The Villain Protagonist, in Richard III and Beyond

Richard III is one of the most classic examples of a fictional work that features a villain as its main character.  In this guest blog entry, Smith Street Stage assistant Jeremy Harris explains the impact Shakespeare’s writing has had on modern villain protagonists like those in “House of Cards” or “Breaking Bad,” and takes a look at how artistic ideas change and grow over time.

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Artist Q&A: Finding Drama in the Quiet Moments with Joe Jung and Jessi Blue Gormezano.

With performances just DAYS away for The Frankenstein Project, we took a few minutes to talk to the collaborators about their process.

Today we hear from Joe Jung and Jessi Blue Gormezano about their piece, “It Worked!”, which Jessi wrote and Joe is directing with actor Michael Irish.


Michael Irish* rehearses “It Worked!”, written by Jessi Blue Gormezano and directed by Joe Jung.

Smith Street Stage: What section of the Frankenstein story are you using as your jumping off point?

Jessi Gormezano: The moment after Dr. Frankenstein achieves success and brings life into his creature.

SSS: Do you have a favorite line or image from that section?

JG: I love the moment when the creature’s eye opens for the first time.

Joe Jung: One eye opens and the whole world changes.

SSS: What about that particular line/chapter/scene inspired you?

JG: In the film that moment is HUGE!


Jessi Blue Gormezano

Lighting and thunder and Dr. Frankenstein howling, “It’s alive!”  I was really surprised by how small and intimate the arrival of the creature’s animation is in the book.  In fact, I think that’s one of the moments that Beth Ann [Smith Street Stage Artistic Director, Beth Ann Hopkins] talked about when she first shared her idea for The Frankenstein Project. I guess it stuck with me!

JJ: Me too. The unexpected simplicity and fragility of Frankenstein’s mental state in this moment is extraordinarily human. Who hasn’t been filled with doubt at a moment of great achievement?


SSS: How did you approach the task of “re-imagining” or “adapting” a classic story like Frankenstein?

JG: Joe and I took that very small, yet pivotal moment of the Doctor witnessing life appear in the creature and imagined what might have been running through his head.  It was also really striking to us that once life emerges in the creature, the Doctor doesn’t celebrate – he immediately runs in a closet and hides! That completely unexpected response – directly following a possibly grotesque or beautiful moment – was fun for us to explore.

JJ: I’m fascinated by Frankenstein’s internal world at this moment, the moment when he realizes that for months he had all the answers.


Joe Jung

He knew how to give life, it was just a matter of time and effort. He struggles putting the body together but knows exactly what to do to succeed. Then the creature awakens and Frankenstein is flooded with self-doubt and questions. What does that do to a scientist? Where does his mind go?

SSS: What interests you most in creating new work?

JG: What you set out to write may end up being dramatically different then what you end up creating – I love that.

JJ: The notion that we as artists, along with the audience, get to experience this journey for the very first time.


Jessi Gormezano is a writer, producer, and casting director. She is the writer of an original commissioned work called Remarkably Normal, and has been the producer of OUR BAR since 2009, a monthly site-specific show created with Project: Theater. As a casting director she has worked recently with The Gallery Players and The Pearl Theater. She is the Associate Artistic Director of Project:Theater.

Joe Jung is an actor, director, and musician. He performed in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (The Public Theater/Broadway) and Unity:1918 (Gene Frankel Theatre). He has performed his music at Joe’s Pub among other venues. Joe is the Artistic Director of Project:Theater, where he directed Ken Ferrigni’s Mangella in 2011 and OCCUPATION in 2013.

Get your tickets to see “It Worked!” by Jessi Gormezano, directed by Joe Jung and featuring Michael Irish* as part of The Frankenstein Project by clicking here.

*Appearing courtesy of AEA

An Artist Q&A: Re-Discovering Mary Shelley’s Text with Noel MacDuffie

With less than a week left until performances of The Frankenstein Project, we took a few minutes of our artists’ time to ask them about their creative process!

