About Smith Street Stage

The mission of Smith Street Stage is to present affordable, exciting and consequential theater arts to a diverse audience. The Company believes in the power of live theater to engage philosophical issues, anatomize the human condition, excite spectators of all backgrounds and predispositions, and bring communities closer. The Company believes that the best dramatic literature engages deeply human conflicts that are universally recognizable, and audience confronted with such conflicts rendered skillfully and earnestly will achieve greater individual and communal awareness of the human condition. Go to www.smithstreetstage.org for more information.

Hard Handed Men of Athens

We spoke with Corey, Hannah, Justin, Jonathan & Brendon.

What sound or noise do you love?

COREY – I love waking up to the sound of Rain in the morning…the love quickly wears off if I then have to get up and travel in it.19-cropped-gd2_orig

HANNAH – I love the sound of my cats sighing in their sleep.

JUSTIN – The sound my puppy makes when she finally crashes herself to sleep at night.

What sound or noise do you hate?

HANNAH – The sound of Silverware on certain plates is very bad.

COREY – I HATE the sound of Styrofoam! It cuts right through me like a knife.

JONATHAN – The sound of fingernails on vinyl fabric- or at least I think it’s vinyl. 

SSS Henry IV - Part 2 - 9547You know those CD/DVD binders that you’d pack a whole bunch of CDs or DVDs in and zip it up, and it had that fabric on the outside? I’ve always gotten a really obnoxious chill whenever I hear fingernails running along it.

Fun fact about yourself 

JUSTIN – My husband and I are proud owners of a puppy named Senator Witherspoon. She is very excited to see her daddy in a play in a park this summer!

BRANDON – At the time of writing this, I’ve never had a banana.

What is your favorite Shakespeare quote or section of text from any of his plays and why?


“The course of true love never did run smooth”

is just a beautiful line, while also being perfectly accurate.  

BRANDON – My favorite Shakespeare quote is said by Polonius in Hamlet:

“This above all: to thine own self be true”

My mother would always quote it to me and it is fantastic advice.


“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt”- Lucio in Measure for Measure.

I think anyone who has at any time been in a position where the only thing getting in their way is themselves can take some inspiration from this quote. I have a print-out posted next to my computer at work.

HANNAH – When I was doing MSND in North Carolina, I got to spend some time in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I saw on a hike Demetrius’s line

“These things seem small and undistinguishable/ Like far off mountains turned into clouds.”

Seeing these massive, solid mountains seem to fade into something as ephemeral as a cloud. It brought that moment of the play to life for me.

Who is your favorite character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and why?

BRANDON – My favorite character in this play is Bottom as it was my first Shakespeare role. He will always hold a special place in my heart.  

SSS Tempest - 2973COREY – I feel like I should say that my favorite character is the one I’m playing…but its actually Titania. She has such beautiful and evocative language in her scene with Oberon in Act 1. She also has the opportunity to go from regal to ridiculous. Plus she’s Queen of the Fairies which is just, you know…awesome!

What are you most looking forward to about this production in particular?

JUSTIN – Performing Midsummer outdoors in the middle of summer has always been on my bucket list. Plus, I’m really excited to get to work with Smith Street Stage as my first production back in NYC after having been away for a few years! 

HANNAH – I can’t wait to be back in the room with old friends and new, and to find out what makes this band of theater makers (the mechanicals) so excited about Pyramis and Thisbe.

COREY – I am most looking forward to performing in Carroll Park again, but also getting the opportunity to the transfer to the Actors Fund! I’m very excited to see how the piece will change and develop once its in a more traditional venue after our park run.

What is your favorite performance from a Shakespeare movie or play?


JUSTIN – I’m obsessed with the gay high school musical adaptation of Midsummer, Were the World Mine. I’ve seen it 50 times, and cannot recommend it enough.

Have you just finished a project or are about to start a project that you’d like to tell us about outside of SSS?

JONATHAN – Currently, I’m planning production and fundraising for shooting the back half of my webseries, Everyone Else Has, which I’m writing, directing and acting in. Check it out! (Facebook: www.facebook.com/EveryoneElseHas/

For more information about Hannah Sloat

For more information on A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM


Fair lovers, you are fortunately met

Baize, Nowani, Alex and Will discuss some loves of the theater and Shakespeare’s Plays


What sound or noise do you love?

