Playing the Eternal Optimist: An interview with cast member Corey Whelihan

Corey Whelihan 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 Corey Whelihan, who has recently appeared in Smith Street Stage’s Much Ado About Nothing and Christmas Carol: A Radio Play. This summer, he is playing the role of Gonzalo.


How did you get into theatre, and acting in particular?
Both my parents were actors, so I kind of grew up in the theater. I would often come to rehearsals with one or both parents when they couldn’t get a babysitter. My first show was with my dad when I was four years old. I guess my going in to theater was sort of inevitable.
You’ve done a lot of Shakespeare. What is it about classical theatre, and Shakespeare in particular, that attracts you as an artist?
I love the language of Shakespeare as well as its adaptability. For being over 400 years old, his works continue to be so relevant and applicable to our modern world. There is always new ground to break with it and there are few other other works that have stood the test of time as well. While everyone is familiar with Shakespeare, you can still see new productions of his plays and be surprised.

Your last production with Smith Street Stage was Much Ado About Nothing in 2014. What brings you back to the group this year?  What did you learn last time about performing outside, and are you excited (or nervous) to do it again?
I am so happy to be back working with Smith Street this year. Every time I get the opportunity to work with them, I know I am also getting an opportunity to collaborate with a dynamic and talented group of artists on one of the greatest plays ever written. Performing outdoors is a real treat as well as a challenge. Vocally it can be difficult, but there is something very organic and special about performing outdoors. The fourth wall is broken in a way that being on a proscenium stage with all the lights out just can’t quite replicate. The audience really becomes a part of the world of the play.

How are you approaching the role of Gonzalo in this production of The Tempest?
I see Gonzalo as the eternal optimist. He is the first of those shipwrecked to recognize that something miraculous is happening and he looks to make the best out of even the most dire situation. He is also I think the moral center of the play. While every other character behaves somewhat questionably at times, Gonzalo’s sense of Right seems constant throughout and is held as the standard by which the other members of the court (and thereby society at large) are held to.
Smith Street Stage does a lot of non-traditional casting.  What non-traditional role, Shakespearean or otherwise, would you like to play?
I would love to play the Witch in Into the Woods.

A Decade of Shakespeare: An interview with cast member Patrick Harvey

PatrickHarveyHeadshot2016.jpgWith 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 Patrick Harvey, who moves from his role behind the scenes (as assistant director of last year’s Henry IV) to the spotlight, in the role of Caliban in The Tempest.


