“It’s about time for gender-blind casting.” – An interview with cast member and Artistic Director Beth Ann Hopkins.

With rehearsals underway, 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 Artistic Director Beth Ann Hopkins, who will be playing the roles of Bardolph, Douglas, and Warwick.

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Can you tell me about how you got involved in theatre and acting?

It’s kind of a funny story. My parents are both teachers and part-time magicians, so when I was a little kid they’d put me in their shows. When I got a little older, a little bigger, I was too old to do that kind of thing, so I started to seek out theatre on my own. I always loved singing and being on stage. And then when I graduated high school, I just knew it was what I wanted to pursue. So I went to the University of Connecticut to study there, and came right to New York after that.

You’ve done lots of Shakespeare, but a lot of other plays as well. What is particularly challenging or exciting about working on a Shakespeare play?

It’s poetry; it’s not just two people having a discussion. There’s so much to each conversation. There’s never been a Shakespearean play or a part where I’ve just been like, nah, I guess I’m done with that, I’ve nailed that, now on to the next thing. There’s always more that you can learn about these characters.

You’re one of the founders of Smith Street Stage. Can you tell us about how the company came together?

We started with a four-person production of Romeo and Juliet that we had done out in New Jersey. At the time, I had just moved into an apartment in Carroll Gardens and really fell in love with the neighborhood. I wasn’t done with Romeo and Juliet and I really wanted a place to do it, and I just felt so grateful to this new neighborhood that had just welcomed me with open arms that I wanted to give something back to the community. I wasn’t really sure if we were going to stay; I wasn’t sure if we had the right place or if they were even going to want us. But it was just kind of a little gift, a little thank you for welcoming me to the community. And they did, people came. It was fantastic. It’s funny, we started the company with the idea that it was going to be one show and then we’d see if we wanted to do more. But then Jonathan and I never had to question if we wanted to do one more or not – we just started planning for the next year. We never had the “should we not or should we” conversation; it was obvious that we should. It felt like the right time and the right place.

And one of the things the company is doing this year is the gender-blind casting.

I love it. I’m so excited. I was just like, it’s about time, I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now. We’ve kind of played around with it here and there in other productions. Even in our first production I played a man and Jonathan played a woman, so there was that kind of back-and-forth. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing Shakespeare, he will always be one of my favorites, but man, he wrote a lot of guy parts. And it’s really frustrating to have all these amazing women come in that I can’t use. I want people to come in with an open mind that there is a possibility that women can play these parts just as well. Look at what Sarah [Dacey Charles] did with Julius Caesar [at Smith Street Stage in 2013]. We were taking a big risk, and now I can’t imagine it any other way. And this year both the king and the king’s son will be played by women. I’d say that’s a really exciting idea that will open other people’s minds to the fact that, why don’t more people cast their shows like this.

As one of the actors who has been cast as the opposite gender, do you feel like there’s anything special you need to do to prepare for this particular role?

I’ve done this a couple times before, but never anything like this play. It’s always a challenge, it’s always something completely new, but that’s part of what’s exciting about it. It’s not like I can go back and refer to all the women who have played Bardolph and Douglas before. I get to make it my own. It turns me on, and it scares me too, in a good way. But Joby I think is going to be a great leader with that.

Even though you don’t have previous female Bardolphs or Douglases to refer to, are there other actors or directors who have particularly influenced you?

I just saw a production of The Iceman Cometh and it just kind of, Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane and that whole entire cast just reawakened my joy for theatre in such a great way. I love when that happens. And Mark Rylance is definitely an influence. I’ve seen him a couple of times on stage, including Jerusalem a few years back. He was just so brave, and so ready to fail. And I think that’s something I want to do. I want to be ready to fail, because if you’re not ready to fail, then I don’t think you’re going to be able to really explore deep enough to come up with something that fresh and new. Otherwise, for me, it’s just going to feel like I’m copying someone else’s work. But this comes from me, and that’s what’s going to make it original and beautiful.

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