ALEX -– Summer crickets.

BAIZE -What sound or noise do you love? My sister’s laugh.  
What sound or noise do you hate?

ALEX -– Mosquitos.

WILL – My cat flipping over her water bowl. I don’t know what she wants from us.

Fun fact about yourself

ALEX -– I’m a bit embarrassed that the answers to my first two questions are both bugs.

What is your favorite Shakespeare quote or section of text from any of his plays and why?


“The sweetest honey is loathsome in his own deliciousness”.

It’s the same friar speech in Romeo and Juliet that starts with:

“these violent delights have violent ends” 

which is much more quotable, but 

19054894_1407453119321152_1160591263308907064_odidn’t strike my fancy in the same way. I read the line in high school and 

it jumped out to me as magic poetry and I’ve loved it ever since.


“ O, not like mine, For mine’s beyond beyond ”

I love the breakdown of formal poetic language in this moment as Imogen attempts to explain her longing for Posthumus…nothing flowery or embellished, but the simple repetition of the word is its own kind of poetry all the same.

ALEX – Benedick and Beatrice’s church scene in Much Ado. When we were kids, my sister forced me to take a breather from Star Wars and watch Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado. I’ve since found that play, and particularly that scene in its many versions, endlessly charming.

Who is your favorite character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and why?

BAIZE – The mechanicals for their dedication and sweetness.

Will2WILL –  Francis Flute. He’s so exasperated and exhausted by all of this. He wanted to play a normal part in a normal play and he’s getting the exact opposite of that. My favorite line of the play comes after Quince says that no man but Bottom could play Pyramus and Flute replies, “No, he hath simply the best wit of any handicraft man in Athens”. Bottom’s just the best actor from their office. It’s such a real thing to say and Flute just wants to go home.

NOWANI – Puck- its such a zany character and you can always see how much fun the actor is having with the part.

What are you most looking forward to about this production in particular?

AlexHarold Clurman Lab HOT L BALTIMORE Paul

BAIZE – Performing outside in my home borough of Brooklyn.

NOWANI – I’m excited to see how the production changes from being in the park to going indoors.

Favorite Shakespeare performance 

ALEX – Celine Purcell’s turn as Nick Bottom will forever echo in Shakespeare Camp history. At the tender age of 8, my sister’s rendering of Pyramus’ suicide was virtually a three act play.

WILL – Mark Rylance as Olivia in Twelfth Night.

 Have you ever worked on this play before?


WILL –Yes! When I was 13 or 14, I was cast in a local professional production of Midsummer as Philostrate. I would come in with Theseus in the first scene, hang out backstage listening to the play, I had my scene with Theseus and then I would watch the Pyramus and Thisbe performance from the wings. It was amazing. 

NOWANI – I have! I played Hippolyta, mostly I sat in a wedding dress while my ankles got attacked by mosquitoes. I look excellent in white and react poorly to mosquitoes, so it’s what I remember most.

BAIZE –  I’ve worked on this play twice before….and both times I’ve played Helena!

For more information on Baize Buzan

For more information on Nowani Rattray

For more information on Will Sarratt 

For more information on Alex Purcell


Meet the Royals – Theseus & Hippolyta

We asked Shaun & Pete a few questions about their life and their art. 


PETE – Who is your favorite character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and why? Peter Quince. Art doesn’t happen without the Quinces of the world.





SHAUN – What are you most looking forward to about this production in particular? I’m most looking forward to working with Smith Street again. I just had my first character study session with Jonathan, our director, and after it was over I walked in the area near Carroll Park where we perform. I realized how much like home that area feels, largely due to the fact that being there in the summer with SSS is has become such a special time for me. Performing with Smith Street and doing the kind of wonderfully in-depth, collaborative work they inspire and working alongside such generous, dedicated artists has provided some of the loveliest, most meaningful experiences of my career. I love this company and I love working on and performing Shakespeare with them.


SHAUN – What sound or noise do you love? I love the sound of the violin or cello and the sound of water: rain, ocean waves, babbling brook, water in a bathtub, puddle splashes, whatever. All of these sounds calm my heart (even when the water is causing mayhem).

PETE – What sound or noise do you love?   The sound of ice hitting a full glass.