How did you get into theatre, and acting in particular?
When I was in eighth grade, I played the Prince in my grade school’s production of Cinderella, and as clichéd as it sounds, I was hooked. I began acting in plays and musicals in high school, and over the following four years it was really all I was interested in doing. Since moving to New York from my hometown of Seattle, I’ve had the opportunity to work in theatre in different respects (from assistant directing and producing with Smith Street Stage to lighting design and carpentry at NYU), but at the end of the day all I’ve wanted to do is act.
You’ve done a lot of Shakespeare and other classical theatre. What is it about classical theatre that attracts you as an artist?
I just realized it’s been ten years since I was in my first Shakespeare play, as a matter of fact. I played Bottom in an outdoor Midsummer Night’s Dream in high school one summer. I think what draws me to performing Shakespearean and other classical plays is how relatable their characters are, and how their language speaks so specifically and  completely to the breadth of the human experience. In colonial America, it’s said, a household was expected to have a copy of the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare, and I think the compassion Shakespeare expresses for every character he writes speaks to the lesson people the world over can learn from his plays.
This will be your fifth show with Smith Street Stage. How did you first get involved in the company, and why do you keep coming back?
Smith Street Stage was the first theatre company that employed me after I finished training. I was cast as one of the Weird Sisters in their 2011 production of Macbeth, and had such a great time working in Carroll Park doing Shakespeare that I’ve been back in some capacity every year since. Performing in Carroll Park and working with such a talented company is what keeps me coming back, and to be honest, I can’t imagine my summer without it. It’s like Coney Island and Central Park.
Your character, Caliban, is not entirely human (or at least, the script suggests so).  How do you approach a character that is so different in this way?
I began working on Caliban by figuring out his voice. The script tells us that he learned how to speak from Miranda, and that he has recently been reduced to a slave. So, my approach has been to explore themes of innocence of knowledge and betrayal of trust, and to imagine how a being with an elementary grasp of English expresses anger and betrayal. From there, I’ve been working a lot with Beth Ann Hopkins, our director, to form a movement vocabulary that fits in with the production’s overall design. Beth Ann wanted to use the inherent beauty of Carroll Park in our production design, so my costume will be a big part of my character’s body language and movement. I’m very excited to bring what we’ve been rehearsing to Carroll Park next month, and look forward to seeing you there!
Smith Street Stage does a lot of non-traditional casting.  What non-traditional role, Shakespearean or otherwise, would you like to play?
Since I started out in musical theatre, I’d be lying if I didn’t say my dream is to sing Collins in Rent. But if that isn’t to be, I think I’d have some fun as Emilia in Othello or Rosalind in As You Like It.
Are there any actors, directors, or other artists who have been a particular influence on you or whose work you admire?
I’ll see anything Mark Rylance does, ever; I’ve been very fortunate to work with Laura Benanti, who is one of the funniest and most generous performers anywhere; and lastly, if Smith Street could get Ivo Van Hove to direct a tragedy in the park, I’d die to be in that production.

Embracing the Imagination of Shakespeare: An interview with cast member Raquel Chavez

Raquel Chavez - 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 Raquel Chavez, making her Smith Street Stage debut in the role of Miranda.


How did you get into theatre, and acting in particular?

When I was little, I was in a children’s theater production of Rumpelstiltskin, as the imp himself. I wore scruffed-up pointy shoes, had an empathy pregnancy belly strapped onto my back as a hump, and became a champion cackler. It was a tumbling introduction to a world that pivoted on an axis of silliness, make-believe, and a collaborative commitment to full-throttle mischief. And people actually applauded at the finish! Every experience after that became a chase for that same endorphin rush. It wasn’t until high school when I learned about technical “acting” concepts that I got a glimmer of how hard all this stuff really is.  As a kid you can approach this kind of storytelling with abandon, free of self-doubt, without any diminution to your child-driven imagination from analysis and critical thought. Now the goal is synching the formal concepts I’ve learned with that original love of just pretending.

You’ve worked a lot in both classical and contemporary theatre. Do you have a preference between the two? Are there any big differences between the two for you as an actor?

The umbrella of contemporary theater is so encompassing that every time you pick up a script you’re offered a new diversified set of challenges. You try to locate yourself to the proper tone and appear truthful and honest within the role. Playing the role of a 23-year-old fumbling college grad is different than the introspection required of playing Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. But with Shakespeare, there’s the age and beauty of the language combined with the intense drama of the narrative. It gifts the actor with a certain sense of safety to explore their own capabilities and range: a range which goes not wider but deeper.  The choices you have to justify can be so profound and unbelievable that it requires you to jump into a place of wonder, mischief, and danger almost immediately.

This is your first show with Smith Street Stage. How did you get involved with the company and this production? Are you excited to be performing outdoors?

I got involved with Smith Street Stage through Maddie Barasch, a director and producer of the company. I was in a contemporary theater piece that she directed a couple years ago set in Bronx in the 1990s. This new project is, of course, a completely different production and a completely different experience, but coincidently both stories have intense parent-daughter relationship dynamics to explore. I’m also super excited to be performing outdoors. In college I had a wonderful experience performing The Tempest outdoors under a night sky in the blue light of the moon. Those conditions served the story terrifically: we actually performed it through a torrential downpour which boded very well for anyone who might have happened to remember bring an umbrella. The outdoor experience taps into a very particular Shakespearean theater magic that can be immersive and entrancing.