Today we hear from Noel MacDuffie, a director and choreographer whose piece “Monster and Maker” will feature performers Courtney Salvage and Alexandra Slater in an exploration of text and movement.


Smith Street Stage: What section of the Frankenstein story are you using as your jumping off point? Do you have a favorite line or image from that section that started inspiring your work?

Noel MacDuffie: I am very interested in the monster’s story of how he tried many times to show the world his good intentions but is brutally rejected based on how he looks.  Mary Shelly was inspired by her father’s idea that humans teach each other to be good.  But her life leading up to writing Frankenstein had been hard, and she postulated that we humans also teach each other to be bad. This idea is illustrated in the monster’s experience.

6376-to-emailAs I had never read the book before, I was struck by how articulate the monster was and the poignancy of his story. I realized I had to explore this.  I am actually starting with the scene when Frankenstein and his monster first speak and then progressing into the monster’s story.

One somewhat unlikely image stood to me from this scene.  Frankenstein notes that his creation moves with incredible ease and possesses great strength.  How unlike the movie versions of a awkward, clumping monster.  I explore that ease and that strength in my section.

SSS: How did you approach the task of “reimagining” or “adapting” a classic story like Frankenstein?

NM: I started with the actual text – because while the language is heightened it is quite beautiful.  I am not a writer, but I am a good editor, and I worked hard to get down to essential material.

Once that was accomplished, I wanted to be sure that the text was really heard.  I felt that tilting the playing field was essential to help people experience the work without comparing it to what they already know (the films). So I messed with casting, I delved deep into movement, and I presented some material more then once.  The goal was always to allow this lesser known part of the story to be experienced.

SSS: What interests you most in creating new work?

NM: I am driven to understand and explore human relationships.  I want to know why and how we try to become better people, and why and how the definition of better can be so different for each of us.

I am interested in the balance between heart and head, emotion and intellect. I want theater to make me feel something, but also I want it to make me think.


Noel MacDuffie is a director and choreographer. He has choreographed and directed 3 full-length theatrical dance works (The Snow Queen – with aerialist Angela Jones, Soul Descending, and 3 am,  89°, no wind) as well as over 30 shorter works.  He danced professionally with the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company and Nancy Hauser Dance Company among others.

Get your tickets to The Frankenstein Project here to see Noel’s work!




An Artist Q &A: Bringing Frankenstein’s Monster Into Today’s Political World with Joby Earle & Charise Castro Smith

With only a week left until performances of The Frankenstein Project, we took a few minutes of our artists’ time to ask them about their creative process!
Today we hear from Joby Earle and Charise Castro Smith about their piece “The Girl Waiting for the Train” and how their piece was inspired by Chapters XIII—XV in the novel Frankenstein, several scenes in which the monster learns language and attempts to make contact with fellow humans, only to be rejected because of his monstrous appearance.
Enjoy reading about the thoughtful and very modern re-interpretation written and directed by Joby and performed by Charise, and don’t forget to get tickets to The Frankenstein Project by clicking here!
Smith Street Stage: What section of the Frankenstein story are you using as your jumping off point? Do you have a favorite line or image from that section?


Joby Earle and Charise Castro Smith:


Joby Earle

We are responding to the section of the story where the creature tells the story of how he learned how to speak. We found it interesting how it seemed the creature was inherently good to begin with and learned hate, rejection, and bitterness from people. An image that has stuck with us is the moment when the blind man’s family comes back in during the creature’s conversation with him and, after taking one look at him, scream and try to attack him. It’s heartbreaking.

SSS: What about that particular line/chapter/scene inspired you?

JE & CCS: I don’t think we take enough time to consider how we learn things like language, communication, bias, and difference. We grow up like sponges and it isn’t until later that we can consider where these things came from and how they were created. The creature is different. He is in a position to be able to learn the building blocks of interaction, while also having an awareness of their larger ramifications and lessons. On top of that, right after he learns them, he is rejected by his teachers.


