Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Introducing JC Vasquez!

In Actors Shakespeare Company's ten-year history, Romeo has been played by Zach Calhoon, Colin Ryan and, in a recent ASC Lab, by Jonathan Hopkins. ASC’s Blogger sat down for a chat with JC Vasquez to get to know the company’s newest Montague a bit better.

ASC: What does the JC stand for?
JC: Juan Carlos. I’m Colombian by way of Miami. I was born in Miami. The reason I usually go by JC is because my name in Spanish typically sounds very beautiful but in English sometimes sounds ugly. Also in loud spaces people sometimes think my name is Warren or One, which I do think is funny because there was a Paul Rodriguez movie called ‘Juan in a Million’ (note: that 1994 film is actually called A Million to Juan, but it’s still funny JC!). It’s actually the second most common name next to Mohammed.

How did you get from Miami to New York?
I came to New York for graduate school. I got accepted into the Actors Studio at the New School for Drama. That was a three year program and I’ve been here ever since.

How did you end up finding ASC at NJCU?
That was through Playbill or Backstage. I auditioned and was invited back for a Company callback, but the callback never happened. Lo and behold I ended up seeing another audition notice for the Company, so I sent an email saying “I’d like my callback please!” And so I was invited to a callback and then I got invited to do [The Scottish Play]. And then I auditioned again and got Romeo.

Shakespeare is not where you’ve done most of your work previously. What sort of work had you done before this?
I’m contemporary. I was trained in a more contemporary style. In the past I’ve done a lot of downtown theater and experimental, avant-garde type of stuff. I’ve gotten to do many types of theater but I’ve never gotten to do Shakespeare before now.

This production has a more contemporary look and feel. Do the character and language feel contemporary to you?
Thinking of him as contemporary definitely gives me more license to ask “what would I do as a 16-year-old now?” It creates more freedom for me because I don’t have to feel constricted by the period or be unsure of what the social constructs were back then. If there were any, since it doesn’t feel as though these characters are very limited. Obviously you can’t change the language – the language is of the period. But what you can bring to it is your behavior and I think that’s what will make it seem more contemporary. I can tell you for example in the scene with Romeo and Mercutio’s vulgar wordplay [Act II, scene IV], I keep on having the image of playing around with guy friends where they’ll play the ‘smell-my-fingers’ game. You know what I mean? That sort of behavior is something contemporary audiences get and that’s what I like to watch, as somebody who doesn’t have so much Shakespeare experience. What I like to watch onstage is when the acting is clear in the physicality. I might not be listening for whatever reason, but if I see somebody play around with gestures suddenly I know what they’re talking about. We’re talking about sex? I’m back in!

How has the experience of working on one role in Romeo and Juliet differed from the many roles you played in The Scottish Play?
It’s not really that different. With Romeo, each scene he’s in shows me a different side of him. If I was looking at the beginning of the play and I fast-forward to the end of the play, these could be characters in different plays because they’re so different. It’s simpler [than The Scottish Play] because I don’t have to come up with a different physicality for each character, but I do have to discover how Romeo is different. And to make it even more nuanced, to find out how he is different from me.

What have you found? How is he different from you?
He speaks his mind. Romeo is somebody who, in a way, doesn’t have a censor. It’s either his sense of beauty or love, but everything is so much that he can’t contain it and his heart is going to explode. Or the flipside, when his despair is so great that his heart’s going to implode. But he can’t ever just say ‘nothing’ about it. That’s a big thing, because I don’t find myself ever having very much to say. And even if I do, I’m hard pressed to talk about it. I think that’s the main thing. What I have that’s similar to Romeo is that I am such a romantic. When I was younger, I had three big books that I used to write in all day. A few lines of poetry would come into my head about my day and I would have to write them down! I relate to his feelings of yearning for love or the beauty in life. His need for love, I guess is what it is. I can relate to that, but everybody can.

Are there any roles you’d like to play in the future?
I would love to play Valentine (Two Gentlemen of Verona) – that’s my audition monologue and I’ve never seen a production. And I would love to play Edgar in King Lear. I love him.

Do you have any thoughts on what you’re doing after Romeo and Juliet?
I don’t really know. I’ve really been focusing on this production. Actually, I kind of vowed not to do any more theater after this project and only do film, but I always make a vow like that at some point and I always come back. This last time I made this vow was in July of last year. I decided I was going to quit acting. But I only lasted six months before I ended up coming back. And I ended up getting this!

So I guess theater is your Rosaline…or maybe your Juliet?
It can be both! I like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “art is a jealous mistress”. I think that’s very true.

JC Vasquez will be playing Romeo in Actors Shakespeare Company at NJCU’s production of Romeo and Juliet from November 5–21, 2010 at the West Side Theater. Tickets are available through

Monday, October 11, 2010

Meet Our Sweets!