Your character, Miranda, has spent her whole life on an isolated island, with no connection to the outside world. How does this affect the way you approach the character?

Discerning what Miranda has really seen in her life, what she might remember about her past in Milan, what she imagines through the stories that Prospero has told her or what she has learned from the limited amount of books from her island existence—all this is tricky to unpack. What guided me was finding Miranda’s essence through her enormous capacity for empathy and compassion, which I believe derives from the tremendous scope of her imagination. She has “suffered” with those she sees suffer in the torments of the shipwreck at the start of the play, and she falls profoundly in love with Ferdinand through her pity for his misfortune and grief. Her imagination and the island itself are some of her only friends. With them she must construct her only reality. She is naive but she is curious and has a very strong sense of self.

Smith Street Stage does a lot of non-traditional casting.  What non-traditional role, Shakespearean or otherwise, would you like to play?

Somewhere down the line, I would love to play Richard III. It would be a challenge but unbearably fun to explore the depths of power-hungry, satanic masculinity. Richard has emotional fortressed himself with a Trumpian sense of entitlement coupled with a supreme lack of empathy, love, and fear. For me, experiencing through acting those dimensions of power could be useful in learning to dismantle and understand the issues of colonialist, capitalist cisheteropatriarchy—wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Are there any actors, directors, or other artists who have been a particular influence on you or whose work you admire?

I love Julie Taymor’s work. I admire the vibrancy, inclusiveness and breadth of her imagination. Her film version of The Tempest could have been enormously enhanced if only it had been set on the stage, although I’m sure that the actor chosen to play Ariel would have to have been fearless (with really good health insurance).

The Essential Nature of Classical Theatre: An interview with cast member Peter Molesworth

Peter Molesworth Headshot.jpgWith 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 Peter Molesworth, making his Smith Street Stage debut in the role of Ariel.


How did you get into theatre, and acting in particular?
Well, I come from a Jewish-Italian family, so I have a feeling that was a contributing factor in developing my flair for drama… Around kindergarten, I began my dabbling in various art forms: ballet, violin, guitar, clarinet, piano… I finally settled on acting because it tricked me into thinking it was the art form that took the least amount of practice. I was wrong, of course. I’ve heard actors call acting a vocation– and though I do feel it beckons me back whenever I consider dropping it and doing something else, it is a tough road that requires I wake up every morning and mindfully choose to continue on. I’ve always liked telling stories, so no matter what, I have a feeling I’ll be doing that in some capacity.
You’ve done a lot of Shakespeare and other classical theatre. What is it about classical theatre that attracts you as an artist?
Honestly, it’s sort of happenstance that I’ve been involved in mostly classical theatre. I did grow up around it since my Nonna taught Shakespeare and Chaucer, and would tell my brother and I tales from Greek mythology. So I certainly enjoy it, but it was also a large focus of my training with Jim Calder and, of course, my faculty at the Stella Adler Studio. Classical theatre feels very essential to me. Essentially theatrical, essentially human… When we perform it today, it takes advantage of the theatre as a space that the public comes to for a unique experience. It is not film or television that mimics our contemporary times, it is not consumed privately– it demands heightened language and bodies in space with you. I have had very profound experiences as an audience member watching classical material. I love watching and performing in theatre that exploits the actor’s capacities: classical material offers this challenge. If I could be more apart of contemporary theatre, it would be working on plays like Branden Jacob Jenkins’ An Octoroon. Theatre that is undeniably and (sorry to use the word again) essentially theatrical.
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 studied with Jonathan Hopkins and was very excited to audition for Smith Street Stage for the first time this summer. I’m thrilled they have invited me to join their company for this show: they are such good people and I feel so fortunate to be working with them.
I’ve worked in outdoor theatre spaces before, but never in New York. Being heard and understood will be the first challenge of many, I expect. Yet I imagine there will be great freedom in all of the open air, and it will require us all to make large and committed proposals.
Smith Street Stage does a lot of non-traditional casting.  What non-traditional role, Shakespearean or otherwise, would you like to play? 
This list could be endless so I’ll stick with Shakespeare: Juliet and Olivia (and maybe Lady Hotspur).
Are there any actors, directors, or other artists who have been a particular influence on you or whose work you admire?
Jim Calder’s work has had a profound influence on me. As for actors, the list is endless: the greats like Ms. Streep and Mr. Rylance, and to name just a few others: André Holland, Florencia Lozano, Pascale Armand, Billy Crudup, Sarah Paulson, Maria Cassi…
Your character, Ariel, is part of the island’s magic.  The character can change form – and sometimes gender – and in some ways is more fairy than human. How does this affect the way you approach the character? 
I’m answering this question amidst this process’ infancy, so at this point, all I can really say is that Ariel’s gender seems unimportant to me. I’m not thinking about it too much right now… I find Ariel’s spirit and magic-nature to be vibrant and youthful, so I’m following that impulse and seeing where it leads. Also, I note that the magic of this island feels different from magic in his other magical plays, like Midsummer— in Tempest, they are referred to as sprites rather than fairies. Both Sprite and Fairy evoke different images, at least to me, so I’m attentive to that feature of the play. And for now, I’ll leave the magic to mystery.

