BWW Interview: Director Ian Belknap of ROMEO AND JULIET at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (STNJ) continues its exciting 2019 Season with William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Directed by Ian Belknap, the show will be on the Madison stage from October 16 to November 17.
The play is the world's most famous love story and a tragedy of heartbreaking beauty that speaks to every person of every era. This timeless masterpiece about civil and domestic strife, a divided community, and the doomed union of star-cross lovers is a moving, provocative, eternally relevant work of art is filled with some of the most beautiful poetry ever penned.
Broadwayworld.com had the opportunity to interview Ian Belknap who directs Romeo and Juliet at STNJ.
Belknap is making his debut at The Shakespeare Theatre. He is the artistic director of The Acting Company in New York City, founded by John Houseman and Margot Harley. For The Acting Company he has directed and produced the great plays of classical literature and new plays by leading dramatists. His credits include: Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labour's Lost, X:or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation, Native Son, Of Mice and Men, among others. He has worked with authors Jeffrey Hatcher, Beth Henley, Marcus Gardley, Rebecca Gilman, David Grimm, John Guare, Nambi Kelley and Meg Miroshnik. His productions have toured across America, played off-Broadway, and at leading resident theaters. Ian is an adjunct professor at NYU and a guest director at The Juilliard School. He was educated at Towson University, and lives in NYC with his wife Lauren, and newborn daughter Thea.
What was your very first experience directing a show?
Sexual Perversity in Chicago by David Mamet. I really knew nothing and just helped the actors put the scenes together. It was while I was in college.
Have you had any particular mentors?
I have been lucky to have a few:
Mark Lamos, who inspired me to love the great plays and great books.
Margot Harley, who taught me the art of producing and gave me my break.
Doug Hughes, who taught me to think like a director.
Joe Dowling, who has helped me grow as a leader.
John Glover, the first real actor I knew.
Peter Wray, who got me started.
You have a great deal of experience directing classic works. What are some of the challenges of staging such great stories?
Shakespeare had an acute understanding of human behavior. In telling his stories we have to be as specific and precise. Shakespeare, unlike other authors, requires artists to build character and plots based on what someone says, on language.
On a practical level you have more material to stage. There are twenty some odd scenes in Romeo and Juliet, plus sword fights, singing and dancing. So, a big challenge is time management.
As the Artistic Director of The Acting Company in NYC, we know you have had some exciting accomplishments. Would you like to share a little about a few of your achievements there with our readers?
The Acting Company is dedicated to developing American classical actors, so I am very proud of the actors that I have directed--most of whom where right of school when I first worked with them. John Skelley, who played Hamlet with me in 2013, is now playing Harry Potter in San Francisco. Andy Grotelueschen, who I directed in 2009, is starring in Tootsie, and Joshua David Robinson who I directed in Marcus Gardley's X:or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation, is playing Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet.
I am also very proud of the plays we have toured all across the country. Gardley's play was about the Nation of Islam, Betty Shabazz and the assassination of Malcolm X. It played in Arizona and I will never forget young Muslim women coming to see the play and seeing a part of their life experience reflected on stage.
How does teaching courses at NYU complement your career as a director?
I'm really lucky to be surrounded by good actors at NYU and the last several years I have directed at Juilliard. They keep me young, they are the next wave, they have new ideas which is thrilling.
How do you like working at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ?
It's a treat to have 20 actors in Romeo and Juliet. I feel very supported by the theatre and feel lucky to have this opportunity.
Some of our readers have seen Romeo and Juliet performed in the past. What would you like audiences to know about the Theatre's upcoming production.
I've put a particular emphasis on the world of the Friar in Romeo and Juliet. There are actually 8 Friars in our production, they sing, they hold the secrets of the town, and they garden!
The important classical plays, like Romeo and Juliet, endure as they always speak to the present moment of our lives. It is like Mozart, even if you have heard it before, you should go hear a live large orchestra play his music. We have a big production of Romeo and Juliet, so come hear the play anew.
Can you share any of your future plans?
The Acting Company is producing a new play by Rebecca Gilman called Women of the World starring Kathleen Chalfant directed by Valentina Fratti that is playing off-Broadway that begins at the end of October.
For tickets to Romeo and Juliet and all of the upcoming shows at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, please visit http://www.shakespearenj.org/ or call the Box Office 973.408.5600. The Theatre is located at 36 Madison Avenue in Madison on the campus of Drew University.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey