Shakespeare, sharks and showing the ocean who’s boss

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Though sharks and Shakespeare don’t often get paired together, Maplewood actress Sarah Eismann’s impressive feat of swimming around the island of Bermuda to raise awareness about nonprofit Shakespeare Behind Bars may have made that combination a little more popular. Shakespeare Behind Bars offers theatrical encounters with personal and social issues to incarcerated and post-incarcerated adults and juveniles, allowing them to develop life skills to ensure their successful reintegration into society.

Eismann is only the third person to accomplish this feat of fully circumnavigating Bermuda and the second woman; Sean O’Connell was the first to complete it in 1976, followed by Lori King in 2016. Eismann completed the 39.1 mile swim in 31 hours, 28 minutes and 7 seconds.

“I was specifically looking for something I could do on my birthday, June 21, and it was my 40th so I wanted to push the boundaries and challenge myself as far as I could,” Eismann said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “Since my birthday is so early in the season, I had to find somewhere with warm water and I was looking for something that nobody, or very few people, had done.”

Eismann said she looked for the most suitable location to attempt this goal, and the search ended with the island of Bermuda.

“I did a little research about circumnavigating and the weather was going to be perfect, and because Bermuda is surrounded by reef, I knew it would be beautiful and the people are very friendly and welcoming,” she said. “The distance was going to be a severe challenge but I knew it was something I could do with my training and everything just kind of fell into place.”

Along with doing intense training on both land and in water, Eismann also needed an escort boat in order to properly and safely navigate the waters for her swim. An escort boat is a requirement for swims longer than 10 kilometers.

“I had an escort boat that had my captain and co-captain, then I had five personal support crew, one observer who took notes on longitude and latitude, two people doing videography and photography, and two people throwing out food and water on ropes and then pulling them back in,” she said. “I don’t know where we are going when we do a swim. They are my extended family in that moment and my lifetime. I look to them for my security, and when you are out in the water for that long you look to them for your sanity as well. They were such troopers; the water was really choppy and they go very slowly because I swim slowly. I am so impressed with how they handled the chopping and swelling of the water and still doing everything they needed to do.”

The purpose behind Eismann’s feat is to raise both awareness and funds to continue sharing the works of William Shakespeare in correctional facilities through the nonprofit Shakespeare Behind Bars organization.

“My passion is Shakespeare’s works and I have been a Shakespearean actress since undergrad. I founded the all-female Manhattan Shakespeare Project and, through my connections in the theater world and with the theater company, I came across Shakespeare Behind Bars,” she said. “When I started the fundraising campaign a year ago I wanted to give to companies that use Shakespeare to do good, and I contacted Shakespeare Behind Bars’ head creative director and they were really excited and they have all been really supportive.”

Though her swim has been completed, Eismann plans to continue raising money through the end of July and is hopeful she will earn enough for an entire show to be produced.

“My goal is $10,000; I wanted to sponsor 20 people, and the cost of the program is about 500 dollars per person, which is roughly the size of a cast. I want to finance an entire Shakespeare play, and so far I have raised about a third of that amount,” she said. “I’m going to keep it open for another month. I would really love to go out to one of the prisons they work in and meet the people and see them in action, and I would love to be able to help them out sooner rather than later.”

For more information on Eismann and her fundraising swim, visit

Photos Courtesy of Amanda Short, Eric Rice, Owain Johnston-Barnes and Akil Simmons