“You can study Shakespeare, and never know everything there is to know.” – An interview with cast member Jane May

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 Jane May, who hails from Spokane, WA and recently received her Masters Degree from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She is making her Smith Street Stage debut in the roles of King Henry IV and Hostess Quickly.


How did you get into theatre and acting?

I’ve been an actor since I was eight years old. I got my degree at Santa Clara University in theatre and dance. I’ve just been doing it forever. I tried a couple times to not do it, but I just kept coming back to it. I love it; it’s just a part of who I am as a person. I was in Seattle after I graduated and I did a lot of professional theatre there and got my chops a little bit, and got used to doing theatre more and more professionally. And at a certain point I just decided that the place to really be is New York. So I ended up here about four years ago.

And how did you get involved with Smith Street Stage? This is your first show with the group, right?

It is. I know Joby, the director, through my husband. They did a cool Three Sisters together. I met Joby and his wife through that, and I had heard about Smith Street Stage, although I’d never seen anything by them. So I decided I’d put my name in the hat.

In this production, you’re playing two characters of different genders. How are you planning to approach that? And what do you think of the decision to do gender-blind casting?

I think it’s great. I love it. I actually received my Master’s Degree in classical acting in 2014 from LAMDA, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. My thesis was that I worked with two other women, specifically about this stuff, about gender-neutral casting. The three of us came to it from three different places, but we were all playing the same character – Flamineo in John Webster’s The White Devil. One woman really wanted to focus on trying to become very man-like, and wanted her character to be believably male, and what that entailed. The other woman wanted to approach it as if Flamineo was turned into a woman, so the character was actually a woman. And I approached it as, ok, what happens if I take gender out of the equation and I just play a character. Is that even possible? Can you play a character without all of the things pertaining to gender? So the fact that I’m now doing this is wonderful because I’m getting to apply a lot of what I learned in my thesis directly to serious text work. It’s right up my alley.

You picked a classical acting program for your Master’s. Are you particularly drawn to classical theatre, and Shakespeare in particular? And are there any particular things that are exciting or challenging about performing Shakespeare?

I love Shakespeare. I’m very drawn to him; I always have been. I love classical theatre. Shakespeare just wrote humans so well, thorough, complex human beings in such a beautiful way. There’s a reason – I don’t know what it is – but there’s a reason that he’s a four-hundred-year-old playwright that’s still being produced massively, everywhere. I specifically wanted to train for classical theatre, that is definitely what I wanted to do. It’s interesting – I wanted to train that way because I didn’t foresee myself doing too much of it in the future, in a weird way, because I wanted to focus on other aspects of being an actor and I thought, I’m going to give myself the gift of going to school for a year and just doing this. But since I’ve been back, I’ve already been cast in two classical productions so maybe that’s actually what I’m going to be doing, which is fantastic, because I think it’s wonderful and I really take to it. I love that you can study Shakespeare, and you can do tablework and perform it and you can still never know everything there is to know.

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

Everyone I’ve ever met who’s an artist has had an influence on me. I’m constantly inspired. There’s a lot of bad theatre, but there’s a lot of really good theatre, and it’s always inspiring to want to keep making it. There’s lots of people I’d like to work with and lots of people I have worked with that I’ve admired. I’m really looking forward to working with Joby, frankly, I think he’s really smart. Just the little bit of time I spent in the rehearsal room during callbacks, I was really excited and really jazzed and inspired. The people who have influenced my acting the most recently have certainly been my tutors at LAMDA, and my classmates as well were really brave and inspiring. I think that there are a million wonderful theatre makers in New York City and around the world.


Learning by Watching Others – An interview with cast member Hannah Sloat

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.

Next in our series is Hannah Sloat, who is taking on the role of Prince Hal in her Smith Street Stage debut. Hannah is a classical actress from Durham, NH and an original cast member of Broadway’s War Horse.


Can you tell me about how you got into theatre and acting?

There’s a story that my mother tells, from when I was five. I was at an outdoor theatre performance of Peter and the Wolf and I was looking up at the stage and I said, “I want to be there; I want to do that.” I was somewhat performative as a kid – I guess many of us are – but I was an only child, and I did a lot of imagination play by myself and I really enjoyed that. I ended up doing the school plays in the third and fourth grade and I joined this children’s theatre group when I was in the sixth grade, and then I really didn’t look back. I was in that group through the end of high school and I did a lot of plays with them. I had brief instances where I thought I might be a teacher or a gymnast, but neither of those happened.