SHAUN – What sound or noise do you hate? The sound of plastic grocery bags or plastic packaging rustling, iron or metal screeching, people popping their gum, sniffling noses, packing tape being pulled from its dispenser and stretched across a box.

PETE – What sound or noise do you hate?  The Mister Softee Jingle.

SHAUN – What is your favorite performance from a Shakespeare movie or play. Most recently I’ve come across Ben Wishaw playing King Richard II and Sophie Okonedo playing Queen Margaret, both from the TV series The Hollow Crown, which dramatizes Shakespeare’s history plays in wonderfully produced episodes. Their performances are perfect and astounding. I realized while I was watching them that I was holding my breath, so they quite literally took my breath away.

PETE – What is your favorite Shakespeare quote or section of text from any of this plays and why?  

“When a man’s verses cannot be understood nor a man’s good wit seconded with understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.”  It perfectly captures the isolation of not being able to connect.


SHAUN – Have you just finished a project or are about to start a project that you’d like to tell us about outside of SSS? Eulogy, a short film that I’ve written and am directing. It features several friends whose work I greatly admire and respect, Jennifer Tsay and Daniel Robert Walton (an SSS alum) among them. I love creation and collaboration so creating with friends who share a collaborative, hard working spirit is a joy for me.

PETE – Have you just finished a project or are about to start a project that you’d like to tell us about outside of SSS?  My adaptation of Three Musketeers just went up in New Orleans, and I’m about to start rehearsals for Austin Pendleton’s adaptation of 1782025_1019121641487637_9080982584235993729_nRichard III (combining it with key scenes from Henry VI part 3).

PETE – What is your favorite performance from a Shakespeare movie or play. I love Michael Keaton’s Dogberry.  He’s just doing Beetlejuice. But it works!

For more information on SHAUN BENNET FAUNTLEROY 

For more information on PETE MCELLIGOTT and his Theater Company TEN BONES.

For more information about Smith Street Stage and our 2018 production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

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The Villain Protagonist, in Richard III and Beyond

Richard III is one of the most classic examples of a fictional work that features a villain as its main character.  In this guest blog entry, Smith Street Stage assistant Jeremy Harris explains the impact Shakespeare’s writing has had on modern villain protagonists like those in “House of Cards” or “Breaking Bad,” and takes a look at how artistic ideas change and grow over time.

Continue reading

Artist Q&A: Finding Drama in the Quiet Moments with Joe Jung and Jessi Blue Gormezano.

With performances just DAYS away for The Frankenstein Project, we took a few minutes to talk to the collaborators about their process.

Today we hear from Joe Jung and Jessi Blue Gormezano about their piece, “It Worked!”, which Jessi wrote and Joe is directing with actor Michael Irish.


Michael Irish* rehearses “It Worked!”, written by Jessi Blue Gormezano and directed by Joe Jung.

Smith Street Stage: What section of the Frankenstein story are you using as your jumping off point?

Jessi Gormezano: The moment after Dr. Frankenstein achieves success and brings life into his creature.

SSS: Do you have a favorite line or image from that section?

JG: I love the moment when the creature’s eye opens for the first time.

Joe Jung: One eye opens and the whole world changes.

SSS: What about that particular line/chapter/scene inspired you?

JG: In the film that moment is HUGE!


Jessi Blue Gormezano

Lighting and thunder and Dr. Frankenstein howling, “It’s alive!”  I was really surprised by how small and intimate the arrival of the creature’s animation is in the book.  In fact, I think that’s one of the moments that Beth Ann [Smith Street Stage Artistic Director, Beth Ann Hopkins] talked about when she first shared her idea for The Frankenstein Project. I guess it stuck with me!

JJ: Me too. The unexpected simplicity and fragility of Frankenstein’s mental state in this moment is extraordinarily human. Who hasn’t been filled with doubt at a moment of great achievement?


SSS: How did you approach the task of “re-imagining” or “adapting” a classic story like Frankenstein?

JG: Joe and I took that very small, yet pivotal moment of the Doctor witnessing life appear in the creature and imagined what might have been running through his head.  It was also really striking to us that once life emerges in the creature, the Doctor doesn’t celebrate – he immediately runs in a closet and hides! That completely unexpected response – directly following a possibly grotesque or beautiful moment – was fun for us to explore.

