As summer 2021 is winding down, Brett Bernardini and Nebraska Shakespeare are winding up!
In this first week of August 2021, we are excited to welcome aboard Brett Bernardini as Nebraska Shakespeare’s new Executive Director! Brett comes to Nebraska Shakespeare with an extensive resume having served as the Executive Director of Vanguard Music and Performing Arts in Santa Clara, California, the Managing Director of The Cape Playhouse, the Executive and Artistic Director at Theatre Harrisburg, and many other executive and artistic roles.
As Brett begins his new journey at Nebraska Shakespeare, learn a little more about him and his vision in this interview!
What are some of your favorite hobbies? I am an avid and deep reader! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to read! Books are my kryptonite in this lifetime!! I often have seven or more books being read at the same time. Some of my favorite 2021 books have been; A Promised Land by Barack Obama, Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson; Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas; The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck; Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman and A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet
Omaha is known for its high ratio of food/restaurant options in relation to the Omaha/Metro population. What are your favorite foods? Having been raised in a family with deep Italian ties, I love real authentic Italian cuisine, my favorite!! I am a foodie and will try anything! I love Indian and Thai, Chinese and Mexican, Seafood and Vegetarian. Love a great steak and who could say "no" to an incredible low country Barbecue?! I love it all! I love the cultural stories that come with authentic cuisines. Food has a visceral way to connect us to time and place and cultures in a way that few other options can!
What drew you to the arts and specifically theatre? I have a vivid memory of being in kindergarten in Minnesota and our teacher took us to see the Minneapolis Symphony. Like it was yesterday and clear as any immediate memory, I remember the finale was The Stars and Stripes Forever and there was this huge flag and various patriotic scenes being projected on a massive screen. The moment captured me, awoke something in me and I knew I had found that which feeds my soul. In 7th grade, we went to see a Broadway show - Pippin with Ben Vereen - and was transformed the moment the curtain rose! Nothing but a wall of fog and then white gloved hands moving all over, at all heights and speed and then from it all, emerges Ben Vereen and, like the Symphony, I was enthralled, captivated, and forever changed in that instant. Again, something inside awoke. I became a high school teacher to share the power and transformative energy of music and theater with as many students as possible. I saw young lives, once lost and truly struggling, find purpose and meaning through theater. After 20 years, I wanted more people to experience that same energy that awoke something powerful within me, so I spent my teacher retirement and built my own theatre company that lasted for 17 years and earned international acclaim.
Do you have a favorite theatrical show (musical or play) that you have seen performed? And why? FAVORITE MUSICAL: West Side Story book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. This "modern" retelling of Romeo & Juliet has all the same lyricism of Shakespeare thanks to the rhythm structure created by composer Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The eternal message that love can bridge the gaps that tear us apart has always resonated with me. The very last moments of the show are some of the most haunting and emotionally raw moments ever put on stage; and no one says anything. Brilliance! FAVORITE PLAY: Our Country's Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker. This amazing play captures some of the history of Australia when it was just a penal colony for Great Britain. The power of the piece is the truth; prisoners who were treated as garbage - thrown away on this island and left for fend for themselves - convince their guards to put on a play. The guards' reluctance remains strong despite some of them joining in. In the end, it is the power of the play that restores all of their own personal worth, reminds them that they are not "cast aways", that while they have made mistakes, redemption is possible. This play is an eloquent reminder - historically true - that theater touches something within us that enlightens, ennobles and challenges us all. Such a powerful piece of theater.
If you had to choose your favorite Shakespearean play, what would it be? And why? I love, love, love The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare was revolutionary. He created works that are still relevant and meaningful today and did so by directing our focus to our weaknesses, failing and shortcomings. The Merchant of Venice is a profoundly difficult play to watch since it puts us all on trial for what we believe and how we often force those beliefs on others. It is a difficult piece of theater that challenges audiences to search their hearts for their own prejudices and intolerances. It is a play about revenge and greed. Shakespeare does not apologize for putting his audience on trial through Shylock. The Venetians represent that part of humanity where self-importance pushes its own doctrines and beliefs onto others without apology or remorse. Great theater should challenge us to see the "better angels" in us, to remind us that we can make better choices and to invite into the more difficult terrain of our heart and soul to bring light and challenge long held beliefs. I love theater that does not apologize. Great theater should provoke us and cause us to see ourselves through the characters. The Merchant of Venice does all that!
What has been one of your favorite memories or most memorable accomplishments so far during your career? It is such a long story, so I leave people to ask me if they want the full story. In short, I worked with an amazing team to create a production of the Broadway musical Oliver! for a deaf audience. We had both hearing and hearing-impaired actors. The entire production was done in speaking AND American Sign Language. It was a life-changing production with an astonishing team and cast. One night, after another sold out performance - sold out for 5 weeks! - a woman found me in the lobby, introduced me to her teenage daughter and told me they had seen the show three times. She said "My daughter was born deaf. Today is her 14th birthday and thanks to you and these actors, this is the first time in her life she has "heard" a musical. As a young girl she has always loved theater and dance but because she is deaf, she could never participate. These three nights here at your theater have changed her life! She wants to become an actress and most importantly, she has been smiling nonstop for days!!" She gave me a tearful hug and they were gone. When your universe reminds me of the weight of your creative work and when your heart is able to take it all in, there is a deep thud in the universe and you realize how small you are and yet, understand the incredible impact your own dreams can have on others. THIS is the most memorable accomplishment of my career...thus far!
