“Give me your hands if we be friends”

No matter what career we choose to delve into, our educators emphasize the importance of professionalism. When meeting new clients, be professional. When handling conflicts at work, be professional. When seeking connections and career-long relationships, always be kind, courteous, and professional. Many people tend to associate professional behavior with a level of distance and distrust of others. However, my experience as an assistant on Smith Street Stage’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has taught me that– especially in the case of the arts, the most successful definition of professionalism is one that encourages familiarity and openness between members of the company, allowing both the newbies and the ol’ faithful’s to feel safe in their working environment.

Smith Street Stage has been my entry way into the world of professional theatre, so naturally I began the production process quite nervous about joining a serious company. I am younger, less experienced, and an outsider. Much to my relief, I was met with open arms by every member of the company—actors, directors, and producers alike. Everyone was eager to get to know me on not only a professional level, but a personal level. unnamed.jpgAlthough in this case, as in the case of many successful productions, I believe that professional and personal often bleed into one another. While company members don’t necessarily share their deepest secrets, they treat their colleagues like family.  Every time someone had a birthday, Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy (Hippolyta, First Fairy) would bring treats and have the entire cast and crew sing “Happy Birthday.” Moments like these made every person feel special, allowing us to share love and respect in a way that makes it easier to take risks and make bolder choices in the rehearsal room without fear of embarrassment or judgement. A greater sense of trust offstage lead to deeper connections onstage, making the story all the more compelling.

We live in a country that places such heavy weight on family values. While it’s true that theatre is a different type of field than accounting or engineering, perhaps we could learn from the way Smith Street Stage operates, valuing every member of the company like a one of the family.  I want to bring this idea of professionalism which I experienced at Smith Street Stage to my developing theatre career. They embody what drew me to the theatre in the first place: every individual’s success becomes the entire group’s success. I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of something so special, something that brings communities together and allows artistic energy to flourish.

Danica Clauser – 2018 Smith Street Stage Assistant

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Cue Fireflies

“Hand in hand with fairy grace, we will sing and bless this place…”(Act 5, Sc 1)

[Cue fireflies]

Cue crickets, howling dogs, cooing pigeons and all of the other woodland creatures of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn—or of Athens, in the case of Smith Street Stage’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Carroll Park which is set in the exact same place where it is performed: present-day New York City.

This is my first summer volunteering with the local Brooklyn theatre company and I have particularly enjoyed watching the creative process unfold from start to finish. Beginning with the first read-through inside the cozy Park House—or as Peter Quince describes in Act 3, Scene 1.

“…this green plot shall be our stage, this hawthorn-brake our tiring-house.”

To opening night when young children playing in the park were startled to find themselves running side-by-side with Helena and Demetrius. But they didn’t seem out of place, blending in with the actors dressed in contemporary clothing.

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When it comes to the setting, Directors often take many liberties with Shakespeare productions.  Popular treatments include post-apocalypse, the Roaring 20s, traditional Elizabethan, Victorian age, circus troupes, flower power 60s, etc.

As I considered Director Jonathan Hopkins’ choice to set the show in present-day NYC, at first it seemed sensible, simple, not too flashy. But then again, I live in NYC. I have lived in Brooklyn, and now Manhattan, for nearly four years. While I still love it here, I have become desensitized to its innate flashiness, its awe, wonder and magic.

So when on opening night I watched the actors have to hold their lines so that a commercial cement truck could pass by during the Mechanical’s scene, my inner New Yorker screamed,

“Oh come on, you gottabe kiding me!”

Or when I saw the audience turn their heads distractedly as a stopped car at an intersection began blasting Etta James from their speakers during the Theseus and Hippolyta wedding scene, I was like,

“Really, dude?!?”

Or most recently, when a “hilarious” teenager on a skateboard at the other end of the park yelled a profanity during Puck’s final soliloquy, I rolled my eyes and muttered some not-so-nice words under my breath.

But then it clicked.

This is a collaboration. A collaboration beyond just the audience and the actors, but between the production and the city itself. The play seemed to be activating a response from the city and as a result it summoned a magic far more powerful than any lighting design or set construction could provide. They didn’t have to simulate or construct a NYC set or soundscape, because they have the real deal each night.