JJ: I’m fascinated by Frankenstein’s internal world at this moment, the moment when he realizes that for months he had all the answers.


Joe Jung

He knew how to give life, it was just a matter of time and effort. He struggles putting the body together but knows exactly what to do to succeed. Then the creature awakens and Frankenstein is flooded with self-doubt and questions. What does that do to a scientist? Where does his mind go?

SSS: What interests you most in creating new work?

JG: What you set out to write may end up being dramatically different then what you end up creating – I love that.

JJ: The notion that we as artists, along with the audience, get to experience this journey for the very first time.


Jessi Gormezano is a writer, producer, and casting director. She is the writer of an original commissioned work called Remarkably Normal, and has been the producer of OUR BAR since 2009, a monthly site-specific show created with Project: Theater. As a casting director she has worked recently with The Gallery Players and The Pearl Theater. She is the Associate Artistic Director of Project:Theater.

Joe Jung is an actor, director, and musician. He performed in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (The Public Theater/Broadway) and Unity:1918 (Gene Frankel Theatre). He has performed his music at Joe’s Pub among other venues. Joe is the Artistic Director of Project:Theater, where he directed Ken Ferrigni’s Mangella in 2011 and OCCUPATION in 2013.

Get your tickets to see “It Worked!” by Jessi Gormezano, directed by Joe Jung and featuring Michael Irish* as part of The Frankenstein Project by clicking here.

*Appearing courtesy of AEA

An Artist Q&A: Re-Discovering Mary Shelley’s Text with Noel MacDuffie

With less than a week left until performances of The Frankenstein Project, we took a few minutes of our artists’ time to ask them about their creative process!

Today we hear from Noel MacDuffie, a director and choreographer whose piece “Monster and Maker” will feature performers Courtney Salvage and Alexandra Slater in an exploration of text and movement.


Smith Street Stage: What section of the Frankenstein story are you using as your jumping off point? Do you have a favorite line or image from that section that started inspiring your work?

Noel MacDuffie: I am very interested in the monster’s story of how he tried many times to show the world his good intentions but is brutally rejected based on how he looks.  Mary Shelly was inspired by her father’s idea that humans teach each other to be good.  But her life leading up to writing Frankenstein had been hard, and she postulated that we humans also teach each other to be bad. This idea is illustrated in the monster’s experience.

6376-to-emailAs I had never read the book before, I was struck by how articulate the monster was and the poignancy of his story. I realized I had to explore this.  I am actually starting with the scene when Frankenstein and his monster first speak and then progressing into the monster’s story.

One somewhat unlikely image stood to me from this scene.  Frankenstein notes that his creation moves with incredible ease and possesses great strength.  How unlike the movie versions of a awkward, clumping monster.  I explore that ease and that strength in my section.

SSS: How did you approach the task of “reimagining” or “adapting” a classic story like Frankenstein?

NM: I started with the actual text – because while the language is heightened it is quite beautiful.  I am not a writer, but I am a good editor, and I worked hard to get down to essential material.

Once that was accomplished, I wanted to be sure that the text was really heard.  I felt that tilting the playing field was essential to help people experience the work without comparing it to what they already know (the films). So I messed with casting, I delved deep into movement, and I presented some material more then once.  The goal was always to allow this lesser known part of the story to be experienced.

SSS: What interests you most in creating new work?

NM: I am driven to understand and explore human relationships.  I want to know why and how we try to become better people, and why and how the definition of better can be so different for each of us.

I am interested in the balance between heart and head, emotion and intellect. I want theater to make me feel something, but also I want it to make me think.


Noel MacDuffie is a director and choreographer. He has choreographed and directed 3 full-length theatrical dance works (The Snow Queen – with aerialist Angela Jones, Soul Descending, and 3 am,  89°, no wind) as well as over 30 shorter works.  He danced professionally with the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company and Nancy Hauser Dance Company among others.

Get your tickets to The Frankenstein Project here to see Noel’s work!




