How a Chicago Actor Finds Shakespeare in Sarasota

Theater

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY JAN 12, 2018

When Asolo Repertory Theatre chose to produce Shakespeare in Love for its 2017-18 season, actor Jordan Brown had many reasons to be interested. A fan of the source material (in both senses of the phrase) and his potential collaborators in director Rachel Rockwell and playwright Lee Hall, who adapted the Oscar-winning film for the stage, Brown had also heard only good things about Asolo Rep. The only daunting bit was the idea of playing a figure so iconic but still largely unknowable—Shakespeare himself.

Currently onstage at the Asolo, Shakespeare in Love takes the audience back to the days when William was just Will and no more than a promising playwright juggling the demands of dueling theaters and a massive dose of writer’s block. With the arrival of Viola, he may have found his muse, or bitten off more than he can chew. An ambitious production with a large cast and lots of moving parts, Brown expressed elation at performing under Rockwell’s guidance again, calling her a “big draw” to the project. “I love her work,” he says. “She knows exactly she wants, and it’s good to have a director who is very clear on her vision.” And while this allows Brown to dive into his own private world to explore character subtleties, Rockwell remains a “born collaborator,” open to suggestions from all sides. “But she is also a very good captain of the ship,” he says, “and keeps things moving.”

A Chicago actor making his Asolo Rep debut with the production, Brown was also intrigued hearing stories about the theater from fellow actors. Returning to the Windy City from sunny Sarasota, they spoke highly of both the theater itself, and the people who call it home. Today, at least in Brown’s circles in Chicago, the Asolo Rep enjoys a quality reputation that draws talent. Combine these with a script from Hall, and Brown knew he had to throw his hat in the ring. “It was all of those elements coming together,” he says. “And the chance to play Will Shakespeare.”

Simultaneously daunting in his iconic nature and liberating in the fact that little is known about Shakespeare the man, the role certainly presented a challenge. But what Brown didn’t know about being a 16th century British playwright, he did know about how it felt to be a starving artist, which is where the audience finds Will. “You lock into some commonality and go from there,” says Brown. “Let your imagination fill in the gaps and try to make it as honest as possible.” Still a daunting task, “that typically means you should go for it,” he continues. “A little fear is a good thing.”

Currently on stage at the Asolo Repertory Theatre, Shakespeare in Love runs through March 28.

Pictured: Laura Rook and Jordan Brown in Asolo Repertory Theatre's "Shakespeare in Love." Photo by John Revisky.

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