in Orpheus, but has an insatiable urge to explore and investigate the world around her. But Eurydice's curiosity creates a spiral of misfortune that leads to raining elevators and rivers of forgetfulness," Shelley says.

In the ancient Greek myth, Orpheus travels into the underworld to redeem his fallen wife, Eurydice. The gods sympathize and allow Orpheus and Eurydice to go back to the upper world with the condition that Orpheus walk in front and not look back until they are both in the upper world. In his hast, Orpheus turns around only to see Eurydice disappear forever.

"Eurydice" focuses on the tragic story of Orpheus' wife, Eurydice. Looking deeper at death, trust and fate, "Eurydice" re-envisions the eternal effect of the main character's balance of love and curiosity.

"The play is definitely an exploration of the senses," Shelley says. "There are a lot of colors, musty sounds, running water and we play with the idea of being touched through music, beyond time, space and even death. Expect the first row to get a little wet."

While Shelley's role in "Eurydice" follows the mythical proverb, the play is incredibly lyrical for a new age adaptation. Utilizing the flow and power of the original poetry, Shelley speaks to a modern-day audience in a language of timeless understanding.

"Even the format in which the play is written is unconventional and rhythmic," says Shelley. "And also I've loved the Greek myths since I was small so this was literally an exciting adventure."

Shelley also performs with locally owned and operated Jam Ak Jam. An Afro-Jazz, Contemporary dance company led by Patrice Nassalang, Jam Ak Jam supports and includes a multiracial/national group of dancers.

"The name Jam Ak Jam means "Peace and Peace" in Wolof which defines what Patrice and all of us dancers strive to accomplish through the expression of dance. The company educates youth, and broadens cultural awareness while spreading one message: peace," Shelley says. "The company consists of some of the fiercest dancers in Milwaukee."

"Eurydice" is currently on stage at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.


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