Finding the Heart of the Text: An interview with cast member Will Sarratt

Will Sarratt Headshot.jpeg

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 Will Sarratt, returning to Smith Street Stage in the role of Trinculo.


How did you get into theatre, and acting in particular?

When I was a kid, there were summer camps that I would go to, to keep me occupied while my parents were working. I wasn’t very good at basketball or soccer, and I really dug theatre. I feel like that’s the earliest exposure to being an actor I had and it was always the thing that I enjoyed the most. My parents were great about taking me to shows all the time when I was a kid and to movies and things. And then I made a decision at a certain point, like, oh, this could be a thing that I do as a career.

You’ve done a lot of contemporary theatre. Why the shift over to Shakespeare?

I’ve always loved doing Shakespeare, and Shakespeare was such a big part of what I did in college. Being at Stella Adler, there’s such a heavy emphasis on classical training and classical work. It’s something that I always loved doing. And in high school as well, I had good exposure, but somewhere along the line after graduating I fell into a lot of new play development and a lot of contemporary work. So I feel like it was just strange fortune to fall in with a lot of younger playwrights and a lot of new plays. Which I love, and I love being a part of new work with people who have such interesting voices, but it’s also such a joy to take a break from that every now and then and do something that is one of the greatest plays of all time. So I always want Shakespeare and classical work to be in my life, because there’s endless work to do with it. You get involved in a production of Shakespeare, and the fun you get to have is just endless.

This is your second show with Smith Street Stage, right?

Well, it depends on what we count. I was an assistant with Smith Street Stage two years ago for Much Ado About Nothing, and played a small role in that, as part of the night’s watch guard. And then I was a part of their staged reading as part of the benefit in December for King Phycus.

So how do you feel coming back to the troupe as a fully-fledged actor

It’s great! It’s a group of people that I’ve known now for many years. Jonathan [Hopkins, Executive Director] was a teacher of mine at Stella Adler. He taught me during my junior year, and was somebody that I loved working with on that level. And it is so exciting and humbling, and I’m honored to be asked to be part of the cast in a big way like this, to be a real part of the show.

You’re playing the role of Trinculo in this production. How are you approaching the character? What are you doing to prepare for the role? 

One of the best things so far is combing through the play with Jonathan Hopkins, moment by moment, and talking through, what is this character’s arc, what is this character’s journey, because all of the storylines in the play are so separate. My storyline with Stephano and Caliban, we don’t see anybody else in the play until the last scene. So for me, it’s about finding who he is, what his journey is, and what that means to me. I see so many relatable things in Trinculo. I see him wanting to be liked. I see him in over his head. I see him trying to get approval and be funny, be clever, be all of these things in the eyes of somebody else, all as part of this stupid, drunken adventure that he’s on. For me, it really is just tracking how he fits into this world, how he fits into this play, and what that means for me.

