“You can study Shakespeare, and never know everything there is to know.” – An interview with cast member Jane May

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 Jane May, who hails from Spokane, WA and recently received her Masters Degree from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She is making her Smith Street Stage debut in the roles of King Henry IV and Hostess Quickly.

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How did you get into theatre and acting?

I’ve been an actor since I was eight years old. I got my degree at Santa Clara University in theatre and dance. I’ve just been doing it forever. I tried a couple times to not do it, but I just kept coming back to it. I love it; it’s just a part of who I am as a person. I was in Seattle after I graduated and I did a lot of professional theatre there and got my chops a little bit, and got used to doing theatre more and more professionally. And at a certain point I just decided that the place to really be is New York. So I ended up here about four years ago.

And how did you get involved with Smith Street Stage? This is your first show with the group, right?

It is. I know Joby, the director, through my husband. They did a cool Three Sisters together. I met Joby and his wife through that, and I had heard about Smith Street Stage, although I’d never seen anything by them. So I decided I’d put my name in the hat.

In this production, you’re playing two characters of different genders. How are you planning to approach that? And what do you think of the decision to do gender-blind casting?

I think it’s great. I love it. I actually received my Master’s Degree in classical acting in 2014 from LAMDA, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. My thesis was that I worked with two other women, specifically about this stuff, about gender-neutral casting. The three of us came to it from three different places, but we were all playing the same character – Flamineo in John Webster’s The White Devil. One woman really wanted to focus on trying to become very man-like, and wanted her character to be believably male, and what that entailed. The other woman wanted to approach it as if Flamineo was turned into a woman, so the character was actually a woman. And I approached it as, ok, what happens if I take gender out of the equation and I just play a character. Is that even possible? Can you play a character without all of the things pertaining to gender? So the fact that I’m now doing this is wonderful because I’m getting to apply a lot of what I learned in my thesis directly to serious text work. It’s right up my alley.

You picked a classical acting program for your Master’s. Are you particularly drawn to classical theatre, and Shakespeare in particular? And are there any particular things that are exciting or challenging about performing Shakespeare?

I love Shakespeare. I’m very drawn to him; I always have been. I love classical theatre. Shakespeare just wrote humans so well, thorough, complex human beings in such a beautiful way. There’s a reason – I don’t know what it is – but there’s a reason that he’s a four-hundred-year-old playwright that’s still being produced massively, everywhere. I specifically wanted to train for classical theatre, that is definitely what I wanted to do. It’s interesting – I wanted to train that way because I didn’t foresee myself doing too much of it in the future, in a weird way, because I wanted to focus on other aspects of being an actor and I thought, I’m going to give myself the gift of going to school for a year and just doing this. But since I’ve been back, I’ve already been cast in two classical productions so maybe that’s actually what I’m going to be doing, which is fantastic, because I think it’s wonderful and I really take to it. I love that you can study Shakespeare, and you can do tablework and perform it and you can still never know everything there is to know.

Are there any actors or directors who have been a particular influence on you?

Everyone I’ve ever met who’s an artist has had an influence on me. I’m constantly inspired. There’s a lot of bad theatre, but there’s a lot of really good theatre, and it’s always inspiring to want to keep making it. There’s lots of people I’d like to work with and lots of people I have worked with that I’ve admired. I’m really looking forward to working with Joby, frankly, I think he’s really smart. Just the little bit of time I spent in the rehearsal room during callbacks, I was really excited and really jazzed and inspired. The people who have influenced my acting the most recently have certainly been my tutors at LAMDA, and my classmates as well were really brave and inspiring. I think that there are a million wonderful theatre makers in New York City and around the world.

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