Photography by Will O’Hare.
By Sonia Schnee | Posted Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Large, diverse casts. Epic stories. Intimate and unique settings. Thursday, March 28th will mark the first performance of Hamlet by the newly formed Shakespeare@ theatre company. Shakespeare@’s performances will be like no other Shakespearean performances you’ve seen. Why? Because they’re tailored specifically to Jersey City, its vibe, and its people. Check out our interview with Shakespeare@’s Founder & Artistic Director, Sean Hagerty, to learn about the inspiration behind Shakespeare@ and his love for Jersey City.
Where are you from originally, where are you based now?
SEAN HAGERTY: I grew up in West Virginia. Now I’m based here in Jersey City.
Tell us about Shakespeare@. What is it, when did it start, what’s your role?
We tell epic stories in intimate and unique spaces. We’re committed to diverse, large casts, with a focus on international and cross-cultural exchange. The idea is that the ‘@’ places us. So for Hamlet we’re Shakespeare@ Grace Church. We want to showcase the venue as well as the production.
The idea had been knocking around for a while. Then a couple of years ago, a few things fell into place and it seemed right to give it a go.
My role is the Artistic Director. I run the company and direct the current production.
Tell us a little bit about your personal background and journey. What inspired you to start Shakespeare@? Why Shakespeare? What is it about Shakespeare’s works that still resonates with people of all ages today?
Funnily enough I was never a big fan of Shakespeare growing up. I had the typical middle school exposure to Shakespeare where you’re sat down, given a copy of Romeo & Juliet, and told to read it. Which is kind of like asking a child to appreciate Beethoven by handing them the sheet music. So for years I had no desire to perform or even see Shakespeare. But as a young actor, I was on tour with a show over in the UK and while we were in London, one of my cast-mates had an extra ticket to see a production of The Tempest and asked me if I wanted to go. I had no inclination at all but he cajoled me into coming and what I saw blew my mind. Here was something that was theatrical and poetic. At once hysterically funny and powerfully moving. At the risk of hyperbole, I can honestly say it was one of those moments you can look back on and recognize as a game changer in your life. I remember standing outside the theatre after and saying to myself, if this is what Shakespeare can be, then I have to figure out how to do that.
Shakespeare@ was partially inspired by my time in England. I lived, studied and worked there for many years and loved the storytelling I experienced there. When I came back what I found (when it came to Shakespeare) was really two options: Large casts in large-scale venues with mic’d actors, or small casts in black box venues presenting two, three, or four-person deconstructions of the plays. Now, that’s not to denigrate those kinds of theatre; I see them all the time and have enjoyed them, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted large, diverse casts in intimate settings where the audience could reach out and touch the actors, feel a part of these mythic stories.
Why Shakespeare? Such a simple question and yet I’m not sure I can answer it. For 400 years people have been going back to his plays and finding inspiration or even solace. The stories, the characters, the language, all transcend the everyday and put us in touch with something larger, something truthful. Something we all have within us by virtue of being human.
Why Jersey City? What kind of impact do you hope Shakespeare@’s productions will have on the local community and the region at large?
Oh, there was no question it was going to be Jersey City. My wife and I have lived here since 2008. We’ve seen the city go through some incredible growth and change. There’s always been a huge arts scene here, which now is only bigger and even more deserving of attention. The artists and community are incredibly supportive of each other. And I think, perhaps, living in the shadow of NYC across the river lends us a scrappiness and hometown feel that I wouldn’t want to be without.
I think what I can honestly say about this production is it’s going to be the kind of theatre that Jersey City residents are used to going across the river to see. We’ve got incredible people involved. We’re aiming to be a vital part of the cultural and social growth of this incredible city.
What can people expect from your production of HAMLET? How do you want people to feel when they’re watching it, and what do you hope they’ll do afterward?
The actors are phenomenal and every day I walk out of rehearsal excited to see what they do tomorrow. Our version of this story is definitely unique. I’m excited to share it and in such a stunning venue. I think even the most seasoned theatre-goers and Hamlet lovers are going to be pleasantly surprised by our production.
I don’t know that I’d want to put an expectation on what to feel. I hope they’ll be thrilled, challenged, moved, inspired.
As for what I hope they do afterwards, I don’t know… Donate? Haha.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Just a big thank you to Jersey City—the community really rallied behind us from the moment we began.
Finally, how can people follow and connect with Shakespeare@ (Facebook, Twitter, IG, website, etc.)?
But the best way to connect is to come see the play. Introduce yourself. Come talk to us! Get Involved. We love that!