Smith Street Stage does a lot of non-traditional casting. What non-traditional role, Shakespearean or otherwise, would you like to play?

I’m 5’9” and 120 pounds soaking wet, but I’d love to be a Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire kind of character. Or anyone in Streetcar, I mean, playing Blanche in a gender-swapped production would be a ton of fun.

Are there any actors, directors, or other artists who have been a particular influence on you or whose work you admire?

I had a Shakespeare director I worked with three times at Stella Adler named Angela Viteale. She’s a really great director who taught me to listen to the text and dive through it and see what is there given to me, as opposed to trying to pull choices out of the air. To listen to the language, listen to what’s there, and just trust that. As for what I’ve seen out in the world, especially with Shakespeare: Mark Rylance, who I got to see play Olivia in Twelfth Night and Richard in Richard III. It was one of the most amazing double-headers I’ve ever seen. And the simplicity and the ease, that it doesn’t have to be something performative, necessarily, it doesn’t have to be thrown out there if you are just there and in it and present, and say what you mean and mean what you say. That can be funny, it can be heartbreaking, it can be sweet. That was the only production of Twelfth Night I’ve seen that I thought was legitimately funny in such a human way.

Discovering the Magic of Prospero: An interview with cast member Kate Ross

8 x 10 in. (1)

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 first interview is with Kate Ross, returning to Smith Street Stage in the role of Prospero.


How did you get into theatre, and acting in particular?

I loved acting as a kid – did all the school plays, drama club, etc. When I went to college, I was a pre-med chemistry major. On a lark, I checked out the theater and signed up to audition first week of my freshman year. It was Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem, and I was cast, and then I was hooked. Or sunk, depending on how you look at it. I am eternally grateful to the director (John Orlock, who was then chair of the Theater Program) for seeing something in my completely un-skilled audition and giving me a shot.
You’ve done a lot of Shakespeare and other classical theatre. What is it about classical theatre that attracts you as an artist?
The language. It is such a gift to inhabit this kind of text. And even when the text is complicated and dense, everything you need to know is on the page, so there are very clear guideposts to help you as an actor. In more modern theater, what is NOT on the page can often be the crux of the scene, which can present a whole other set of challenges.

Your last production with Smith Street Stage was Julius Caesar in 2013. What brings you back to the group this year?  What did you learn last time about performing outside, and are you excited (or nervous) to do it again?

I will always jump at the chance to work with Smith Street Stage and Beth Ann and Jonathan [Hopkins, Artistic and Executive Directors]. I’ve known both of them for many years and am so very impressed with what they’ve built with their company. They have such respect for the work, and have created a wonderful partnership with the community in and around Carroll Park.
I had performed outside before Caesar, so I had an inkling of what I was in for. But I don’t know if anything really prepares you for it. I am both nervous and excited, and I’m very much looking forward to diving in!

You’re playing the role of Prospero in our production of The Tempest.  How are you approaching this role, and is your approach different because the character was originally written as a man?

I am approaching the role with awe, respect, and a healthy dose of fear! Prospero is a very enigmatic character, and the more I delve in, the more questions arise. God, it’s exciting. Right now I’m really wondering what part of Prospero, if any, is innately magical? I’m also fascinated by the relationships with Miranda, Ariel, and Caliban. They are all Prospero’s dependents and Prospero exerts a tremendous amount of control over all of them. There is a lot to unlock there! The fact that Proserpo was written as a man is not, I don’t think, as relevant as all the elements and attributes that make this person tick. Those attributes are not necessarily gendered, and I’m hoping to find my own way into them.

Are there any other non-traditional roles, Shakespearean or otherwise, that you’d like to play?