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

It is, yeah. I had the good fortune of seeing Much Ado About Nothing last year. I had a couple of friends in the show, and I loved the show, I loved the atmosphere, I loved the mix of people who come with their blankets and have clearly planned to be there and have ordered a pizza or brought a picnic, and that combined with people that stop by and are just sucked into the world of the show for maybe fifteen minutes or maybe they stay for the whole thing. I loved that combination.

What sort of experience do you have doing Shakespeare?

A lot of what I’ve done in the city has been Shakespeare with small, independent companies. It’s been a while since I’ve done one – my last one was before I did War Horse, which was in 2010. So it’s been several years since I’ve done one.

So what are you doing to get back into doing Shakespeare, and the role of Prince Hal in particular?

I actually just started getting help from my boyfriend. He’s helping me to work out, lifting weights, which is not something that I often do. It’s sort of a twofold, cardio and weightlifting for the lungs and the overall capacity to be in such a big space and be open and free and have the core and the base to do that. I’m really excited to be fighting in this show. It’s been a while since I’ve been fighting with swords regularly and so I want to have the muscles to do it and be not nervous, but excited about doing it night after night.

And of course you’ve been cast as a man for this production. Are you doing anything special to prepare for that?

I talked with Joby somewhat recently about where we both were at in terms of our thinking about the role and the show. For me – and I think we’re on the same page here – the idea of Prince Hal as this human being, and one of his characteristics is that he’s a man. There are many things that I connect with Hal about, besides the gender part, like the idea of wanting something and really not wanting it at the same time. He has these big questions about what it means to have something like the kingship given to you but also needing to earn it, and earn the respect to be the king and have people want to follow you. Especially at this time, with his father having risen up and taken the crown, his footing isn’t that sure. In some ways it seems like it’s inevitable and at the same time a lot of what the plays are about is the rockiness and unevenness of it. And so I feel like, in a certain way the gender doesn’t scare me too much. I also think that it’s about relationship. And so I have to be with Falstaff as man to man, and what that relationship means – as long as it’s clear and it doesn’t feel like Falstaff hanging out with one of the bar wenches, which would be so different obviously. For me, it has more to do with understanding the relationship, and gender obviously plays a big part in the way that different people behave toward one another. Coming at it from that angle makes it the most concrete without making it about having to put on a whole bunch of false physicality. I’m not so worried about that right now, I think that those things will hopefully be able to come through the exploration of these relationships.

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

Joby and I were talking about influences on the characters and maybe taking a look at other films and other people playing this role. And he said, “Don’t do it if it’s going to mess you up,” but I had this experience in the children’s theatre company where at each show you would have a different person playing the lead role because there were so many kids. My director didn’t want twenty-five kids to sit around while four of them got to do the fun stuff. So when we did The Wizard of Oz, there were four Dorothys, there were four Wicked Witches, there were four Good Witches and so you didn’t get to rehearse the scenes all the time. You spent seventy-five percent of the time watching other people do it, which was really an amazing way to learn, because you’re able to do that thing that actors talk about a lot – we beg, borrow, and steal from wherever we can. And it gave me such a sense of how much perspective and how much talent there is, even in little Durham, New Hampshire there is so much that you can see.

“It’s about time for gender-blind casting.” – An interview with cast member and Artistic Director Beth Ann 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.

Our next interview is with Artistic Director Beth Ann Hopkins, who will be playing the roles of Bardolph, Douglas, and Warwick.


Can you tell me about how you got involved in theatre and acting?

It’s kind of a funny story. My parents are both teachers and part-time magicians, so when I was a little kid they’d put me in their shows. When I got a little older, a little bigger, I was too old to do that kind of thing, so I started to seek out theatre on my own. I always loved singing and being on stage. And then when I graduated high school, I just knew it was what I wanted to pursue. So I went to the University of Connecticut to study there, and came right to New York after that.

You’ve done lots of Shakespeare, but a lot of other plays as well. What is particularly challenging or exciting about working on a Shakespeare play?

It’s poetry; it’s not just two people having a discussion. There’s so much to each conversation. There’s never been a Shakespearean play or a part where I’ve just been like, nah, I guess I’m done with that, I’ve nailed that, now on to the next thing. There’s always more that you can learn about these characters.

You’re one of the founders of Smith Street Stage. Can you tell us about how the company came together?

