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.