As someone who adores Shakespeare, it is very liberating to think there may be a wealth of parts out there beyond the ingenue roles. So much of Shakespeare speaks to what is universally human in all of us. That said, I’m not looking much beyond Prospero at the moment – my plate is full!

Are there any actors, directors, or other artists who have been a particular influence on you or whose work you admire?

So many… One of the joys of living in NYC is the wealth of theater and talent that is here. A few performances that are forever seared into my brain are Cherry Jones in Moon for the Misbegotten, Janet McTeer in A Doll’s House, Bill Irwin in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Brian Dennehy in Death of a Salesman and The Iceman Cometh… And there is amazing work going on in the indie theater scene. I’ve had the privilege of working with companies like Boomerang Theatre Company and Oberon Theatre Ensemble, and they consistently put up inventive, exciting work with great actors. NYC is really an embarrassment of theatrical riches!

Announcing the cast of The Tempest!

The Tempest is set on an enchanted island filled with all sorts of strange magic. But as we well know, the true source of magic in the theatre is the actors!  A good cast – especially the kind of strong ensemble required for The Tempest – can truly transport an audience to far-off lands of adventure and enchantment.  And we are absolutely thrilled to have found a talented and diverse group to portray Shakespeare’s characters this summer! So without (much) ado, here is the cast of The Tempest:

Raquel Chavez – Miranda

Kate Eastman – Stephano

Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy – Sebastian

John Hardin – Ferdinand

Patrick Harvey – Caliban

Brian Demar Jones – Alonso

Joe Jung – Antonio

Peter Molesworth – Ariel

Sam Richardson – Francisco

Kate Ross – Prospero

Will Sarratt – Trinculo

JT Stocks – Adrian

Corey Whelihan – Gonzalo

 

We can’t wait to see them – and you – in Carroll Park!

Tempest Beach Group at 6AM -9938

Everything I Need to Know in Life I Learned Performing Outdoor Shakespeare

Performing outdoors was an incomparable adventure. This past month was a whirlwind filled with  intense rehearsals, previews, and a great run of performances. Now that the show has closed, I am beginning to realize how much this new experience taught me as an actor, and beyond that how these lessons translate into day-to-day life. So, here are the top 5 life lessons I learned from performing HENRY IV outdoors.

1) Speaking is not the same as being heard

I quickly learned that “quiet” and “intimate” were two things that simply did not hold up in the park. If the text was not delivered loudly enough the audience couldn’t hear it, and therefore the speaking had no purpose. This got me thinking about all those times I mumbled “thank you” and thought that this counted as politeness when in reality the receiver could not possibly have heard me, rendering my words meaningless. Outdoor Shakespeare has taught me that every time I speak to someone it should be supported and committed (both mentally and physically) with the complete intention of being heard.

2) Nothing beats good old fashioned team work

Henry IV was an endeavor that could not have happened without the hard work of dozens of people. As a member of a team it is crucial to fulfill your own job, but good teamwork means going above and beyond that. Sure, everyone is responsible for his or her own piece of the puzzle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help other people get their piece into place. The generosity given by every member of the SSS team taught me that giving help and hard work is not something you do for your own gratification or personal gain. Helping my teammates makes the end product better, strengthens camaraderie, and boosts morale. This means victory.

3) Expect the Unexpected

Live theatre is always prone to surprises, but the great outdoors make unexpected obstacles inevitabilities. Distractions like musical ice cream trucks, helicopters, and children screaming on the playground will (and did) happen. What I learned was to remain focused and to keep telling the story. In life, things will happen that will try to throw me off course, but with the right attitude they do not have to knock me off completely.

4) After the rain there is always some sun

I  never checked my weather app so many times in my life  as I did during the run of this show. Rain is necessary, but it was a lot better when it didn’t come between 6:30 and 10:30 pm. When the skies looked threatening early in the day, the fate of that night’s show became precarious. Luckily, mid day rains and ominous looking skies frequently cleared into beautiful nights.   A little rain never hurt anybody, and even when it pours I learned to never lose hope that the sun will return.