SSS: How did you approach the task of “re-imagining” or “adapting” a classic story like Frankenstein?


JE & CCS: In creating our piece, we focused on the situations that are happening in our world today that feel akin to themes in the book.


Charise Castro Smith

As the book progressed, I found myself thinking about the migrant crisis our world is facing (or not facing). By many metrics, it can be said that actions our country took over the last 20 years led to the creation of this problem, and now it seems like we can’t face it, in many respects don’t even want to admit that it is happening, especially in the size and scope in which it continues. We are spurning something we had a hand in creating. So we took that idea and began to imagine a woman waiting at a train station being shipped off somewhere out of sight.


SSS: What interests you most in creating new work?

JE & CCS: Creating new work forces you to look at what’s come before, what’s going on right now, and respond to it. It makes you figure out what your stance is, and then try to articulate that into what you hope to be an engaging piece of theater.


Joby Earle is an actor whose work has been seen on Broadway in War Horse, as well as in Familiar (Playwright’s Horizons), The Tempest (ART/South Coast Rep), and multiple productions at Yale Repertory Theater. He is also a member of the Artistic Board of Smith Street Stage.

Charise Castro Smith is a playwright, television writer and actor. As an actress she appeared in Antony and Cleopatra (RSC/The Public Theater) and on The Good Wife (CBS). Her plays have appeared at the Goodman Theater, Soho Rep, Ars Nova, The Actor’s Theater of Louisville, and Trinity Rep among others.


Power, Freedom, and Community: Thoughts on The Tempest from Marketing Assistant Andrew L. Ricci

SSS Tempest - 3185

Several productions of The Tempest are set to open this summer, including our own production in Carroll Park. So what makes this Shakespeare play so relevant to 2016 audiences? The play deals with countless themes, but I want to focus on the relationship between power and freedom. Too frequently in this play, characters feel a sense of powerlessness towards things they cannot explain. As the audience though, we realize that all of these seemingly-inexplicable events stem from the hidden workings of Prospero’s magic.

If art reflects the current socio-political climate, then The Tempest is a perfect fit for what our community is dealing with. We have faced senseless acts of tragedy in recent times, and our power as individuals in times of crisis seems both fleeting and polarizing; there is no tangible middle ground. Thus we turn to art, to our community in order to set a precedent. We start small and hope that our changes will one day be reflected on a larger scale.

The current influx of gender-bent Shakespeare productions has been received with acceptance and encouragement. Not a week ago I found myself in line at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park and began talking to a couple in front of me about Smith Street Stage’s production of The Tempest. I told the couple that our Prospero is played by the incredibly talented Kate Ross as a strong-willed, powerful woman. We began talking about how appropriate it is to have Prospero be played by a woman, particularly if we take Prospero as a physical extension of mother nature. A female Prospero serves to acknowledge that women have just as much power as men. When she affirms her identity as the most powerful figure in the play, within the hermetic environment of the island, she uses her power to reprimand those who have done her wrong. However, like anyone with power, her individual ambitions push aside those of the community. Thus when Prospero relinquishes power over the island-dwellers, she allows change to occur by allowing many voices to be heard, by giving others power, and by choosing selflessness amidst a series of reaffirmations of selfhood.

I spoke with our director, Beth Ann Hopkins, about her choice to cast Prospero as a woman, and the challenges inherent to cross-gender casting.  “You never really know what kind of challenges changing gender will do until you are in the weeds with the words and actors cast,” she explained. “Once you are there and the crew is assembled, it’s more a question of, ‘What do we change the word ‘Sir’ to? Is ‘Mom’ or ‘Mother’ too intimate? Can we still call her ‘Lord’ or ‘King’? In our production, I very much wanted to create a world where gender doesn’t affect rank.  A woman servant can be a butler, and also strive to be a King.  Prospero can be a Duke, even though she’s a woman. New world rules, old world costumes. Once we established how to play the game of this new world, things started to fall into place and really empower the women we cast, which can only be topped by watching other females, especially the younger generation, watch our Tempest. I’m trying to create a new narrative for women in these classic stories, one where women aren’t always the victim, or the lover. Sometimes we get drunk, sometimes we get greedy with power and try to kill our brother, and sometimes, we have magic and can bend the entire storyline to our will.”

