Shakespeare in Love

 
 
 As Viola De Lesseps playing Thomas Kent in Shakespeare in Love at Virginia Rep. Captured by Brandon Carter

As Viola De Lesseps playing Thomas Kent in Shakespeare in Love at Virginia Rep. Captured by Brandon Carter

The Play’s the thing

I met Jen Wineman, the director, a few weeks before auditioning for Shakespeare in Love at an opening for a play she was directing at LaMama in New York City. Upon introduction, she confessed to having a girl-crush on me while she had watched Hamilton. We hit it off easily, as is the way with Jen, and immediately fell into comfortable rapport.

A few weeks later I received an email with audition information for Virginia Rep’s production of Shakespeare in Love, for the role of Viola DeLesseps. I was immediately excited, and then when I saw Jen would be directing it, my excitement ebbed a bit, as I assumed she’d pulled some strings and called me in.

 
 With Brandon Carter as William Shakespeare. Photo by Aaron Sutten

With Brandon Carter as William Shakespeare. Photo by Aaron Sutten

When I walked into the audition room, Jen immediately lit up and told me how excited she was when she saw my name on the list to audition. Phew…I’d gotten in the room on my own. Nervous as all get out, I performed Viola’s first scene where she recites a bit of verse from “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” I had never been cast in a play, let alone any containing Shakespeare. My degree is in dance, after all. However, I got a callback. Woohoo!

In the callback the following day, I’d be performing one of the scenes as Thomas Kent, so I wore my crispest button up and walked in ever so slightly more confident than the day before. Everything went fine and Jen was still incredibly complimentary, but I just didn’t feel like I’d nailed it. When the email offering me the job came later in the week, I was a mixed bag of emotion: shocked, confused, excited, terrified. A play…huh…what will that be like?

 
 As Viola De Lesseps playing Thomas Kent, Brandon Carter as William Shakespeare, and Chandler Matkins as Boatman. Photo by Aaron Sutten

As Viola De Lesseps playing Thomas Kent, Brandon Carter as William Shakespeare, and Chandler Matkins as Boatman. Photo by Aaron Sutten

When I arrived in Richmond, Virginia for the job, I really had no idea what to expect. All my professional jobs had been musicals. The first couple of days of rehearsal were spent reading the play out loud, discussing what all was happening and pointing out all the various references to Shakespeare strewn throughout by the brilliant writers, Tom Stoppard, Marc Norman and Lee Hall. To sit around and talk for two days felt like such a luxury. Normally I’d have been cramming music into my brain with no discussion of the work at all, just nose to the grindstone, get it done. Jen encouraged everyone to contribute their thoughts and ideas and made sure we all knew how important and integral we were to the piece. Rehearsals were uplifting and light. I was learning so much and being pushed outside my comfort zone. I wasn’t singing, I wasn’t dancing, just walking and talking and I was having a blast. The entire experience was everything I didn’t know I’d been missing from theater for YEARS. Jen also happened to be the first female director I’ve ever worked with…in the 15 years I’ve been working as a professional, and the 30+ years of being involved in the arts. I had a marvelous time working on this production. The folks down in Richmond really know how to treat a transplant. In my free time from the show I would take my dog Ozzy over to Belle Isle by the James River where we both would lie on the rocks enjoying the sun, me with a book, Ozzy trying to lap up the entirety of the river. I was also allowed to take company class with the Richmond Ballet. Their kindness helped me touch base with my roots in ballet and ensure that I had healed properly from a broken knee 6 months previously. The Capital Trail offered me miles and miles of fairly uninterrupted biking and on my last few days off before closing Shakespeare in Love I rode the entirety of the trail, out and back…104 miles, something I could never do while dancing in the ensembles of Broadway shows.

“Betsy Struxness shines as Viola de Lesseps. Her scenes as Thomas Kent are hilarious.” - Jeremy Bustin of BroadwayWorld.com

“The performances are excellent, led by Betsy Struxness’ lovely Viola, including her earnest turn as Thomas Kent.” - Susan Haubenstock of The Richmond-Times Dispatch

“The award for chemistry goes to Brandon Carter who plays Will Shakespeare and Betsy Struxness, Viola. Their spirited interactions on stage sizzle with excitement and intensity. Their honest portrayals are witty, spunky, downright fun to watch.” - Joan Tupponce of Richmond Family Magazine

“As Viola, Struxness embodies intelligence, determination and passion.” - David Timberline of Style Weekly