 5) A community coming together is beautiful

One of my favorite parts of every show was during the opening song when I got to look out into the audience for the first time. I could not help but smile when I saw the myriad of people from different walks of life all joined together in those green-folding chairs. How special is it that for those few hours, regardless of age, gender, and background, the audience was undergoing the story’s journey together. Perhaps more than anything, this experience has proved to me that coming together as a community brings joy, learning, and the possibility of growth and change. We have the power to make that happen. Thank you so much to the cast and crew of Henry IV, and everyone who came out to see the show this summer. These life lessons could not have been learned without you. I will miss performing in the park every night, and though I wish we could “hold back the midnight chimes” just one more hour, I’m happy to say that we ended the day as we begun, we ended it all in pleasure.

The Athlete Turned Actor – An interview with cast member Michael Hanson

Michael Hanson

With rehearsals underway, 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 final interview is with Michael Hanson, who returns to Smith Street Stage after playing the role of Orsino in Twelfth Night. This year, Michael is tackling the roles of Hotspur and Pistol for this year’s production.

—–

How did you get into theatre and into acting? 

In high school, I played a lot of sports. I played basketball and football and I got hurt a number of times. I kept dislocating my shoulder, and my doctor said I couldn’t play sports any more. I don’t really even remember how I sort of found theatre. I sort of stumbled into it and I just joined the school theatre. There were a lot of great people and it was fun and I never looked back. And when the time came to start looking at colleges, it wasn’t even really a choice. It was just like, yes, this is what I do now, and I just auditioned for acting schools.

This isn’t your first outing with Smith Street Stage – you were in Twelfth Night in 2012. What brought you back to the company this year?

I would love to work with them as many times as I can. I think they do great work, and I believe in the kind of theatre that they’re doing. And I consider them good friends as well. Any time you can work with friends that you also respect so much, it’s a wonderful experience.

How do you feel about performing outdoors?

Twelfth Night was my first full play ever performed outdoors. And it was like actor boot camp. You really have to fall back on your training in terms of your vocal performance. And physically, a lot of what you do in the room in rehearsal might change because of the outdoor space. We rehearse in a room in Stella Adler Studios, which are these acoustic acting studios. It’s so small, all the moments you have. As soon as you get outdoors, you have to fill the park, which has no walls. And this year of course we’re probably going to have more people than ever stretching back into the park, trying to hear. So it is a challenge, but a welcome challenge.

You’ve worked on both Shakespeare and many other plays. What do you think is particularly challenging or exciting about working on Shakespeare?

It’s all so well-written and it’s so much fun to get to play these characters who are speaking in this heightened language that we don’t have anymore, that we haven’t had for a long time. That to me is one of the most interesting aspects of acting Shakespeare. You’re speaking in these thirty-word sentences; today we have three-word sentences. And you have to sort of recalibrate your brain to extend the thought that you’re trying to communicate to your scene partner so that everyone else in the audience understands you. Going along a thirty-word sentence, that’s a great challenge, and it’s really beautiful.

Are there any actors or directors who have been a particular influence on your work?

So many! You know, when you have a great director, it stays with you, it really does. A director who can show you things and who can empower you as a young actor is a wonderful thing to have. I worked with a wonderful director in Michigan by the name of Jim Daniels and he was just very quotable. He was filled with all of these little gems that he would tell us in between our breaks. He said, “People come to the theatre and they say, ‘Show me what it means to be alive because I am dead inside.’” And he had a whole bag of those really inspirational quotes for actors, which I really believe to be true. I think that’s what art is, sort of overall, that’s what theatre is. People want to see people be alive and they want to see people grapple with issues and they want to see people think through things and that will never not be interesting.