We are not the only company this summer who have explored the possibilities engendered in the cross-gender casting of The Tempest.  Recently, a production of The Tempest ran in Central Park, which gained notoriety for its all-female cast and heavy use of nudity. In conversation with directors Alice Mottola and Pitr Strait, I asked why The Tempest is an appropriate choice for modern audiences.

“The spine we chose for our production was ‘to gain the freedom to be myself,’ and we were amazed to discover that this became the journey not only of the characters, but some of our actors as well.” Mottola said.

This “spine” is something that countless communities are struggling to fully realize or feel safe doing.  My hope is that when people see these productions of The Tempest, a play that deals with the relationship between power and freedom, between the individual and community, they leave inspired, ready to be that person they so desire, all the while not putting their self-interest above that of the community.

By Andrew L. Ricci

Acknowledgements to Beth Ann Hopkins, Alice Mottola, Pitr Strait and Dylan Arredondo for thought-provoking conversations.


Theatre and Humanity: A note from Executive Director Jonathan Hopkins

SSS Henry IV - Part 2 - 9686It seems every generation faces a version of the same story: a conflict in which the marginalized are emboldened to address injustice and, to put it simply, have their humanity acknowledged. This movement provokes an inevitable backlash as people rush to defend the status quo, often with vigor and even vitriol. In all its social and political complexities, the struggle to me centers on a fundamental question: who deserves our regard and sympathy?

Against the temptations of selfishness and apathy, we are forced to examine how to bestow greater respect for the humanity of others, and how to contribute meaningfully to that progress. I believe, firmly, in the power of theater to help, and I believe it happens in several ways.

Actors are trained to approach characters without judgment, to explore them with sensitivity and sympathy. The very act of making theater begins by bridging differences with curiosity and openness. In building a play, the actor constantly reinforces that those who may be different, even vastly different, are nevertheless relatable and deserving of our care.

If the artists are earnest and diligent in their work, the production will present a world with complexity and nuance in which easy answers are scarce. Characters are confronted with impossible choices and pushed beyond their ken. As we, the audience, witness the story, we imagine how we ourselves might act in the face of such circumstances. In doing so, our empathy stretches, our sense of the possible heightens, and our capacity for compassion strengthens. The distance narrows between us and the other.

Lastly, theater is inescapably communal. We watch, aware that as we sit among a diverse group of strangers with manifold differences, we share an experience. The theater literally brings people together. More so, it confronts us with the riddles of human struggle. Our answers, with our sympathies, may differ, but we are nevertheless aware that we have all been posed the same questions. The very relevance of those questions to us all testifies to our inherent companionship in the shared human experience and, I believe, a recognition in the humanity and value of everyone.

It is in this spirit that Smith Street Stage endeavors to create the best quality and most impactful art we are capable of.

Jonathan Hopkins
Executive Director – Smith Street Stage

“Theatrical Cross Fit” – An interview with cast member Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy

Shaun B Fauntleroy Headshot

With rehearsals underway for The Tempest, our marketing director sat down with each of our cast members and asked them to share a little about themselves, their history, and what they love about performing Shakespeare. We are thrilled to bring their stories to you.

Our next interview is with Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy, making her Smith Street Stage debut in the role of Sebastian.

