Seventh-semester actor Jack Dillon is the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s rising star. In the CRT’s newest production, “Shakespeare in Love,” adapted from the 1998 film of the same name written by Tom Stoppard and Marc Noram, Dillon plays William Shakespeare.
While Dillon has appeared in various other CRT productions, including “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” “That Poor Girl and How He Killed Her” and “Hollow Bodies,” this is his first time in the starring role. Dillon reminisced that this was his first opportunity to act in a leading role since high school due to the nature of CRT’s acting program, where actors must train and work their way up to lead status across their four years at the University of Connecticut.
While receiving more prominent roles is one of the more positive aspects of senior year for acting students, Dillon pointed out some sadness that comes with being so close to graduation.
“It’s sweet in a way because a lot of my classmates are in it that I get to work with every day and this is our senior show,” Dillon said. “This is one of our last shows to do with CRT and UConn.”
While the focus of our interview was on Dillon and his role in the show, he never missed an opportunity to mention the rest of the cast and crew on “Shakespeare in Love,” shifting the attention away from himself and highlighting the excellent work they have all been putting in. He placed particular focus on Mary Percy, Jennifer Scapetis Tycer, Greg Webster and Chris Coffey, describing each of their positions and their contributions to the show.
Percy is the intimacy director of the show; her job is to make sure that intimate scenes feel safe and comfortable for all actors involved. Jennifer Scapetis Tycer, the wife of the show’s director Vince Tycer, works with dialect and voice coaching. Webster is in charge of choreography, using movement to heighten the excitement and hold the attention of the audience. Dillon commented on the physicality of Webster’s choreography, saying, “I’m running throughout the entire show. It’s like a workout in itself. I never stop moving.” All of the show’s music, from instrumentals to vocals, was directed by Coffey.
According to Dillon, the size and spectacle of the production are some of its most impressive elements, apparently dwarfing anything CRT has done in years.
“It’s not only a play. It’s also kind of a musical,” Dillon said. “There are a lot of musical elements. We have a band on stage, which is really cool. There’s sword fighting, there’s dancing, there’s romantic tension, there’s funny moments, there’s stunts, there’s rigging, there’s flying moments.”
He stressed how this show is not only geared toward fans of Shakespeare’s work, but can be enjoyed by anyone.
“The audience is never going to be bored because there is something new around every corner,” Dillon said.
In preparing for the role of William Shakespeare, Dillon was able to draw heavily upon his experiences studying abroad in London last fall. While in England, Dillon visited Stratford-upon-Avon, the town where Shakespeare lived, as well as Shakespeare’s birthplace, his wife’s home, his grave and the church he was baptized in. Dillon called it “a surreal experience,” not only considering that he is now portraying the man but also due to the great amount he had previously learned and researched about the playwright’s life.
Dillon put his extensive knowledge on display when describing Shakespeare’s youth. Tearing down the stubborn rumors that Shakespeare himself did not write the plays attributed to him, Dillon talked about Shakespeare’s education in Latin, Greek, reading, writing and poetry. Dillon particularly enjoyed discussing Shakespeare’s roguish early years, constantly getting into trouble and playing pranks on local aristocrats. Despite Shakespeare’s love of his wife and family, Dillon called him a “man of passions,” saying he was swayed by “sex and drugs and whatever. He was kind of like the rockstar of the age.”
It is this view of the Bard that we are given in “Shakespeare in Love.” Dillon compared the play to the modern trend in Hollywood of superhero “origin stories,” saying this story represents a fictionalized version of Shakespeare’s origin before he became one of the most celebrated writers in history.
“This isn’t your grandmother or grandfather’s Shakespeare,” Dillon said. “This is a modern take on Shakespeare.”
Despite the deep research and knowledge that Dillon had going into this show, he described his process of getting into character as no different from his work in any other role, saying he finds “joy in creating a character from nothing.” When reading the script, he took what was on the page while creating his own interpretation and inserting only small bits of outside information on Shakespeare wherever he felt they would aid in his understanding of the character.
Dillon also commented on the play’s interpretation of theatre and acting in general. He said the play illuminated what he called “the magic of theatre” — the frequent moments that turn from “tragedies to triumphs” in live theatre.
Dillon described acting as “doing something truthfully in imaginary circumstances.” He compared American productions of Shakespeare to those he saw while in England, calling English productions far more realistic and naturalistic than the theatrical American versions. In his view, this show deftly weaves Shakespearean language into the dialogue in a way which matches the work done by the British. In this way, the audience will be so wrapped up in the story and characters that they will hardly notice the archaic language.
You can see Dillon and all of the other amazing cast and crew members in “Shakespeare in Love” at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre through Saturday, with performances resuming from Dec. 4 through Dec. 8.
Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.