An Artist Q &A: Bringing Frankenstein’s Monster Into Today’s Political World with Joby Earle & Charise Castro Smith

With only a week left until performances of The Frankenstein Project, we took a few minutes of our artists’ time to ask them about their creative process!
Today we hear from Joby Earle and Charise Castro Smith about their piece “The Girl Waiting for the Train” and how their piece was inspired by Chapters XIII—XV in the novel Frankenstein, several scenes in which the monster learns language and attempts to make contact with fellow humans, only to be rejected because of his monstrous appearance.
Enjoy reading about the thoughtful and very modern re-interpretation written and directed by Joby and performed by Charise, and don’t forget to get tickets to The Frankenstein Project by clicking here!
Smith Street Stage: What section of the Frankenstein story are you using as your jumping off point? Do you have a favorite line or image from that section?


Joby Earle and Charise Castro Smith:


Joby Earle

We are responding to the section of the story where the creature tells the story of how he learned how to speak. We found it interesting how it seemed the creature was inherently good to begin with and learned hate, rejection, and bitterness from people. An image that has stuck with us is the moment when the blind man’s family comes back in during the creature’s conversation with him and, after taking one look at him, scream and try to attack him. It’s heartbreaking.

SSS: What about that particular line/chapter/scene inspired you?

JE & CCS: I don’t think we take enough time to consider how we learn things like language, communication, bias, and difference. We grow up like sponges and it isn’t until later that we can consider where these things came from and how they were created. The creature is different. He is in a position to be able to learn the building blocks of interaction, while also having an awareness of their larger ramifications and lessons. On top of that, right after he learns them, he is rejected by his teachers.


SSS: How did you approach the task of “re-imagining” or “adapting” a classic story like Frankenstein?


JE & CCS: In creating our piece, we focused on the situations that are happening in our world today that feel akin to themes in the book.


Charise Castro Smith

As the book progressed, I found myself thinking about the migrant crisis our world is facing (or not facing). By many metrics, it can be said that actions our country took over the last 20 years led to the creation of this problem, and now it seems like we can’t face it, in many respects don’t even want to admit that it is happening, especially in the size and scope in which it continues. We are spurning something we had a hand in creating. So we took that idea and began to imagine a woman waiting at a train station being shipped off somewhere out of sight.


SSS: What interests you most in creating new work?

JE & CCS: Creating new work forces you to look at what’s come before, what’s going on right now, and respond to it. It makes you figure out what your stance is, and then try to articulate that into what you hope to be an engaging piece of theater.


Joby Earle is an actor whose work has been seen on Broadway in War Horse, as well as in Familiar (Playwright’s Horizons), The Tempest (ART/South Coast Rep), and multiple productions at Yale Repertory Theater. He is also a member of the Artistic Board of Smith Street Stage.

Charise Castro Smith is a playwright, television writer and actor. As an actress she appeared in Antony and Cleopatra (RSC/The Public Theater) and on The Good Wife (CBS). Her plays have appeared at the Goodman Theater, Soho Rep, Ars Nova, The Actor’s Theater of Louisville, and Trinity Rep among others.


Power, Freedom, and Community: Thoughts on The Tempest from Marketing Assistant Andrew L. Ricci

SSS Tempest - 3185

Several productions of The Tempest are set to open this summer, including our own production in Carroll Park. So what makes this Shakespeare play so relevant to 2016 audiences? The play deals with countless themes, but I want to focus on the relationship between power and freedom. Too frequently in this play, characters feel a sense of powerlessness towards things they cannot explain. As the audience though, we realize that all of these seemingly-inexplicable events stem from the hidden workings of Prospero’s magic.

If art reflects the current socio-political climate, then The Tempest is a perfect fit for what our community is dealing with. We have faced senseless acts of tragedy in recent times, and our power as individuals in times of crisis seems both fleeting and polarizing; there is no tangible middle ground. Thus we turn to art, to our community in order to set a precedent. We start small and hope that our changes will one day be reflected on a larger scale.

The current influx of gender-bent Shakespeare productions has been received with acceptance and encouragement. Not a week ago I found myself in line at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park and began talking to a couple in front of me about Smith Street Stage’s production of The Tempest. I told the couple that our Prospero is played by the incredibly talented Kate Ross as a strong-willed, powerful woman. We began talking about how appropriate it is to have Prospero be played by a woman, particularly if we take Prospero as a physical extension of mother nature. A female Prospero serves to acknowledge that women have just as much power as men. When she affirms her identity as the most powerful figure in the play, within the hermetic environment of the island, she uses her power to reprimand those who have done her wrong. However, like anyone with power, her individual ambitions push aside those of the community. Thus when Prospero relinquishes power over the island-dwellers, she allows change to occur by allowing many voices to be heard, by giving others power, and by choosing selflessness amidst a series of reaffirmations of selfhood.

