Theater and Humanity
A letter from Executive Director Jonathan Hopkins
It seems every generation faces a version of the same story: a conflict in which the marginalized are emboldened to address injustice and, to put it simply, have their humanity acknowledged. This movement provokes an inevitable backlash as people rush to defend the status quo, often with vigor and even vitriol. In all its social and political complexities, the struggle to me centers on a fundamental question: who deserves our regard and sympathy?
Against the temptations of selfishness and apathy, we are forced to examine how to bestow greater respect for the humanity of others, and how to contribute meaningfully to that progress. I believe, firmly, in the power of theater to help, and I believe it happens in several ways.Actors are trained to approach characters without judgment, to explore them with sensitivity and sympathy. The very act of making theater begins by bridging differences with curiosity and openness. In building a play, the actor constantly reinforces that those who may be different, even vastly different, are nevertheless relatable and deserving of our care.
If the artists are earnest and diligent in their work, the production will present a world with complexity and nuance in which easy answers are scarce. Characters are confronted with impossible choices and pushed to the edges of their ken. As we, the audience, witness the story, we imagine how we ourselves might act in the face of such circumstances. In doing so, our empathy and regard for possibility stretches. Our sense of the possible heightens, and our capacity for compassion strengthens. The distance narrows between us and the other.
Lastly, theater is inescapably communal. We watch, aware that as we sit among a diverse group of strangers with manifold differences, we share an experience. The theater literally brings people together. More so, it confronts us with the riddles of human struggle. Our answers, with our sympathies, may differ, but we are nevertheless aware that we have all been posed the same questions. The very relevance of those questions to us all testifies to our inherent companionship in the shared human experience and, I believe, a recognition in the humanity and value of everyone.
It is in this spirit that Smith Street Stage endeavors to create the best quality and most impactful art we are capable of.
Jonathan Hopkins, Executive Director
Smith Street Stage seeks to tell classic stories in new ways through affordable, exciting and consequential theater arts. The Company holds that universally recognizable and deeply human conflicts inhere in great literature, and by exploring such texts with rigor and creativity, one may apprehend these truths and reveal anew their relevance to our lives. Such stories presented skillfully and earnestly have the power to engage philosophical issues, excite spectators of all backgrounds and predispositions, and bring communities closer.
Starting with a five actor adaptation of Romeo and Juliet in 2010, Smith Street Stage has always looked for new ways to tell classic stories. Since that first production the Company has grown to hiring over thirty artists and performing summer Shakespeare for over two thousand people each summer in Brooklyn’s Carroll Park.
The company operates under the principle that Shakespeare is not esoteric or elitist, and that an expert and fastidious production will be deeply meaningful as well as broadly accessible. We feel these beliefs are confirmed by our rapidly growing audience, and we’re committed to providing this audience the best free theater in Brooklyn.
In rehearsals our directors and actors focus on the human event of each scene, rooting each actor in the recognizable and sympathetic humanity of the play’s people. This approach mines Shakespeare’s plays for all their profundity: the actors must individually and collectively encounter the unique decisions and circumstances their characters face. Moreover, focusing on clear and relatable human dilemmas renders the plays accessible to all audience, including the school-aged children who annually populate our audiences and return for multiple viewings.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Beth Ann Hopkins
Joby Earle, Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy, Patrick Harvey,
Michael Hanson, Hannah Sloat, Beth Ann Hopkins,
Jonathan Hopkins, Jessica Weiss, Katie Willmorth, Corey Whelihan