We started with a four-person production of Romeo and Juliet that we had done out in New Jersey. At the time, I had just moved into an apartment in Carroll Gardens and really fell in love with the neighborhood. I wasn’t done with Romeo and Juliet and I really wanted a place to do it, and I just felt so grateful to this new neighborhood that had just welcomed me with open arms that I wanted to give something back to the community. I wasn’t really sure if we were going to stay; I wasn’t sure if we had the right place or if they were even going to want us. But it was just kind of a little gift, a little thank you for welcoming me to the community. And they did, people came. It was fantastic. It’s funny, we started the company with the idea that it was going to be one show and then we’d see if we wanted to do more. But then Jonathan and I never had to question if we wanted to do one more or not – we just started planning for the next year. We never had the “should we not or should we” conversation; it was obvious that we should. It felt like the right time and the right place.

And one of the things the company is doing this year is the gender-blind casting.

I love it. I’m so excited. I was just like, it’s about time, I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now. We’ve kind of played around with it here and there in other productions. Even in our first production I played a man and Jonathan played a woman, so there was that kind of back-and-forth. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing Shakespeare, he will always be one of my favorites, but man, he wrote a lot of guy parts. And it’s really frustrating to have all these amazing women come in that I can’t use. I want people to come in with an open mind that there is a possibility that women can play these parts just as well. Look at what Sarah [Dacey Charles] did with Julius Caesar [at Smith Street Stage in 2013]. We were taking a big risk, and now I can’t imagine it any other way. And this year both the king and the king’s son will be played by women. I’d say that’s a really exciting idea that will open other people’s minds to the fact that, why don’t more people cast their shows like this.

As one of the actors who has been cast as the opposite gender, do you feel like there’s anything special you need to do to prepare for this particular role?

I’ve done this a couple times before, but never anything like this play. It’s always a challenge, it’s always something completely new, but that’s part of what’s exciting about it. It’s not like I can go back and refer to all the women who have played Bardolph and Douglas before. I get to make it my own. It turns me on, and it scares me too, in a good way. But Joby I think is going to be a great leader with that.

Even though you don’t have previous female Bardolphs or Douglases to refer to, are there other actors or directors who have particularly influenced you?

I just saw a production of The Iceman Cometh and it just kind of, Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane and that whole entire cast just reawakened my joy for theatre in such a great way. I love when that happens. And Mark Rylance is definitely an influence. I’ve seen him a couple of times on stage, including Jerusalem a few years back. He was just so brave, and so ready to fail. And I think that’s something I want to do. I want to be ready to fail, because if you’re not ready to fail, then I don’t think you’re going to be able to really explore deep enough to come up with something that fresh and new. Otherwise, for me, it’s just going to feel like I’m copying someone else’s work. But this comes from me, and that’s what’s going to make it original and beautiful.


Uneasy Made Easy: A Historical Prequel to Shakespeare’s HENRY IV

Matthew S. Sciarappa

Matthew deep in study

by Matthew S. Sciarappa

It’s no wonder why we hear King Henry conclude, “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” in Act III, scene 1 of Henry IV part 2. Handling the monumental pressures of both running a nation and ensuring a lineage doesn’t exactly sound like pie. In Smith Street Stage’s upcoming production of Henry IV we will see King Henry grappling with his uneasiness and sporting that very heavy crown.

However, he was not the first man taxed with such a tremendous task. England has a rich and intricate history leading up to Henry IV that (let’s face it) can make us feel “uneasy” ourselves in figuring it out.

But let’s say that you’re auditioning for Henry IV sometime soon; or you’re at an intellectual cocktail party with friends; or you’re an impressive Shakespeare buff, but you don’t quite know what happens before the time of this play, when suddenly you’re asked, “How did Henry IV get to be Henry IV?”

Well, ladies and gentlemen, to help you answer this question I’ve compiled a brief history highlighting the key players and events that you should know.


  • Edward II

Edward II began his rule in 1308. No one in England at the time really seemed to like him, as he played favorites with particular nobles in court and continuously failed in war against Scotland.

Eventually, Edward II’s wife, Isabella of France, teamed up with her lover, Roger Mortimer, and launched a revolt against her husband. In said revolt, Edward II’s own forces abandoned him. Really, he was not a popular guy.

Edward II relinquished his crown to his fourteen-year-old son, Edward III, in 1327 and later was probably murdered—we don’t know that for a fact, but the dude rather quickly wound up dead.

  • Edward III

Edward III was only a bit more popular than his dad, but he was pretty stoked to be the new king. So much so, that at age seventeen he decided to throw a coup against Roger Mortimer (previously mentioned) who was ruling de facto at the time.

