“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.


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