Stepping into her Spotlight: Clemese’s First Performance with Shakespeare in the Park

Stepping into her Spotlight: Clemese’s First Performance with Shakespeare in the Park


The auditions for this year’s Shakespeare in the Park performance of The Tempest caught Clemese by surprise. She had forgotten about the audition until it was time for her to walk into the audition room. Even though she was incredibly nervous, Clemese walked into the room with as much confidence as she could muster.  

The day that she got the call was exciting, and Clemese was proud of herself for having been cast in the ensemble of The Tempest.

"After a couple of weeks, they called me, and I was like, 'Oh my God, is this a dream? Let me pinch myself because it's got to be a dream.' Like, 'What? Me?'"

When Clemese first came to Fortune in 2015, she didn’t consider herself much of a performer. She was initially taking classes to get her GED when she attended a show featuring Fortune artists. After encouragement from her friend Roslyn, another Fortune participant and artist, Clemese started exploring her more creative side. She enjoyed writing poetry and began reading her poems at the Thursday Music Café.  

Clemese described poetry as coming easily to her. She can think of lines or verses off the top of her head. She often writes poetry about her experiences living as a Black woman, mother and her substance use history.  

“It turned into a portrait of my story, but it was poetry. And then I wound up getting a standing ovation.” 

Throughout her life, Clemese has sung and danced in the privacy of her home but never in front of a crowd. Her children encouraged her to sing, but she never considered doing anything more than “singing in the shower.”  

Clemese finds that the singing and dance moves come easily to her at rehearsals for The Tempest. She’s been determined to get all the steps right and likes to practice while taking the train or at home.  

The Tempest opens this Sunday, August 28, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The show will run until September 3.  

When the show comes together, Clemese becomes more excited every day. While learning the show, Clemese has seen how the lessons and themes of Shakespeare’s work translate still into today. She has seen how her own life parallels the events in the show.

"I'm glad that I was introduced to Fortune. I'm glad I was introduced to Public Works. And look at me now!"

In the future, Clemese hopes to keep writing and performing, especially about things related to her life and experiences. Right now, she is working on writing a book about her life, which she dreams may be turned into a play or movie one day.   

“Fortune showed me that life is good. You’re never too old to learn, and you’re never too old to grasp your dreams and believe in yourself. And you’re not alone. You’ll knock at that door, and they’ll welcome you with open arms. That’s what Fortune showed me.” 

Headshot credit to Jennifer Young

Group photo credit to Tam Shell

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