I spoke with our director, Beth Ann Hopkins, about her choice to cast Prospero as a woman, and the challenges inherent to cross-gender casting.  “You never really know what kind of challenges changing gender will do until you are in the weeds with the words and actors cast,” she explained. “Once you are there and the crew is assembled, it’s more a question of, ‘What do we change the word ‘Sir’ to? Is ‘Mom’ or ‘Mother’ too intimate? Can we still call her ‘Lord’ or ‘King’? In our production, I very much wanted to create a world where gender doesn’t affect rank.  A woman servant can be a butler, and also strive to be a King.  Prospero can be a Duke, even though she’s a woman. New world rules, old world costumes. Once we established how to play the game of this new world, things started to fall into place and really empower the women we cast, which can only be topped by watching other females, especially the younger generation, watch our Tempest. I’m trying to create a new narrative for women in these classic stories, one where women aren’t always the victim, or the lover. Sometimes we get drunk, sometimes we get greedy with power and try to kill our brother, and sometimes, we have magic and can bend the entire storyline to our will.”

We are not the only company this summer who have explored the possibilities engendered in the cross-gender casting of The Tempest.  Recently, a production of The Tempest ran in Central Park, which gained notoriety for its all-female cast and heavy use of nudity. In conversation with directors Alice Mottola and Pitr Strait, I asked why The Tempest is an appropriate choice for modern audiences.

“The spine we chose for our production was ‘to gain the freedom to be myself,’ and we were amazed to discover that this became the journey not only of the characters, but some of our actors as well.” Mottola said.

This “spine” is something that countless communities are struggling to fully realize or feel safe doing.  My hope is that when people see these productions of The Tempest, a play that deals with the relationship between power and freedom, between the individual and community, they leave inspired, ready to be that person they so desire, all the while not putting their self-interest above that of the community.

By Andrew L. Ricci

Acknowledgements to Beth Ann Hopkins, Alice Mottola, Pitr Strait and Dylan Arredondo for thought-provoking conversations.


Theatre and Humanity: A note from Executive Director Jonathan Hopkins

SSS Henry IV - Part 2 - 9686It seems every generation faces a version of the same story: a conflict in which the marginalized are emboldened to address injustice and, to put it simply, have their humanity acknowledged. This movement provokes an inevitable backlash as people rush to defend the status quo, often with vigor and even vitriol. In all its social and political complexities, the struggle to me centers on a fundamental question: who deserves our regard and sympathy?

Against the temptations of selfishness and apathy, we are forced to examine how to bestow greater respect for the humanity of others, and how to contribute meaningfully to that progress. I believe, firmly, in the power of theater to help, and I believe it happens in several ways.

Actors are trained to approach characters without judgment, to explore them with sensitivity and sympathy. The very act of making theater begins by bridging differences with curiosity and openness. In building a play, the actor constantly reinforces that those who may be different, even vastly different, are nevertheless relatable and deserving of our care.

If the artists are earnest and diligent in their work, the production will present a world with complexity and nuance in which easy answers are scarce. Characters are confronted with impossible choices and pushed beyond their ken. As we, the audience, witness the story, we imagine how we ourselves might act in the face of such circumstances. In doing so, our empathy stretches, our sense of the possible heightens, and our capacity for compassion strengthens. The distance narrows between us and the other.

Lastly, theater is inescapably communal. We watch, aware that as we sit among a diverse group of strangers with manifold differences, we share an experience. The theater literally brings people together. More so, it confronts us with the riddles of human struggle. Our answers, with our sympathies, may differ, but we are nevertheless aware that we have all been posed the same questions. The very relevance of those questions to us all testifies to our inherent companionship in the shared human experience and, I believe, a recognition in the humanity and value of everyone.

It is in this spirit that Smith Street Stage endeavors to create the best quality and most impactful art we are capable of.

Jonathan Hopkins
Executive Director – Smith Street Stage

“Theatrical Cross Fit” – An interview with cast member Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy

Shaun B Fauntleroy Headshot

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.