BWW Interview: Whitney Maris Brown in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ

BWW Interview:  Whitney Maris Brown in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ

Shakespeare in Love will be onstage at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey through November 12. Based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, the show is directed by the theatre's Artistic Director, Bonnie J. Monte with music by Paddy Cunneen. The show has been adapted for the stage by Lee Hall.

Shakespeare in Love is an exuberant theatrical "love letter" based on the award-winning film of the same name and it's no less a joy than the original screen version. Filled with music, and a huge cast of colorful characters, the play captures the Bard as he struggles with writer's block and a forbidden romance with the woman who becomes the muse that inspires some of his greatest work. An epic Elizabethan extravaganza, it is rousing, funny, and a beautiful homage to love, art, and Shakespeare himself. had the pleasure of interviewing Whitney Maris Brown who plays Viola de Lesseps in Shakespeare in Love.

Whitney Maris Brown is in her first season with The Shakespeare Theatre. New York credits include The Blonde Streak (Transport Group) and Loving v. Virginia (New York Stage and Film Powerhouse). Her regional credits include Summerland (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park); The Parchman Hour (Guthrie Theater); Venus in Fur (Pittsburgh Public Theater); June Moon, Jason and Julia, Loving v. Virginia, The Pits, Far Away, The Valley of Fear, Szinhaz, Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen (Williamstown Theatre Festival); It's a Wonderful Life (Mile Square Theatre); Annie, The Buddy Holly Story and You Never Know(Millbrook Playhouse). On TV she has appeared in Divorce (HBO), The Path (Hulu), and The Americans (FX). Ms. Brown received her BFA from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

Tell us a little about your earliest interest in theatre.

I was first introduced to theater at a summer camp in the Berkshires. I played The Cheshire Cat in a musical called "The Trial of Alice in Wonderland." I wore a thick, purple corduroy jumpsuit and held a large, cardboard smile in front of my face as I sang the words from the poem, "Jabberwocky". I can still remember how the song goes and I have the most vivid memory of my super cool older sister lifting me up and twirling me around after the show and telling me how good I was.

Do you have a mentor that has inspired your career?

My first job out of college was given to me by Mary Kate Burke, who is currently the new Artistic Director at Cape Fear Regional Theater. She was the first person who believed in my abilities at a time when I had very little belief in myself. I watched her run a theater with so much dignity and grace that I was just in awe of her. Every day she showed me by example how to be an artist, a leader, a worker among workers, a solution- seeker. Mary Kate showed me then and continues to show me now how to be patient, humble, and generous. She has done more to help me become an artist by teaching me how to be a human being. I always refer to her as my mentor because she has guided me both in my professional and personal journeys.

Tell us about the challenges of playing Viola de Lesseps in Shakespeare in Love.

Playing Viola de Lesseps is JUICY and FUN! She is a woman who longs to escape the confines of a society predicated on customs and traditions that do not serve nor enlighten her. Theater and poetry are her way out of the black and white life of a noble woman and into the colorful landscape of freedom and possibility. The challenge I face as an actress is also the challenge that Viola faces in the play: I must disguise myself in order to seize the adventure of being a player in a company of actors yet I need to also wear a mask even when I am home at court. I rarely get to just be Viola, except when I am in the private company of my Nurse or William Shakespeare. I vacillate constantly between being Viola, Viola as the Viola that Society expects, Viola as Thomas Kent, Viola as Thomas Kent as Romeo, Viola as Juliet. I have to be on top of who I am in each moment and how that informs the words and actions I am using to get what I need.

Many people are familiar with the show as a movie. Why do you think it works so well on the stage?

Shakespeare in Love is one of my favorite movies. Without question! And yet I am so grateful that our play is not an exact recreation of the movie on a stage. The story is is the same but the delivery will be different. People will hear things in a new way or perhaps things they never heard from watching the movie. Like most productions of a Shakespearean play, it will be a bright new experience of a well - known story.

Tell us a little about the cast and creative team for Shakespeare in Love.

I cannot believe how lucky I am to go to work with this company of actors everyday. I mean, my goodness! The talent in this group makes me ugly- cry at least once a day. It's really fun to be around so much masculine energy as there are 16 men in the show and 4 women. Some days I feel like Wendy with her lost boys - in the best possible way. Bonnie J. Monte is a fierce and fabulous director and I am so grateful for her at the helm. And the creative team is dripping with genius - hold onto your hats!

How do you like working at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

This is my Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey debut and I am PSYCHED! I remember waiting on the Non- Equity lines to try to get seen at auditions for STNJ when I was fresh out of college, so it is really special that I get to play this role in this show. The facilities here are so gorgeous and the staff is fantastic. I feel so supported and taken care of every single day. When they tell you they have your back, they really mean it.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know?

Lastly, I hope that when people come to see our production of Shakespeare in Love, that they try to set aside what they already know from the movie so that they can have a new experience of the story on stage. I hope people come in with an open mind and an open heart so they can escape deeply into this stunning world where Shakespeare's words were heard for the very first time. I think of my Father telling me about the birth of Rock N' Roll and how every time you turned a radio on, you heard a sound that you never heard before. Imagine being alive in the 1590's and going to the theater and hearing words, ideas, and poetry unlike anything you have ever experienced. Cool, huh?

For more information on Whitney Maris Brown, visit her web site at

Shakespeare in Love will be performed at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey through November 12. The theatre is located at 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, New Jersey on the campus of Drew University. For more information and ticketing, call the Box Office at 973.408.5600 and visit their web site at

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Whitney Maris Brown

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