How did you get into theatre, and acting in particular?
My mother worked nights and I was an only child so I’d often have hours alone to entertain myself. One night when I was around six or seven years old, I was pretending to be a peasant girl who had caught the eye of a wicked king. I refused to marry him because I was in love with a peasant boy, so the king had me imprisoned. The “prison cell” was the dryer and I crawled into, then would distract the guards somehow and crawl out. I rehearsed it over and over and one time the guard was a bit too enthusiastic and I found myself accidentally locked in the dryer for about three hours. I eventually managed to break out and went humbly to bed, but an actor had been born. I entered regional drama competitions in school (I won in comedy) and later transferred to our town’s performing arts high school. After graduation I moved to New York to study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and the rest is, as they say, history.
Most of your acting history has been in contemporary theatre.  Are you excited to be changing things up with a switch to classical theatre? Is there anything that appeals to you about Shakespeare in particular?
I’m thrilled to be making a switch to classical theatre and am honored to be in this production! I haven’t done Shakespeare in a long while, so this is exactly where I want to be. What I love most about his words are that they go straight to your heart, and if you say them as they’re written they carry you along on this beautiful, emotional journey. I’m also grateful for the tremendous focus and stamina that this type of work requires. It’s a bit like theatrical Cross Fit.
This is your first show with Smith Street Stage. How did you get involved with the company and this production?  Is this your first experience doing theatre outside, and what do you think the challenges or advantages of performing in an outdoor venue will be?
Several years ago, director Beth Ann Hopkins and I were cast as a couple of biker chicks who were trying to make sense of love. We’ve kept in touch over the years and when she invited me to audition for The Tempest I jumped at the chance. I’m so glad I did because she’s a dream to work with. She’s so sharp, endlessly prepared, and has such great respect for actors and the work of bringing a play to life. As far as working outdoors, about five or six years ago I was in Shakespeare in the Parking Lot’s production of Measure for Measure where we performed in a parking lot in the Lower East Side. What I love about doing Shakespeare outdoors is the close proximity of the audience. They’re right there with you and you’re able to go up to them or interact with them. I love that. It really feels like we’re all in it together.
How are you approaching the role of Sebastian in this production of The Tempest? Are you approaching the role at all differently because the character is traditionally male?
It’s interesting…we’re presenting Sebastian as female, though very much of her persona is male. She’s a bit like Yara/Asha Greyjoy [from “Game of Thrones”] in that respect. Our Sebastian is allowed to ignore traditional gender roles (perhaps my father wanted a boy) and I’ve approached her with that in mind. Also, any time I get to handle a sword is gravy on gravy.
Are there any other non-traditional roles, Shakespearean or otherwise, that you would like to play?
Hotspur. Definitely. I’d also love to get my hands on Richard III.
Are there any actors, directors, or other artists who have been a particular influence on you or whose work you admire?
12 years ago I saw Ritchie Coster in Gary Mitchell’s play Trust at Theatre Row, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him for the entire play. It was like watching a live, wild animal on stage. I stole things from his performance that I still use when I play someone that inspires fear or respect in others. Kevin T. Carroll in Seven Guitars taught me that sometimes a person/character is at their strongest when they’re simply letting their heart be seen and embracing the pain and uncertainty of love. Good Lord that was beautiful. Mark Rylance in Jerusalem (I saw it three times) demonstrated how an artist’s specificity and open humanity can steal an audience’s breath away. Each time I saw it, it was the same man on a very different day, and I can’t imagine what it must have been like to work with him in that show (#envious). Kathleen Chalfant in Red Dog Howls (I saw that twice) demonstrated fearlessness and truth in ways that still stop my heart when I think of it. She’s such an incredibly confident actor — she just shows up and does the work. There are many more, but these four people have all illuminated the craft in ways that changed me profoundly as a person and have raised my bar as an artist. Still trying to reach it.

“There’s Nothing Quite Like Outdoor Shakespeare” – An interview with cast member Joe Jung

JJ Headshot 2015 pdfWith rehearsals underway for The Tempest, our marketing director sat down with each of our cast members and asked them to share a little about themselves, their history, and what they love about performing Shakespeare. We are thrilled to bring their stories to you.

Our next interview is with Joe Jung making his Smith Street Stage debut in the role of Antonio.


