Playing a Dream Role – An interview with cast member and Executive Director Jonthan Hopkins

Jonathan 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. Today’s interview is with Executive Director Jonathan Hopkins, who is playing his dream role of Falstaff in Henry IV. —– How did you first get involved with theatre and acting? In high school, acting seemed like something that would be fun and that I would like doing, and so I did it and I really loved doing it. And I kept doing it in college and since college. So I guess it’s just something that started out as an extra-curricular activity that I really enjoyed and decided to stay with. Can you tell me a little more about how that turned into you and Beth Ann founding Smith Street Stage? We founded Smith Street Stage because we developed a small cast Romeo and Juliet for a theatre company we were working for in New Jersey. That theatre company was going to produce the play, which we had developed and worked on and presented a workshop for, but they had to cancel the show because of budget issues. Beth Ann particularly felt like she wasn’t through with the project, that she wanted more people to see it and wanted to work on it more. She said that she wanted to start a theatre company and start doing Shakespeare in Carroll Park and so our first production in 2010 was Romeo and Juliet with five actors. And the community was really responsive to it. We had good audiences, and they were very generous with donations after the show, which gave us a sense that maybe this was something with some staying power and something we should keep going with. And so we’ve done a show each summer since then, and we’ve grown every summer since then. And you’ve expanded beyond the summer Shakespeare productions as well – your last show was in Manhattan, right? Yeah, we did another show that Beth Ann developed. A radio play adaptation of A Christmas Carol. And we had done that the previous two years in the park house in Carroll Park, and last year the Pearl Theatre Company invited us to do a week with them. And so we did a week at the Pearl Theatre in late December, which was our first real Manhattan show, and our first Off-Broadway show. You’ve mostly worked on Shakespearean plays. Has that always been your primary interest? Since college, definitely. I took to it very much in college, performing scenes from the plays, working on the plays, and reading the plays. I really fell in love with Shakespeare. I went to London for a semester when I was in undergrad and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and saw a lot of Shakespeare there and just sort of immersed myself in it. I just always come back to it. It’s always the best stuff to read and the best stuff to see and the best stuff to act. Are there any particular Shakespearean plays you enjoyed working on, or favorite characters that you’ve played? I played Malvolio three years ago when we did Twelfth Night. That was a really fun thing to do. And the first year [doing Romeo and Juliet] we only had five actors, so I was Romeo and Lady Capulet, which was a great split, two very different things. And other than the high tragedies, Henry IV is my favorite Shakespeare play, and Falstaff is my favorite character. So I just feel really lucky that I get a chance to work on him because of Joby’s idea that actors would be cast against type. How do feel about the fact that you’re going to be playing against type? How are you planning to prepare for this? I guess I prepare as I would for any other part, which is try to start thinking about how the character is similar to me and how the character is different from me. And even though there is a physical difference and a difference in age, I hope to be able to find some similarities in looking at the part, just thinking about the kind of person that Falstaff is. Just like you would any other part: what does this person want, why does this person say the things they say, how does this person change within each scene and from scene to scene? And I’m just going to trust Joby as well as Maddie and Patrick [our assistant directors] a lot to have an outside eye and to guide us to make sure that what we’re doing looks ok, that the story is being transmitted to audiences who may not be familiar with Henry IV. So I guess I’ll just work really hard and trust my fellow actors and trust my directors. You’ve worked with Joby before, as actors, right? Yes. Joby was our Brutus, and I directed him in Julius Caesar two years ago. And in that five-actor Romeo and Juliet, Beth Ann and I were actors, and Joby was an actor as well. I’ve known Joby since we were both in college; I’ve known him since we were eighteen. So I’ve known Joby for fifteen years now and we’ve acted in stuff all through that time period. There is a lot of trust there, and I think the same things that I love about the Henry IV plays are the things that Joby loves about these plays. I have a lot of trust in him, not just to help me as an actor and help me give my best performance, but to show audiences what’s really, really special about these plays. And what is that? There’s no genre, because they’re histories, so it’s just a story. It’s not tragedy and it’s not comedy, although I think it’s funnier than most of the comedies and I think it’s immensely sad, incredibly sad, this story. So that’s one thing, that it lives outside the realm of what most people know Shakespeare to have written. Another thing is, I think it’s a great story about time and how time forces people to make difficult decisions and how time forces people to grow up and how time brings us into meetings and partings with one another. Which I think is immensely relatable, because everyone has been faced with inevitable change and inevitable loss. And there’s something about the Henry IV plays, especially Part Two, that has a sweet and sad quality. It’s like a song that’s written in a minor key. Imagine going to a place that you went to in your childhood, and it would make you feel wonder and it would make you feel a little bit of sadness and it would make your breath catch and it would make you think about how your life has changed since that time and the life you’ve lead and the person you were, all in a breath, all in an instant. And that to me is what Henry IV, Part Two is like. It’s like a dream of that childhood place. And it’s something that I don’t find exactly in any other Shakespeare play. Are there any actors or directors who have been a particular influence on you? I think there are lots. But I remember in college, going to the NYU library and watching Chimes at Midnight, which was Orson Welles’ adaptation of the two Henry IV plays that centers on Falstaff, and just being very, very moved by that. And still that movie is my favorite Shakespeare movie. Orson Welles directed it, too, as well as acting the part of Falstaff. The way he told the story, and the element of the story that he captured in his movie, I was really struck by. And it was something that I watched during a really impressionable time, because I was in college and acting a lot and reading Shakespeare a lot and so it was a good time to see a great actor, a great artist have a take on a great story.

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