Talking Head! with Jonas David Grey, A Kick in the Class
Hi, guys! Welcome to Talking Head!, a new feature on The Bad Oracle. These are interviews with the movers and shakers of the Baltimore small theater scene: administrators, managers, company directors, everyone who makes our community what it is. Keep tuned to this space several times a month for exciting announcements, heard-it-here-first shit and cute gossip.
Talking Head! with Jonas David Grey, BSF’s New Education Director
Jonas David Grey has been chillin’ on the Baltimore scene all cool like it’s nothing, but he’s got serious background and legit chops. He holds a B.A. in English literature (with an emphasis on the works of Shakespeare, duh), from the College of Charleston. You probably know him best from his acting all over the fucking place, in fact, you could have peeped him at Silver Spring Stage, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, or the Jewish Theatre Workshop. He’s a multitasker, too, as he’s also been a guest director for Cohesion Theatre Company. I went crazy over the Edward II he mastermind a couple seasons back and now I’m super stoked to see that he’s going to be doing the good work as the new Education Director over at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory as of February. After a billion technology fails, we finally got it together to talk and here’s kind of what happened.
Can you give me an overview of what’s going on, education-wise, with BSF?
We have a lot planned. In the next few years, I hope to develop a series of classes for students, grades 3-8, a set of year-round workshops for high school students, and a series of courses or workshops that are designed for adults. The adult courses are very important to me. I hope they will appeal not just to actors, but to people who are simply interested in understanding Shakespeare, and performing Shakespeare, better. I would like to see these be useful to people who want to become better audience members, better public speakers, more comfortable in social settings. I believe there are actor skills anyone can learn which are useful in a lot of ways, even if you never intend to set foot on a stage. I also think there is a lot to offer by way of study and discussion that can enhance the audience experience. So that’s a focus for me. In the coming year, we already have three different sets of classes for grades 3-8. They are definitely a go, we’re just finalizing dates. We also have a stage combat workshop for students scheduled for the fall. Down the road, I envision a resident student troupe. We’ll see how much interest we can generate and how quickly things develop.
Talk a little about your approach, how it will be different than we’ve seen over there in the past.
I’m not very familiar with how things have been done in the past. I know the summer camps have been very successful, and we will continue them just as they are for now. Why tamper with something that’s already successful? What I mentioned already is where we are headed. To elaborate a little, the student courses will be progressive. The first series will be a very basic introduction to acting and stagecraft and understanding Shakespeare’s text. The second will focus more on character development, scene study, and building the story. The third will be very performance based. If we are able to mount a full student production in the spring of 2017, this will be the context in which we do it. If not a full production, the class will at least culminate in a completely actualized performance of some sort. I have ideas, but I’m not ready to share them. I think what we are able to offer through the adult courses is particularly fascinating. I don’t know of anyone who currently offers regular adult courses that are not either strictly academic on the one hand or designed for performers on the other. We have an opportunity to develop something pretty unique. I’m excited about that.
Selfishly, I’m wondering if there might be any kind of adult group that would help to “de-mystify” Shakespeare and give us all a better grip on it. Is anything like that in the works?
Yes. I’ll make sure you’re the first to know when it happens.
You are a Shakespearean actor, one I’ve seen and I’m fairly fucking impressed by. So, I guess my big question: why Shakespeare? What is it about it that draws you in?
Thank you. That means a lot. Sometimes I feel like I simply stumbled into performing Shakespeare. I did study his works pretty extensively in college, but that was from an English lit./academic perspective. The first major role I was cast in was Hamlet. Lucky. And after that I was hooked. I guess my performance was okay too, because that one show led to another, and another. Suddenly people knew I could perform Shakespeare and the cast me. Regarding what draws me in, I think the appeal for me is the same as it is for a lot of people. There is a universality to the stories he tells, the emotional depths he plumbs. I think a lot of people have a hard time seeing past the language and the age of the plays. They weren’t written for our modern audiences, but what they explore regarding human nature, regarding relationship… Shakespeare demonstrates a particular kind of genius in those regards. As a performer, you don’t often get to explore such heightened emotions. There are feelings and motivations that go so deep. It’s rarely simple. I find it all very cathartic.
Care to say anything else about your new role or the season?
I feel very privileged to be working with everyone at BSF. I only just met most of them last October, but I am so impressed with everyone. They are a very talented and friendly group of people. I believe we are going to build a program that is unique in Baltimore. I’m excited to get started. For anyone interested in our summer programs, they are listed on the BSF website under Education: Summer with Shakespeare. Check back often. We will be updating the page as new classes come up. That’s shakespearefactory.org. The only other thing I’d like to add is that, addition to my role at BSF, I am going to be offering personal coaching for students and adults. That won’t be limited to performing Shakespeare. I recently left my day job and am thrilled to have the chance to focus all my energies on something about which I am so passionate. I’ve had some great instructors along the way, and I’ve been very fortunate in the career I’ve had so far. If I can share all that in a way that helps others, all the better. Oh yeah. I have a website for that. jonasgrey.com.