How did you get into theatre, and acting in particular?

When I was in grade school, I saw my sister in her high school production of Dracula.  I was fascinated by the guy who played Renfield, how he screamed and writhed and lived so completely in this crazy world of his own.  That was an inspiring moment.  I was a shy kid – I loved fantasy movies like Ladyhawke and Enemy Mine – and my brother and I would recite whole movies on car rides – Biloxi Blues was one of our favorites.  Then in high school I started acting in the school plays.  I attended two sessions of Western Michigan University’s summer theater camp and fell in love with the training process, especially the physical aspects of character and energy building.  The constant process of honing the craft, the process of performing, is exhilarating and continuously fascinating to me.

Most of your acting history has been in contemporary theatre.  Are you excited to be changing things up with a switch to classical theatre? Is there anything that appeals to you about Shakespeare in particular?

Actually, a lot of my training was in classical theater.  I spent two years with a company deconstructing Macbeth, finally putting on an environmental production of it in an abandoned bowling alley.  The next summer, I played Mackers in an outdoor production.  I did quite a bit of Shakespeare and attending grad school at the University of Connecticut where the emphasis was on Suzuki Actor Training which tends to be rooted in classical text.  Professionally, I’ve been working a bit more in folk/rock musicals and contemporary shows, but I definitely use my training with classical texts as the root for whatever I happen to be working on.  I’m excited about getting back to my roots.  I love the energy that goes into performing Shakespeare, especially The Tempest, which may be my favorite show of the Bard.  I dig the magical, fantastical world – the power of nature, the quest for redemption and the interconnectedness of life – it’s Shakespeare at his best.

This is your first show with Smith Street Stage. How did you get involved with the company and this production?  Is this your first experience doing theatre outside, and what do you think the challenges or advantages of performing in an outdoor venue will be?

I’ve known [Artistic Director] Beth Ann Hopkins for a decade.  We’ve trained together and speak the same language when it comes to theater.  She and Jonathan [Hopkins, Executive Director] have both acted in shows with my company, Project: Theater and I’m thrilled to finally have the opportunity to act with their company in Carroll Park. I auditioned like everyone else, though not for the part I ended up getting. Antonio was a lovely surprise.  I have done outdoor Shakespeare – there’s nothing quite like it.  Acting outside demands deeper level of focus, vocal power, physical energy, and audience awareness.  You’ve got birds, and kids, and ice cream trucks, and sirens and there is no hiding.  You’re in the park and you get to play.

How are you approaching the role of Antonio?

I start with the text.  What does he say?  What does he do?  What I’m discovering in rehearsal is how alone Antonio is.  He admits that he has no conscience.  He does not personally connect with anyone.  Where his brother finds communion with nature and other people, Antonio withdraws into his own socially unacceptable thoughts and plots.  He’s nearly silent for the last two acts of the play.  While everyone else atones, Antonio is silent.  That’s odd for a Shakespearean character, but silence can say a lot about a person.

Smith Street Stage does a lot of non-traditional casting.  What non-traditional role, Shakespearean or otherwise, would you like to play?

Cleopatra, Constance in King John, Cassandra in The Trojan Women, Sonya in Uncle Vanya.  I always wanted to play Romeo, but I’m too old and not nearly good looking enough.

Are there any actors, directors, or other artists who have been a particular influence on you or whose work you admire?

Cate Blanchett is my hero, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Waits, Shel Silverstein. Though the more I act, the more I am inspired by the people I’ve had the pleasure of working with:  Chris Sullivan, Carmen Cusack, KJ Sanchez, Alex Timbers, my wife Jessi Blue, Beth Ann and Jonathan, artists who have spent a long time building their craft, challenging themselves, constantly improving, testing their creativity, helping others get a foot in the door, and staying in the game no matter how challenging it gets.  The theater community is a truly inspiring place.

