Recently, I had the pleasure of being able to attend rehearsal for two of Shakespeare in the Woods’ upcoming performances: “Romeo and Juliet” and “Much Ado About Nothing”. It was truly inspiring to watch behind the scenes as the directors and actors pieced the show together bit by bit, and to witness such dynamic scenes come to life. The sheer amount of passion and work the actors put forth into each scene was simply astonishing to watch, and it was amazing to see how quickly they adapted to each adjustment.
Actors rehearsing for the upcoming show of “Romeo and Juliet”. Pictured left to right: Joey Santia as Mercutio, Joe Staton as Benvolio, and MaryKate Glenn as Romeo.
One of these adjustments is coming to live in Vermont, as many of the actors for the shows have been living in New York City and other metropolitan areas for the past few years. However, two of the actors have traveled even farther from home in order to perform in these shows—Joe Staton, a native of England; and Paula Sim, whose origins lie in Singapore. In the downtime between rehearsals, I had the privilege of getting to sit down with the two of them to discuss their personal journeys as actors and their current roles at Shakespeare in the Woods.
Joe Staton, an instantly likeable Brit, was born in England but grew up in France and Spain. Coming from a creative family (his grandmother was a costume designer and his parents founded their own face-painting company called Snazaroo Face Paints), at the age of eleven, Staton discovered he wanted to be an actor whilst taking an improv class in Spain. When he was eighteen, he moved to London to pursue acting, attending the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. He then auditioned for the Stella Adler Studio of Acting while they were visiting in London, got accepted, and subsequently ended up in New York where he promptly fell in love with life in the city. Near graduation, he was cast in his first Shakespeare production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with The Classic Theatre of San Antonio. Since then, he has been doing Immersive work, acted in a production of “The Seagull” by Chekhov, and performed in various Shakespeare productions, fulfilling not only his childhood love of theater but also of Shakespeare’s classic texts.
Shakespeare in the Woods’ “Romeo and Juliet” will be Staton’s fourth Shakespeare production, and “The Taming of the Shrew” will be his fifth. In “Romeo and Juliet”, he will be playing Romeo’s cousin, Benvolio; and in “The Taming of the Shrew”, he will act as both Gremio and the tailor. Staton’s excitement to play these roles grew only more evident as we talked, as he described how Benvolio (spoiler alert!) is the only one of his age to actually survive the play, and how the character of Gremio has allowed him to further explore the artistic tools of improv and humorous anger.
Joe Staton and Joey Santia in rehearsal for “Romeo and Juliet”.
Apart from Shakespeare, Staton’s main artistic inspirations stem from British comedy and humor such as Monty Python; other classic literature, such as the works of Oscar Wilde and Chekhov; history; as well as Andy Serkis and his work with motion capture. In addition to Shakespeare in the Woods, he is currently partnering with two directors in New York on adapting some original work, is in the process of making an audio book, works as a zombie scare actor, and he may even be starting a new contract with a film company.
MaryKate Glenn, Joe Staton, and Joey Santia practicing a scene from “Romeo and Juliet”.
In the future, Staton hopes to continue both traveling and acting around the country, as he’s loved the United States and the opportunities it has brought him ever since he landed in New York. Eventually, Staton wants to break into voice acting and get back into doing television work, but this time on American soil, as he acted in a variety of short films, a feature film, and even a web series while living in London. There is no doubt whatsoever that he will continue to contribute all that he has to offer by throwing himself wholeheartedly into his work, and by taking advantage of the plentiful opportunities that surround him. In the end, his ultimate goal is to be living off of acting while continuing to have the ability to pursue his passions here in the United States.
I was also lucky enough to sit down and talk with the eloquent Paula Sim, who was born and raised in Singapore. She is a relatively new arrival to the states, having only been here for the past few years in order to complete her master’s degree at Rutgers University. Having just graduated with an MFA from the Mason Gross School of the Arts (MGSA) in January, she is now a working actor in New York City.
