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 Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy, making her Smith Street Stage debut in the role of Sebastian.
How did you get into theatre, and acting in particular?
My mother worked nights and I was an only child so I’d often have hours alone to entertain myself. One night when I was around six or seven years old, I was pretending to be a peasant girl who had caught the eye of a wicked king. I refused to marry him because I was in love with a peasant boy, so the king had me imprisoned. The “prison cell” was the dryer and I crawled into, then would distract the guards somehow and crawl out. I rehearsed it over and over and one time the guard was a bit too enthusiastic and I found myself accidentally locked in the dryer for about three hours. I eventually managed to break out and went humbly to bed, but an actor had been born. I entered regional drama competitions in school (I won in comedy) and later transferred to our town’s performing arts high school. After graduation I moved to New York to study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and the rest is, as they say, history.
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?
I’m thrilled to be making a switch to classical theatre and am honored to be in this production! I haven’t done Shakespeare in a long while, so this is exactly where I want to be. What I love most about his words are that they go straight to your heart, and if you say them as they’re written they carry you along on this beautiful, emotional journey. I’m also grateful for the tremendous focus and stamina that this type of work requires. It’s a bit like theatrical Cross Fit.
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?
Several years ago, director Beth Ann Hopkins and I were cast as a couple of biker chicks who were trying to make sense of love. We’ve kept in touch over the years and when she invited me to audition for The Tempest I jumped at the chance. I’m so glad I did because she’s a dream to work with. She’s so sharp, endlessly prepared, and has such great respect for actors and the work of bringing a play to life. As far as working outdoors, about five or six years ago I was in Shakespeare in the Parking Lot’s production of Measure for Measure where we performed in a parking lot in the Lower East Side. What I love about doing Shakespeare outdoors is the close proximity of the audience. They’re right there with you and you’re able to go up to them or interact with them. I love that. It really feels like we’re all in it together.
How are you approaching the role of Sebastian in this production of The Tempest? Are you approaching the role at all differently because the character is traditionally male?
It’s interesting…we’re presenting Sebastian as female, though very much of her persona is male. She’s a bit like Yara/Asha Greyjoy [from “Game of Thrones”] in that respect. Our Sebastian is allowed to ignore traditional gender roles (perhaps my father wanted a boy) and I’ve approached her with that in mind. Also, any time I get to handle a sword is gravy on gravy.
Are there any other non-traditional roles, Shakespearean or otherwise, that you would like to play?
Hotspur. Definitely. I’d also love to get my hands on Richard III.
Are there any actors, directors, or other artists who have been a particular influence on you or whose work you admire?
12 years ago I saw Ritchie Coster in Gary Mitchell’s play Trust at Theatre Row, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him for the entire play. It was like watching a live, wild animal on stage. I stole things from his performance that I still use when I play someone that inspires fear or respect in others. Kevin T. Carroll in Seven Guitars taught me that sometimes a person/character is at their strongest when they’re simply letting their heart be seen and embracing the pain and uncertainty of love. Good Lord that was beautiful. Mark Rylance in Jerusalem (I saw it three times) demonstrated how an artist’s specificity and open humanity can steal an audience’s breath away. Each time I saw it, it was the same man on a very different day, and I can’t imagine what it must have been like to work with him in that show (#envious). Kathleen Chalfant in Red Dog Howls (I saw that twice) demonstrated fearlessness and truth in ways that still stop my heart when I think of it. She’s such an incredibly confident actor — she just shows up and does the work. There are many more, but these four people have all illuminated the craft in ways that changed me profoundly as a person and have raised my bar as an artist. Still trying to reach it.