From Troubled Young Men to Romantic Heroes: An interview with cast member John Hardin

John Hardin Headshot

With rehearsals underway for The Tempest, our marketing director sat down with each of our cast members and asked them to share a little about themselves, their history, and what they love about performing Shakespeare. We are thrilled to bring their stories to you.

Our next interview is with John Hardin, making his Smith Street Stage debut in the role of Ferdinand.

How did you get into theatre, and acting in particular? 

The thing I most remember is being in middle school, and my mother was trying to get me into the idea of going to a private high school a couple of miles away instead of public school. So she took me to see West Side Story at this high school. And it was really good. I mean, it helps that I had never seen the show before, and there’s nothing like your first time seeing a really good show. I was just completely floored by these high school kids doing this musical. I remember that as being one of the times I was first really excited about the idea of being in a show.

And I kind of took off from there. In high school, I got really excited about doing Shakespeare. I saw the movie Dead Poets Society and in that, Robert Sean Leonard’s character is playing Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and so that got me really excited. And then of course my high school did A Midsummer Night’s Dream my freshman year… and I didn’t get cast. So it became this challenge for me, seeing if I could get in. I basically worked my way up, until junior year I got cast in the play. And it just kind of went from there. I wasn’t even going to apply to acting school, but I had a teacher tell me that I should. The whole thing just kind of fell together that way, pretty late.

 You’ve worked on a mix of Shakespeare and contemporary theatre. Is there anything in particular you like about working on Shakespeare? 

The language is always what brings me back. There’s something about the clarity of expression and the beautiful ideas, and saying them in a beautiful way. I’ve always been a good student, and I think the vocabulary, and moments of “Oh, I know what that means!” and the ability to be very knowledgeable always appealed to me about classical work. It’s like a puzzle to figure out, more than contemporary stuff. I like doing contemporary stuff too, but Shakespeare’s always going to be my first love. And then, you know, playing with swords. Who doesn’t like swashbuckling?

This is your first show with Smith Street Stage. How did you get involved with the company and this production?

I was a little bit aware of them because I went to Stella Adler Studio of Acting, and so there are a number of people that I knew through Adler that had worked with them before. Kate Eastman [who is playing Stephano] is a really good friend of mine, and I knew that she was really enthusiastic about working with them. I’m really excited to work with her – although we’re not really sharing any stage time at all in the show. So that was always an endorsement of Smith Street Stage, that there were people I really respected that were involved.Pete McElligott and Joby Earle were two other people who were ahead of me, actors whose work I really respected who were working with the company. So I knew this was a company with chops and credibility. And I just kept auditioning for them, and frankly I think it’s no coincidence that I got cast this year because my work has really taken a nice step forward lately. So it felt like kind of an endorsement, that people I’ve auditioned for several times, that I finally sort of attracted their attention.

How are you approaching the role of Ferdinand in this production of The Tempest? 

I play a lot of villains and a lot of troubled young men, like Hotspur and Hamlet and even Caliban. So this is quite a significant departure for me. I think the biggest thing I’m trying to work on is not trying to get too bland and earnest. It’s really easy with high romantic language and all these big feelings, especially when you’re used to playing more complicated, troubled characters, to start going to this place of, “oh, he’s different, he’s simple, he means everything he says in this really earnest way.” And that just ends up being so boring. So I’m trying to remind myself that Ferdinand is a human being like anyone else, that he’s a goofball, he makes mistakes. He doesn’t have to be this romantic ideal. Because that’s not me. So, just trying to make sure that I stay true to my own sensibility and myself in the role, while still getting at some genuine romantic feeling and hopefully making something really exciting happen on stage with Raquel [Chavez, who plays Miranda].

Smith Street Stage does a lot of non-traditional casting. What non-traditional role, Shakespearean or otherwise, would you like to play?