Edward III continued the fight against Scotland, which was a major struggle, but he managed to gain a decent victory in the Battle of Halidon Hill.

Edward III soon had the brilliant idea that since his mommy Isabella was French, he could be the king of both France and England. France obviously said “heck no” (I may be paraphrasing) and this whole ordeal led to a little quarrel between the nations known as The Hundred Years’ War…smooth move Eddie…

Edward III had four sons, and we only really care about three of them because the last one was eventually beheaded for treason. The three sons we care about are as follows: Edward the Black Prince, Lionel Duke of Clarence, and John of Gaunt the Duke of Lancaster.

FUN FACT: the middle son, Lionel, will eventually produce a lineage leading to Richard III, but that’s a whole other story/Shakespeare play we can save for another time. We’re going to ignore Lionel right now. Nothing personal.

  • Edward the Black Prince

Edward III’s eldest son, Edward the Black Prince, did not get to be king. After living a life of impressive military success, he took ill. His stubborn father, our Edward III, outlived him. When Edward III eventually died (illness as well in 1377) the crown was passed to his ten-year-old grandson, Richard II. Remember Richard II. We’ll come back to him in a moment.

  • John of Gaunt

Edward III’s other son, John of Gaunt, had some unpopularity problems just like his dad (are we noticing a theme here?). John of Gaunt’s unpopularity stemmed from his lack of familial grounding. England wasn’t sold on his parentage; there were rumors at the time that he was a mere butcher’s son. This was in part because Edward III was not actually present for his birth.

However, John of Gaunt was a decently successful military commander, and for a while was essentially running England’s government. This was due to Edward III’s/Edward the Black Prince’s illnesses and deaths. John of Gaunt travelled to different countries, crusaded against enemies, and even buddied up with famous writer Geoffrey Chaucer.

John of Gaunt had two wives in his lifetime, Blanche of Lancaster and Catherine Swynford.

FUN FACT: Catherine Swynford came later, and also had something to do with the lineage leading up to Richard III, but we’ll again forgo traveling down that path.

  • Blanche of Lancaster

There isn’t much recorded history about Blanche of Lancaster, but she and John of Gaunt seemed to have gotten along rather well. By all accounts, she was attractive, wealthy, and faithful to her husband. She and John of Gaunt had seven children, three of which survived infancy, and one of which was Henry of Bollingbroke (I repeat, HENRY of Bollingbroke… SPOILERS: He becomes our King HENRY IV).

OKAY! Let’s Check in

So here’s where we are now: it’s 1378, all the previously mentioned Edwards are dead, John of Gaunt is still alive/running England, ten-year-old Richard II (remember him?) is presently king, and ten-year-old Henry of Bollingbroke is his cousin.


  • Richard II

Richard II, though starting out at age ten, didn’t do half bad as a king. He successfully suppressed the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381 with help from advisors, and in 1389 he claimed full control of his position as king, leading to a relatively peaceful eight years in England.

  • Thomas de Mowbray

One day in 1398, some gossipy duke we don’t like named Thomas de Mowbray decided that Richard II’s cousin, Henry of Bollingbroke, said something treasonous against the kingdom. Henry of Bollingbroke denied this, and suddenly their dispute became a big deal.

Neither Thomas de Mowbray nor Henry of Bollingbroke would surrender in their battle of hearsay, so Richard II decided that the two dukes should duke it out in a duel. On the day of said duel, Richard II was feeling temperamental, and instead of letting one of these men kill the other, he chose to banish Henry of Bollingbroke for a time, and exile Thomas de Mowbray for life.

  • Henry of Bollingbroke

Henry of Bollingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt, passed away one year after the banishment. Richard II got a little greedy and decided that since Henry of Bollingbroke was presently banished, he was not entitled to his inheritance.

Henry of Bollingbroke was not very happy about this, so in 1399, while Richard II was away in Ireland, he chose to invade England to reclaim his inheritance. He had such a large following, however, that it soon became clear: Henry of Bollingbroke could overthrow Richard II and become king of England. So obviously he did, and in the same year he crowned himself our very own King Henry IV.

And thus, ladies and gentlemen, we begin at Shakespeare’s Henry IV part one. I hope you’ve enjoyed this whirlwind history lesson!

Matthew S. Sciarappa

Sometimes all this history can be overwhelming.

–Matthew Sciarappa, SSS Assistant