What’s one thing you’ve learned during your career so far that you’d give to someone entering the field? Be brave! The arts world is not easy. Nothing about this career is easy. People see me give a curtain speech or a talk somewhere or stand up in front of a class or even at a party or event and they think this job is so easy. This job is profoundly difficult and you need to be brave. Budgets are often not met, the public doesn't like everything you do or say, you have to tell staff members "no" or worse, let them go, you never have all the answers yet everyone expects you to, you have no peer group to "bounce ideas off", and most daunting, working in the arts is not a 9-to-5 job so making time for yourself, your loved ones and make a life that is more than work takes huge amounts of effort. Be brave! Learn to listen but don't take things personally. Learn to ask for help when you don't know, it is not a sign of weakness but instead a reflection of your desire to add value to a project or organization. You will need to be brave because, contrary to all public perception, while you are surrounded by some of the most creative, engaging, and beautiful people you will ever know, at the end of the day, this career will eat you if you let it. Breathe. Be brave and know, you've got this!
What do you look forward to most in moving to and being a part of the Omaha community? I have always loved Omaha. Growing up in Minnesota we had a lake home in the Western part of the state. My summers were always a mashup of "Lake House" and "Summertime in Omaha". I love the people, the kindness, the creativity, and the understanding of "community". Omaha is a huge city that is truly a collection of beautiful people and small communities. I love that! I am looking forward to being part of a community and celebrating the people and their culture! THAT would make me so happy!
In the upcoming months as you get to know the local and regional community and they get to know you, what should the Omaha community expect when they meet you and your ideas?
I am a collaborator and listener. I understand that I sit in the Executive Director chair but know that while my chair is for one person, this chair gets incredibly, joyfully crowded and I embrace and seek out the thoughts, advice, and insights of others! In the words of Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, "no one makes it on their own." I believe that. My leadership is informed by a line of poetry by Sufi poet, Rumi. He writes "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I'll meet you there." I don't work from a position of blame. I believe that leadership is about HOW we live in this position. I am not here to judge or edit or blame or tell you your business. I am here, with an open heart and open ears to hear your thoughts and ideas and to collaborate with anyone and everyone who wants to partner with me in helping build a bold, relevant, and dynamic new future for Nebraska Shakespeare. Finally, I am absolutely approachable. I love conversation and ask lots and lots and lots of questions to help me understand you and your viewpoint. I take criticism and constructive feedback. I believe in mentors and deep, life-long learning. I will be the first to own my mistakes - and I will make many, as we all do! - and I will be the first to assign credit elsewhere. I am here to help guide Nebraska Shakespeare through its next growth phase, loving it as a parent would love a child yet always knowing "it takes a village to raise a child". As for my ideas - they will always be huge. I feel like we gave up dreaming and now we focus on day-to-day life. I am focused on 10-years from now. I have huge thoughts that are sometimes seen as unrealistic, yet, they are always achievable, I guess that depends on how much we want them. My ideas may seem "too big" or even "unconventional", but they are intentionally big so that we can become and grow and aspire. In doing so, we increase our impact and transform our communities, state and beyond. Huge ideas...always! Future-forward thinking, always. 10 years from now...that is where I begin!
What are some of your short term / long term goals for Nebraska Shakespeare? SHORT-TERM GOALS: meet and hear the Omaha Arts Community and the passionate creatives that make the community the vibrant world it is; meet with donors, sponsors, grantors, Board members and those who want to see Nebraska Shakespeare thrive and become a major tourist destination; have conversations with anyone who feels their voices have not been heard and want to share their thoughts, hopes and ideas for the future of Nebraska Shakespeare, support Tyrone and Lara in getting the fall tour up, running and successful; synthesize all the conversations into a broad, engaging 10-year vision for the future of this organization.
And lastly, what is your favorite Shakespearean quote? And why does it resonate with you? "Love all, trust a few, do no wrong to others" All's Well That Ends Well Act one, Scene one
As someone who has studied and practiced Buddhism for the past 21 years, I truly believe that the only path forward for humanity is love. As a society - and perhaps world - it feels as if we are more deeply divided than ever. Too much noise, too many people trying to be heard, everyone trying to talk over everyone else, name-calling and legacy hatred that is tearing at the very seams that bind us all together. Originally published in 1632, All’s Well That Ends Well still speaks to us today, with deeper truth and urgency; "Love all, trust a few, do no wrong to others" I believe that is how we - collectively - move forward. This quote says everything.
Nebraska Shakespeare is excited to begin this new chapter with you, Brett!
Welcome to the team!
For more information about Nebraska Shakespeare’s on Tour production of Romeo and Juliet, contact email@example.com.
ABOUT Brett Bernardini:
I am a transformational, charismatic-inspirational leader with an out-going, positive and enthusiastic personality who believes in living life with purpose, meaning and compassion. I bring my passion for life-long and deep learning to increase capacity, create measurable impact and to build a culture of discovery, inclusion, and bold strategic thinking. I am deeply passionate about building collaborative engagement experiences, creating space for artists to boldly dare and explore the outer edges of creativity, implementing programs that promote community development, participation, and investment, challenging the status quo and confronting complex, multi-dimensional challenges with bold-thinking, exceptional inquiry, and artful collaborations.