I’ve actually played Queen Isabel, the queen in Richard II. Which was a really interesting challenge. It was not a role that you could do by doing the traditional man-in-drag joke. I had to do something much closer to an original practice idea, and try and get at the real truth of a man playing a woman. So that was a really fun challenge and I really enjoyed it. I would love to do more of that kind of work, particularly with strong female roles, like Elizabeth in Richard III, for example, or even something like Rosalind in As You Like It. If I were going to take that on again, I would want a little more support in terms of- the men that played women in Shakespeare’s time had a lot of makeup and wigs, but the company I played Isabel for didn’t have any of that stuff. And I think if I were going to try and play a woman again, I would like a little more help to create some kind of illusion, rather than feeling like I’m a man standing up there trying to convince everybody that I’m a woman.

Are there any actors, directors, or other artists who have been a particular influence on you or whose work you admire?

I’m a huge fan of Ian McKellen. I think that Ian McKellen is one of the most incredible Shakespeare actors. I saw him and Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot – I saw it twice. It was just so good, so clear, such a powerful instrument. And still playful. It was just wonderful. And as far as American actors, I’m a big fan of Kevin Kline and Kevin Spacey. All the Kevins! Kevin Bacon, even. These guys have worked in a lot of film, but are definitely able to pull out the classical material when the time comes. And even moreso Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, because they’re even closer to what I aspire to; they’re actually classical actors at their heart and they’ve been lucky enough to end up doing film.

Playing the Castaway Servant: An interview with Cast Member Kate Eastman

Kate Eastman Headshot

With rehearsals underway for The Tempest, our marketing director sat down with each of our cast members and asked them to share a little about themselves, their history, and what they love about performing Shakespeare. We are thrilled to bring their stories to you.

Our next interview is with Kate Eastman, returning to Smith Street Stage to play Stephano in The Tempest.

How did you get into theatre, and acting in particular?

I think I got into it because I liked the attention and stayed in it because in order to act well you really have to make peace with yourself. It has helped and continues to help me accept myself for who I am.

You’ve done a lot of Shakespeare. What is it about classical theatre, and Shakespeare in particular, that attracts you as an artist?

I like how big the stories are in Shakespeare. Everything is life or death. And no cell phones.

You last worked with Smith Street Stage in 2012, playing Olivia in Twelfth Night.  What was that experience like?

It was a difficult year, and a difficult moment in that year. I got fired from my restaurant job when we were in tech, and I remember how kind everyone was about that and in general. I met one of my closest friends. I had a fat crush on one of the other actors, and we would drink beers and eat hot dogs at Gowanus Yacht Club after the shows and I would just stare at him and laugh really loudly at his jokes. There was a pair of little girls – sisters – who lived in Carroll Gardens, and they saw the show FIVE times. After every show they would tell me which part they liked best, and it was always different.

That year wound up being transformative in its difficulty – I broke up with my first serious boyfriend and applied to Juilliard and basically got the ball rolling on the rest of my life. Before I got cast in Twelfth Night I was thinking about quitting. But then I got to play Olivia, and I got to play her using all the things I felt – frustrated, bratty, impatient, headstrong. I got permission to keep going thanks to these lovely, passionate people. I’ll be grateful for that for the rest of my life.

How are you approaching the role of Stephano in this production of The Tempest? Is your approach different because the role is traditionally male?

Stephano is drinking for the entire play. My dream is to just be a female Richard E. Grant in Withnail and I. I’m not really thinking about gender as much as I’m thinking about Stephano’s circumstances. I’ve been a servant my whole life, and then suddenly I am alone on an island with nothing but a barrel of wine. That’s bleak. But then I’m not alone – my friend is here! And this strange dog-faced fish-person! And suddenly, with companionship, the island becomes this place where the rest of our lives never mattered, where I can reorder the hierarchy as I please. I can be king. My ego can finally explode and run the show. Also, I’m drunk!

Are there any other non-traditional roles, Shakespearean or otherwise, that you would like to play?

I would love to play Richard II.

Are there any actors, directors, or other artists who have been a particular influence on you or whose work you admire?

Colleen Dewhurst, Richard Feldman, Vivienne Benesch, Debra Monk.