BWW Interview: Benjamin Eakeley in TITUS ANDRONICUS at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ

BWW Interview: Benjamin Eakeley in TITUS ANDRONICUS at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey continues their season with the Main Stage production of Titus Andronicus from July 18 to August 5. Resident Director, Brian B. Crowe will helm this rarely produced Shakespearean tragedy. STNJ veteran Bruce Cromer will play the title role; Tony Award nominee Robert Cuccioli and returning company members Vanessa Morosco, and Benjamin Eakeley will play leading roles amongst a cast of 20 actors that also includes young artists from the Theatre's renowned Summer Professional Training Program.

Not seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in over 30 years, the Bard's infamous play was wildly popular with the Elizabethan audience. Now might just be the right time to present it to a modern audience who seem to share the Elizabethan appetite for revenge epics. This unsettling portrait of a society drowning in violence and seemingly bereft of civil thought or action holds a disturbing mirror up to aspects of today's world.

Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing Benjamin Eakeley who plays Saturninus in Titus Andronicus .

Eakeley is in his fourth season with The Shakespeare Theatre. Company credits: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Demetrius), Illyria (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), Love's Labour's Lost (Dumaine) and Carnival!. Broadway: She Loves Me, Cabaret, Sweeney Todd and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. National Tours: Cabaret (Clifford Bradshaw) and Sweeney Todd (The Beadle). He has been seen in seven films, and his television credits include "Orange Is The New Black," "The Blacklist" and "The Good Wife." Awards: New York Drama Critics' Circle Special Citation (Sweeney Todd), Astaire Award Nomination (She Loves Me), and he was a National Finalist in the Lotte Lenya Competition for Singers. Upcoming: NYC solo jazz concert, Broadway Swinger, at Feinstein's/54 Below on August 14. He is a graduate of Yale.

Tell us when you first became interested in theatre and performing?

I grew up a few towns away from the Shakespeare Theatre (then called the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival) and have happy childhood memories of seeing productions there with my father. We would also see shows at the Paper Mill Playhouse and in New York. I dreamed of a life in the theatre but didn't think it was a possibility. Years later, when I was just about to graduate from college, I got some real encouragement from Goodspeed Opera House music director Michael O'Flaherty, and that kernel of hope gave me the confidence to make a serious go at acting instead of pursuing a "safer" career. Cut to the present day, and I am extremely grateful for that support!

Who have been some of your career mentors?

Brian B. Crowe directed me in my first professional Shakespeare play, Love's Labour's Lost, at the Shakespeare Theatre in 2004. This was a major event in my career, and I am so happy to be reunited with him this summer on Titus Andronicus. I've also had other wonderful mentors. During the recent Broadway revival of Cabaret, Alan Cumming showed everybody at Studio 54 how to be a generous and inclusive company leader. Alan also taught me that the best work onstage, no matter how serious the material, always incorporates a heightened sense of play. Working with Harry Connick, Jr., on the Broadway revival of On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever was also a formative experience for me. Harry taught me that we can't try to sing the way people expect us to sing-we have an obligation to bring our own point of view to the material. This lesson might also have been learned at the Shakespeare Theatre: "To thine own self be true."

You have very varied credits. What personal qualities have helped you to achieve such a diverse career?

Wow, what a tough question to answer. I would like to think of myself as curious, collaborative, analytical, friendly and self-motivated, but of course it's impossible to be objective about these things.

I work hard to make sure my wheels (and brain) don't get too rusty, and fortunately NYC offers the best and most diverse training opportunities in the world. I finished my first class at Upright Citizens Brigade just before I began rehearsals for Titus, and when the show closes I'm really excited to start some dance training with my friend Kurt Froman, who taught Jennifer Lawrence all of her ballet sequences in Red Sparrow.

Tell us about some of the challenges of your role as Saturninus in Titus Andronicus.

Saturninus is a juicy role. He is hot-tempered, impetuous, entitled, vengeful, unpredictable and paranoid, and he also gets to play a bit of a lover-or what he thinks is a lover-over the course of the play. He's like a self-perpetuating wind-up toy, and this has been one of the big challenges for me so far. As an actor, I want to be a good scene partner with my colleagues onstage, but much of Saturninus's material is explosive rants, rather than dialogue. It's a bit of a challenge to play a head-of-state who ignores everybody around him in the name of self-righteousness. But then again, I can just turn on the television or open the newspaper these days to research someone who does this quite well.

BWW Interview: Benjamin Eakeley in TITUS ANDRONICUS at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ

We'd love to know a little about your fellow cast members and the creative team.

They're all amazing! (Truly!) Our director Brian B. Crowe has boundless energy and is a joyful, collaborative spirit. This is my third show with him and every moment is a delight. Our costumes by Yao Chen are stupefyingly creative. She envisions imperial Rome as a Milan runway show, and being Emperor in that world has real privileges. We have a cast of 27 actors (yes, you read that correctly!!) and the talent on that stage is just breathtaking. And we feel like a family already. I am particularly proud of the awesome apprentices who are working on our show. I see so much of myself in them, and it is really cool to be a friend and mentor to these actors who are at the start of bright careers.

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

Titus Andronicus is a very important play. First of all, it's rarely performed, so people should come to the show for the unusual opportunity to see it staged. It was one of Shakespeare's most popular plays during his lifetime and gives us a chance to see a true Elizabethan revenge tragedy.

It's important that audiences know in advance that the play is very violent-the plot contains 14 murders and a prominent rape. However, these themes are an increasing reality in modern America, as we've seen in the recent spate of public gun violence and in the important dialogue emerging from the #metoo movement. I think it's more important than ever for all of us to analyze our behavior and reflect upon what society has permitted and even celebrated in the 425 years since this play was written. Titus Andronicus presents an excellent opportunity to have some very meaningful discussions about these pressing issues.

Do you have any plans for the future that you can share?

Yes! I'll be singing with my jazz band at Feinstein's/54 Below on Tuesday, August 14, at 7:00 p.m. The program is called Broadway Swinger, Volume 2, and the band is amazing. The show charts the birth of swing music in the 1930s and analyzes how music lifted American spirits during the Great Depression. It's a fantastic pick-me-up for anybody who could use some extra sunshine in their life. In fact, it's the perfect chaser to Titus! You can get your tickets here: https://54below.com/events/benjamin-eakeley-3/.

Anything else, absolutely anything you want BWW readers to know.

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey has been a wonderful home for me and so many of my friends. This is my fourth season with the company, and their productions are terrific. If you're new to the theatre, or if you're an old friend, take a trip to Madison and see regional theatre at its best!

Follow Benjamin Eakeley on Instagram @benjamineakeley.

Single tickets for Titus Andronicus begin at $29 for preview performances and begin at $49 for regular performances. Prices range from $29 to $69. The Theatre is proud to bring back its successful 30 UNDER 30 program for the 2018 season. Patrons aged 30 and under can purchase tickets for only $30 with a valid ID, subject to availability. For tickets, patrons can call the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or visit http://www.shakespearenj.org/.

Photo Credits: Headshot by Deborah Lopez

Pictured in foreground left to right: Benjamin Eakeley and Vanessa Morosco rehearsing a scene from Titus Andronicus. Photo by Samantha Gordon, 2018.

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