MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee is one of the only cities in the country to have its very own official court jester. Introducing, Jane the Phoole.
Ann-Elizabeth Shapera was given the title of 'Municipal Jester' on Sept. 21, 2004 by the city council. She has an official plaque to certify that role.
“I am no clown. I am a fool. There is a difference. A clown is very highly trained. I am just stupid," Shapera said.
To be clear, she hasn't acted in any official court capacity as a jester yet. She is still waiting for that opportunity. However, Shapera has acted as a representative to the city on various occasions as Jane the Phoole. She said people are always fascinated the city has an official Municipal Jester.
Shapera has a background in theater dating back to the 1990's and began performing as a professional fool in 1996. She has performed at Shakespeare festivals and Renaissance fairs for decades. Shapera even brought her talents to the International Festival of Fools in England. She competed against other world-renowned fools at the home of the original fool, Tom Fool, at the Muncaster Castle. Tom Fool is where the term 'Tom Foolery' comes from.
"(Being a fool is) the absolute best. It is the best to leave behind the 21st century and all of its woes, and have nothing in my head but the moment," Shapera said.
She was trained in more traditional theater methods, but once getting a taste of the interactive Renaissance fair, she was immediately hooked. Stand-up comedy or comedic theater just didn't suit her.
"Once you break that fourth wall and just walk with the audience and sit with (the) audience and laugh with the audience and just become a part of their lives, there is nothing like it."
Her skills as a fool have even made her into an author. She wrote a book for performers on how to master their craft. Plus, she wrote a corporate training book for team chemistry building. That landed her various keynote speaking roles.
But her days as a fool have been put on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her wife is immunocompromised. Shapera said she can't risk contacting COVID and potentially transferring it to her wife. So she hasn't performed as Jane the Phoole in more than two years.
"I'm hoping 2023 is the year that we knock it out of the park with some new vaccines that are more universal and durable, and maybe even adopt some mitigations that make people take a few weeks to just stop the spread so that we can really go back to normal."
So she came up with another way to keep performing. Shapera started a web show called Phoole and the Gang.
"It is a live interactive dance party. I am also a DJ."
She and her wife talk with their fans from around the world and play house music. Those shows happen every Friday night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
So until the pandemic ends or Shapera and her wife feel comfortable performing again, Jane the Phoole will likely be taking a break from making public appearances. But that doesn't take away from the fact that it's still very cool that Milwaukee has its own official court jester.