From Sketch Comedy to Shakespeare – An interview with cast member Jonathan Minton

Jonathan Minton

With rehearsals underway, 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 Jonathan Minton, an actor and sketch comedian from Alaska who is making his Smith Street Stage debut in the roles of Worcester and Chief Justice.

—–

How did you get into theatre, and acting in particular?

I really don’t know when I started getting into acting. My mom tells stories about when we moved to Alaska and I threw a big fit about how I wasn’t going to be a famous actor if I wasn’t anywhere near New York… And I was six years old at the time. My dad used to take me to Shakespeare plays when I would visit him in the summer, and my mom would enroll me in theatre classes growing up. So certainly as I got older I started to see that acting was a viable career option.

And not only did you see lots of Shakespeare as a kid, but performing in Shakespeare’s plays has been a big part of your career.

Yeah, that sort of happened by accident. I mean, I’m not complaining or anything. I got into A Comedy of Errors with Hudson Warehouse and then I ended up working with them for their entire summer season. And it just sort of escalated, one Shakespeare production after another. Since I’ve been here, I’ve done maybe two contemporary plays, and all the others have been Shakespeare, which is awesome, but a total accident.

Do you have any favorite Shakespeare plays or roles that you’ve worked on?

I got to play Oberon [in A Midsummer Night’s Dream] last spring with Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, which was a lot of fun. Especially Titania and I, we were on stilts for the performance, and it was an educational tour, so we were doing these stilt performances on a whole bunch of varying-degrees-of-quality stages. And it’s an awesome character. And also York in Henry VI, actually, who is just a total badass.

And this is your first show with Smith Street Stage, right? It is, yeah. So how did you get connected to the company?

Backstage [Magazine]. I was perusing, looking for auditions that I could submit for, and I recognized the name. I’d seen the company name all over the place and I know people who have worked with them. I mentioned this to a friend of mine and he was like, “Oh my god, it’s fantastic!” So it seemed like a good play to throw my hat in the ring for.

Is there anything you find especially challenging or exciting about working on Shakespeare?

I think the challenge and the excitement of it sort of go hand in hand. It’s not contemporary speech by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t want to say it’s difficult, but it is a task, getting used to the language and the rhythm. And getting used to the fact that sometimes the rhythm of the language will change from scene to scene or even from character to character. But once you latch onto that poetry and once you latch onto that same rhythm again, it’s this transportive, almost transcendent thing, when you actually do connect with the language and with the characters and the thoughts. It’s very operatic, the way he writes some of his speeches and some of his characters. Or I guess the opera is very Shakespearean in that way. There’s no façade, there’s no putting on airs, it’s all genuinely what the character is thinking and what they’re feeling. It’s the only way they know how to express what they’re thinking or feeling at the moment. It’s incredibly beautiful.

You’ve also done some sketch comedy. Has that affected your Shakespearean acting in any way?

It has a little bit. When you’re going into an audition like the Smith Street Stage audition, which is one of my favorite auditions I’ve ever had, there was that encouraging atmosphere to just throw yourself entirely into the piece that you’re doing and have fun with it. And when you do sketch comedy, you have no choice but to throw yourself a hundred, a hundred and ten percent into it and make yourself look like a jackass. If you don’t look like a jackass, you’re doing something wrong. And especially with a Shakespeare audition, having that willingness to just say, all right, I’m going to make this funny face when I say this, and for this reason. Acting is just one giant machine that has different parts that need to be oiled – an upgrade on one part of the software will really branch out and assist with another part of the software.

Are there any actors or directors who have been an influence on your work?

John Cameron Mitchell and John Lithgow. I’ve admired Lithgow’s comedic work since I was a kid (I used to be able to quote any given episode of “3rd Rock From The Sun”), and Mitchell changed my life with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, this larger than life myth of a character that he willed into existence, and has taken on its own life. And they both seem like they’d be a lot of fun to just sit and talk with. And I had a high school acting and drama teacher, Susan Wingrove – she had the patience of a saint, teaching acting for a high school. She was pretty inspiring.