Janna Rosenkranz as Salerio/Stephano

If this post was a NY Post tweet it would be this:

Old broad from the Bronx has new experience, stretches acting muscles! Still finds familiar, happy place! True Facts!

Here’s why:

I was trained classically, which basically means, I haven’t experienced cast direction many times. And by ‘many times’ I mean never. In my 20 odd year career as an actor, I’ve been part of this brave experiment exactly zero times.

It’s also the last thing I expected to experience after moving to West Michigan from my home land of NYC. It’s kind of cool. I’m enjoying it very much, both from an academic and artistic POV. I find it very freeing. Like most actors, I’m really painfully shy, and I’ve lived my life as a nice, well behaved lady (at least that’s what my parents think). I’ve had directors who I could talk with honestly and who sought out and accepted my opinions. I’ve also had ‘old school English directors’ who gave you line readings because they wanted to play the ingénue themselves. I’ve learned to work with both types and their in-betweens. I’ve been a bit hesitant about giving any input, but I’m slowly learning PCSC’s self direction language and now offer my two cents at least once during a rehearsal. It’s so nice being able to talk to a scene partner and play with ideas without involving an all seeing BOSS person.

What’s also wonderful about PCSC’s method and rhetoric is that it is respectful, clear, and generous. Truly an actor’s paradise. In the actor-eat-actor world of NYC theatre generosity from other actors can be difficult to come by, but I felt welcomed by PCSC from the moment I walked into the first audition.

Regarding Merchant in particular, I threw it out there in our first reading that I was Jewish and this play is therefore of great personal interest to me. I once wrote an academic tome (I write tomes, not papers or essays) on Anti-Semitism in the English Language Canon where I mainly compared Shylock to the other great Jew of English Lit, Fagin in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. My thesis was how both of these examples were ‘forgivable’ due to excepted cultural Anti-Semitism and because they are both fully fleshed out characters which elicited sympathy from their intended audiences. Shakespeare’s Jew goes all the way back to the medieval mystery plays and Fagin was based on a real person, Ikey Solomon, a well-known ‘fence’ in London. Dickens’ famously ‘watered down’ his portrayal of Fagin later in his life after becoming friends with a Jewish couple.

But this isn’t an academic blog, so now I’ll talk a little about playing a Christian who has nothing but contempt for Shylock. When Sarah Stark, Joel L. Schindlbeck and I do the famous ‘”hath not a Jew eyes…” scene it’s an interesting challenge to be playing such an insensitive character. Salerio is a bully, he and Solanio have to be make a choice to be threatening in that scene so the actor playing Shylock can give that speech honestly. I’m working on giving Joel more than ‘hate’ at that moment and finding a place in his speech where Salerio might have an enlightened thought or two. One thing I love about acting is listening and reacting, and that scene certainly gives me a workout. Joel and Sarah are both so wonderful to work with that we have started to find moments in that scene which makes it ‘right’ for the three of us, the audience and, of course, the play.

I love Shakespeare so much because his work is about collaboration, which to me is the spirit of theatre. The actors, the text, and the audience come together to create a happening, an event. PCSC lives this spirit to the letter; it’s a pleasure and an honor to be able to work with them. Can’t wait to experience the rest of the Merchant process and can’t wait for Henry IV part I!