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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Playing a Dream Role – An interview with cast member and Executive Director Jonthan Hopkins

Jonathan Hopkins 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. Today’s interview is with Executive Director Jonathan Hopkins, who is playing his dream role of Falstaff in Henry IV. —– How did you first get involved with theatre and acting? In high school, acting seemed like something that would be fun and that I would like doing, and so I did it and I really loved doing it. And I kept doing it in college and since college. So I guess it’s just something that started out as an extra-curricular activity that I really enjoyed and decided to stay with. Can you tell me a little more about how that turned into you and Beth Ann founding Smith Street Stage? We founded Smith Street Stage because we developed a small cast Romeo and Juliet for a theatre company we were working for in New Jersey. That theatre company was going to produce the play, which we had developed and worked on and presented a workshop for, but they had to cancel the show because of budget issues. Beth Ann particularly felt like she wasn’t through with the project, that she wanted more people to see it and wanted to work on it more. She said that she wanted to start a theatre company and start doing Shakespeare in Carroll Park and so our first production in 2010 was Romeo and Juliet with five actors. And the community was really responsive to it. We had good audiences, and they were very generous with donations after the show, which gave us a sense that maybe this was something with some staying power and something we should keep going with. And so we’ve done a show each summer since then, and we’ve grown every summer since then. And you’ve expanded beyond the summer Shakespeare productions as well – your last show was in Manhattan, right? Yeah, we did another show that Beth Ann developed. A radio play adaptation of A Christmas Carol. And we had done that the previous two years in the park house in Carroll Park, and last year the Pearl Theatre Company invited us to do a week with them. And so we did a week at the Pearl Theatre in late December, which was our first real Manhattan show, and our first Off-Broadway show. You’ve mostly worked on Shakespearean plays. Has that always been your primary interest? Since college, definitely. I took to it very much in college, performing scenes from the plays, working on the plays, and reading the plays. I really fell in love with Shakespeare. I went to London for a semester when I was in undergrad and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and saw a lot of Shakespeare there and just sort of immersed myself in it. I just always come back to it. It’s always the best stuff to read and the best stuff to see and the best stuff to act. Are there any particular Shakespearean plays you enjoyed working on, or favorite characters that you’ve played? I played Malvolio three years ago when we did Twelfth Night. That was a really fun thing to do. And the first year [doing Romeo and Juliet] we only had five actors, so I was Romeo and Lady Capulet, which was a great split, two very different things. And other than the high tragedies, Henry IV is my favorite Shakespeare play, and Falstaff is my favorite character. So I just feel really lucky that I get a chance to work on him because of Joby’s idea that actors would be cast against type. How do feel about the fact that you’re going to be playing against type? How are you planning to prepare for this? I guess I prepare as I would for any other part, which is try to start thinking about how the character is similar to me and how the character is different from me. And even though there is a physical difference and a difference in age, I hope to be able to find some similarities in looking at the part, just thinking about the kind of person that Falstaff is. Just like you would any other part: what does this person want, why does this person say the things they say, how does this person change within each scene and from scene to scene? And I’m just going to trust Joby as well as Maddie and Patrick [our assistant directors] a lot to have an outside eye and to guide us to make sure that what we’re doing looks ok, that the story is being transmitted to audiences who may not be familiar with Henry IV. So I guess I’ll just work really hard and trust my fellow actors and trust my directors. You’ve worked with Joby before, as actors, right? Yes. Joby was our Brutus, and I directed him in Julius Caesar two years ago. And in that five-actor Romeo and Juliet, Beth Ann and I were actors, and Joby was an actor as well. I’ve known Joby since we were both in college; I’ve known him since we were eighteen. So I’ve known Joby for fifteen years now and we’ve acted in stuff all through that time period. There is a lot of trust there, and I think the same things that I love about the Henry IV plays are the things that Joby loves about these plays. I have a lot of trust in him, not just to help me as an actor and help me give my best performance, but to show audiences what’s really, really special about these plays. And what is that? There’s no genre, because they’re histories, so it’s just a story. It’s not tragedy and it’s not comedy, although I think it’s funnier than most of the comedies and I think it’s immensely sad, incredibly sad, this story. So that’s one thing, that it lives outside the realm of what most people know Shakespeare to have written. Another thing is, I think it’s a great story about time and how time forces people to make difficult decisions and how time forces people to grow up and how time brings us into meetings and partings with one another. Which I think is immensely relatable, because everyone has been faced with inevitable change and inevitable loss. And there’s something about the Henry IV plays, especially Part Two, that has a sweet and sad quality. It’s like a song that’s written in a minor key. Imagine going to a place that you went to in your childhood, and it would make you feel wonder and it would make you feel a little bit of sadness and it would make your breath catch and it would make you think about how your life has changed since that time and the life you’ve lead and the person you were, all in a breath, all in an instant. And that to me is what Henry IV, Part Two is like. It’s like a dream of that childhood place. And it’s something that I don’t find exactly in any other Shakespeare play. Are there any actors or directors who have been a particular influence on you? I think there are lots. But I remember in college, going to the NYU library and watching Chimes at Midnight, which was Orson Welles’ adaptation of the two Henry IV plays that centers on Falstaff, and just being very, very moved by that. And still that movie is my favorite Shakespeare movie. Orson Welles directed it, too, as well as acting the part of Falstaff. The way he told the story, and the element of the story that he captured in his movie, I was really struck by. And it was something that I watched during a really impressionable time, because I was in college and acting a lot and reading Shakespeare a lot and so it was a good time to see a great actor, a great artist have a take on a great story.