Growing up, Sim originally wanted to be a ballet dancer, and was in training from the ages of eight to twenty-two. However, at the age of twenty, as she broke her ankle and was forced to reevaluate her career choice. Around the same time, she was starting college, where she and her parents disagreed on her future plans. Sim wanted to attend art school, but her parents wanted her to obtain a more traditional degree. In the end, she decided on the best of both worlds- to go to college for the performing arts, where she fell in love with acting.
Actresses practicing a scene from “Much Ado About Nothing”. From left to right: Paula Sim as Don Pedro, Caitlin McQuade as Balthasar/Don John, and Caitlin Kilgore as Leonato.
In her third year of graduate school at MGSA, Sim was lucky enough to be able to study and then perform “Richard II” at the prestigious Shakespeare’s Globe in London, where she played the role of Queen Isabel. This coveted experience simply solidified Sim’s love for acting, and every show she’s done since graduating has been Shakespeare related in some way. Now she is happy to be playing the roles of Don Pedro, the General of the Army in “Much Ado About Nothing”; and Lady Montague, Romeo’s mother in “Romeo and Juliet” here at Shakespeare in the Woods.
Actresses Paula Sim and Caitlin Kilgore in rehearsal for “Much Ado About Nothing”.
The role of Don Pedro especially has pushed Sim as an actress to explore different sides of gender, seeing as she is playing a traditionally male character in a show that is an all-female cast. In auditions the question arose as to whether she should play Don Pedro as a woman who is aware that she is playing a man and keep her feminine sensibilities, or if she should assume the role of a man automatically and adopt all of the accompanying masculine behaviors. Upon discussing this with her director, it was decided that she didn’t have to choose one or the other— seeing as there is no strict definition in terms of character traits on what it means to be a man or a woman, a theme that holds true not only in “Much Ado About Nothing”, but in both of Shakespeare in the Woods’ other plays as well. As an all-female cast, it is exciting to see the actresses grapple with this concept onstage, as it allows them to tackle issues in regard to gender, misogyny, female choice (or lack thereof), and the different kinds of abuse of women suffer at the hands of men. The role of Lady Montague has also challenged Sim, as in this adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet”, she will be playing a local Vermonter and must take on the local mannerisms and attitudes that this persona entails. Not being from Vermont herself, she explains how interesting it has been to get to know Vermont locals and their perspectives so that she may effectively translate them on stage—particularly their respect for one another and the land that surrounds them, as well as their unwavering state pride.
Paula Sim and Caitlin Kilgore rehearsing a scene from “Much Ado About Nothing”.
As evidenced by her roles in Shakespeare in the Woods’ upcoming shows, Sim’s main artistic inspirations come from strong female presences such as Jennifer Garner in Alias and Olivia Colman from Broadchurch, especially as Colman is as an actress who is fully able to commit herself to her work, pull herself in different directions to find interesting and nuanced characters, and still have fun throughout the entire process. Sim’s parents are also a big influence on her, as they push her to do her best, especially since they don’t often get to see her perform.
In the future, Sim dreams of starting her own theater company here in the United States so she can bring a voice to disadvantaged people and communities, whether it be to people in prison, people with disabilities, or the homeless. By doing this, she also hopes to help those who are not of these communities to understand experiences that may be different from their own. In the meantime, Sim hopes to stay in the United States, as now is a wonderful time for people of color both in this country and in the acting industry, due to the abundance of opportunities to speak to one’s own histories and experiences. She hopes to be able to add to the Asian voice, and to continue to use theater as a way to bring people together in a time when we most need it.
Shakespeare in the Woods opens with their first play “Much Ado About Nothing” this Thursday! Be sure and go to each of the three productions over the next couple of weeks to see Joe and Paula and the rest of the cast perform!
Joe Staton- Website: www.joestaton.org Instagram: @204joe
Paula Sim- Website: www.paulasim.com Instagram: @paulasim_