The moment when this magic was first clear to me was when Titania entered for the final blessing ritual at the conclusion of the play. As she commanded her fairies to “sing and bless this place,” a cluster of fireflies, as if on cue, appeared right in front of me, framing the scene before my eyes.

That’s when I realized that even that clunky cement truck is very much a part of the world of Jack Bottom, Peter Quince and the laborers.

Etta James playing in the background of the wedding scene is no more out of place than the saxophone serenading NYU lovers on the benches of Washington Square Park.

And that screaming teenager? Well he is in fact, “the screech-owl, screeching loud” (Act 5, Sc 1) on a Saturday night. The very same one that Puck addresses in his final speech.

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Living in New York City, I encounter and navigate a cacophony of sounds and characters the moment I step out my front door. That’s the charm and the magic of this city.

So why should this production be any different?

Smith Street Stage’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has certainly changed the way I walk through the streets of New York City this summer. I see Hermia and Lysander in the couple making out on the F train. I see the Dukes and Hippolytas on stage in Madison Square Garden. I see the fairies hiding in alley ways, rummaging through garbage cans, tagging walls with cans of spray paint and playing music in Union Square.

New York City is in fact, “a marvelous convenient place for our rehearsal” ( Act 3, Sc 1).

And the city shows up, right on cue.

[Cue applause]

Author, SSS Assistant Kayla Prestel

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Thou shalt like an airy spirit go

A few questions answered by Brian, Patrick & BA

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

BRIAN – I am looking forward to going back to Shakespeare. It was my bread and butter for many years and what started my love for acting. 

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BA – I’m looking forward to really discovering the fairy world in a modern adaptation. I’m keep looking out for for today’s equivalents to these mysterious creatures living in our city. That, and Joe Jung’s music. That man is magical. 

What sound or noise do you love?

 BRIAN – I love the sound of being in a forest with no one else around. 

 

BA – The first crack of thunder.

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

BRIAN –    

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

This is one of the most inspiring speeches in Shakespeare. It’s us against many and win or lose, we will go on in infamy. It says we should revel in being the underdog.

BA –

When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.”

Lear was the first Shakespeare play I every worked on. Certain words from that play still ring in my soul.  

 

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

 Much Ado-0937.jpgPATRICK – Puck and Bottom are two of my favorite characters in the canon. That they happen to exist in the world of the selfsame play puts Midsummer towards the very top of my list.

BA – I really like Starvling. Poor Starvling. 

Have you ever worked on this play before? 

BRIAN – AMND was the first Shakespeare play that I worked on. I was 15 and I played Lysander. From that point I knew I wanted to be an actor. 

 

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

PATRICK – In May I was lucky enough to star in the world premiere of a new play, Old Names for Wildflowers, at The Tank. Written and directed by Corbin and Emma Went, respectively, the play was a feminist bent on The Crucible with a group dedicated to queering up the theatrical canon, if you will. I had an utter blast.

BA – I just finished and I’m about to start Titania with my good friends at Shakespeare in the Square. A very different “food fight” production 🙂 (August 2018). Also Jonathan and I just premiered our first feature film Hamlet in the Golden Vale with Roll the Bones

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

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PATRICK – When I lived in London, I was lucky enough to catch both parts of Henry IV at Shakespeare’s Globe, featuring Roger Allam as Falstaff and Jamie Parker as Prince Hal. The performances in that show, and the way the actors were so viscerally driven by the text, despite working on a plain stage with intricate period costumes, was breathtaking. 

BA – I have two I must mention. As a whole, the movie A Midwinters Tale is just everything. Watch it and tell me I’m wrong. And as a single performance, Orsen Wells in Chimes at Midnight. It doesn’t get much better than that. 

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

BRIAN – I will be having the honor of acting with my fiance this summer and marrying her in the fall.

Learn more about Patrick Harvey

Learn more about Beth Ann Hopkins

Learn more about Smith Street Stage

 

 

 

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?

JUSTIN –

“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.

JONATHAN –

“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?

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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

Meet the Royals – Theseus & Hippolyta

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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

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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.

“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.