By Natalie Lebert

For the Shakespeare fan, Halloween, the season of sugar and spirits, inevitably evokes the character of Mercutio who rhapsodizes in Romeo and Juliet about the nightly comings and goings of Queen Mab, our favorite faeries’ midwife.

…She gallops night by night
O'er ladies' lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are

Plaguing ladies with blisters because their breath is scented with the odor of candy? Ouch. Steady on Mercutio – many of us like candy. In fact, the ladies of ASC at NJCU would like to take this opportunity to speak on behalf of their favorite sweet…

Colette Rice, ASC at NJCU’s Artistic Director and Play Master for the upcoming productions of Logomaniacs and The Tempest, shared the following: It’s been said to me that you can take the girl out of California, but you can’t take the California out of the girl. This is certainly true as far as candy is concerned. My sweet tooth comes from my mother, as does my favorite candy. Every Christmas I visit family in northern CA, where Mother and I make an assortment of candies that friends and family drool over. Fudge, English toffee, divinity, peanut brittle… everyone has their favorites. But when the confections are complete, Mother and I package up our homemade delicacies and open her box of See’s chocolates – Nuts & Chews. She almost always has a box of See’s because everyone knows it is her favorite. Last Christmas she had four pounds in the freezer by January 2. Scotch Mallows are her chief weakness, though anything with caramel elicits moans of bliss from both of us. Personally, I have a penchant for the cashew brittle – a salty, sweet delight of crunchy caramel and cashews dipped in velvety white chocolate. See’s is only available in the Western U.S., so it’s a pleasure associated largely with home and family. Maybe that’s why it is such a sentimental favorite. Still, having eaten a lot of chocolate in my time, I can also say it’s some of the finest candy one can buy. Eating it with your mum? Well, that’s just an extra layer of sweetness.

Bethany Reeves, Voice Master for ASC at NJCU and soon to appear as Ariel in ASC at NJCU’s production of The Tempest, was almost unable to choose, but finally settled on “a luscious, rich, dark chocolate filled with creamy caramel. High class. Godiva at the least.”

Denise Hurd has choreographed many a thrilling swordfight during her years with ASC at NJCU. She helmed last season’s reading of Madness in Valencia and will be in charge of Shakespeare’s Queens, an ASC Lab coming your way in February, 2011. Denise’s favorites showcase her artistic bent: “Although I am very [fond of] walnut fudge, especially from Lilac chocolates, I really love Marzipan. I love the taste of almonds and the cool shapes you can twist it into.”

Jessica Myhr will be appearing in ASC’s upcoming Logomaniacs and gets her fix from… “The cupcake - What's not to love about an individual cake with frosting in a cozy little wrapper? The word alone conveys cuteness! My favorite is the red velvet cupcake...much like the yummy roles I play - it is colorful, in a deep red color, and has a rich cream cheese frosting (if done correctly) that is indulgence at its finest. Cake is after all a sweet for queens!”

Jessica Weiss has appeared in several ASC at NJCU main stage productions including last season’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and will be playing Miranda in this season’s production of The Tempest. Jessica broke with our resident chocolate fans, but like Colette, her sweets elicit memories. “Some of my favorites are apple and cherry jolly ranchers, because my grandfather used to carry them in his pockets – we called him the candy man. He passed away when I was eight, that's about all I remember about him.”

Susannah Baddiel, a longtime Company member and part time UK resident, played Titiania in last season’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her preference in sweets carries a distinct across-the-pond bias –go figure. “Favorite candy: Fudge - the English variety, which is confectionary. US fudge is often a hot chocolatey sauce, or chocolate syrup? English fudge is very sweet. Cornish or Devonshire fudge (from the counties of Cornwall and Devon) is the best. Maybe because their milk is so good, which has something to do with the cows, which'll have something to do with the grass...”

Elizabeth Belonzi played Puck in ASC at NJCU’s recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and serves as the company’s Director of Education. Liz provided what might have been our most unorthodox sweet: Cheese! She explains “since my 30's I have all but lost my taste for sweets. I would much rather order an extra appetizer or, even better, glass of wine then a desert when I go out to dinner. Whenever I tell people that fact, [they think] my lack of sweet tooth is some super power. I think a love of cheese, specifically ‘night cheese’, has replaced sweets as my comfort food.”

There you have it. Sweets (and cheese) vindicated. If you’re sweet on Shakespeare, you can catch Actors Shakespeare Company at New Jersey City University’s production of Romeo and Juliet from November 5–21, 2010 at the West Side Theater. Tickets are available through

Natalie (Nate) Lebert has been an ASC member since 2004, happily crossing the gender divide with roles as Celia (As You Like It) and Banquo/Porter/Lady MacDuff (Macbeth). She has also played Feste (Twelfth Night) and Grumio (Taming of the Shrew) for The Queens Company (