Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: A Farewell Interview with Stephen Muterspaugh

mutersp_d71_4203At the start of 2017, we said a fond farewell to SF Shakes Associate Artistic Director Stephen Muterspaugh, congratulating him as he began his new job as Managing Artistic Director forJewel Theatre Company in Santa Cruz. Since joining our company in 2010, Steve founded the Shakespeare For All residency program, creating community-based productions featuring first-time actors working alongside professionals in Salida, Modesto, and other Central Valley communities; he directed four Shakespeare On Tour productions between 2012 and 2015; he appeared in two Free Shakespeare in the Park productions (Banquo in 2013’s Macbeth and Leontes in last season’s acclaimed The Winter’s Tale); and he co-directed the 2014 Free Shakespeare in the Park production of The Taming of the Shrew. During his time at SF Shakes, he passed on his passion for Shakespeare to hundreds of students through Bay Area Shakespeare Camps, Midnight Shakespeare program, and Advanced Shakespeare Workshop.

We’re so excited about Steve’s next step in his career, and we’re also thrilled he’ll remain a Resident Artist with the company and direct our upcoming Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Hamlet this summer. We sat down with Steve earlier this week to talk about his history with SF Shakes, his new job, and what he’ll miss about working with us full-time.

How did you first hear about SF Shakes?

I auditioned for Two Gentlemen of Verona in 2010 and said on my audition form that I was also interested in teaching. I wasn’t cast in the show, but I was called in to teach, and that’s how my journey with SF Shakes started.

What do you remember about that first summer teaching for SF Shakes?

Organized chaos! It was such a whirlwind summer. My main memory of that summer is a student I taught in my first camp who was blind: she was really into Shakespeare’s work, she responded so deeply to it, because of the imagery that his words created in her mind.

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Steve as Banquo and Michael Ray Wisely as Macbeth in our 2013 production of Macbeth.

How did you become Associate Artistic Director in 2013?

I joined the staff in 2012 as the Education Programs Manager. [SF Shakes Executive Director] Toby Leavitt saw the work I was doing with the Midnight Shakespeare program in Oakland and thought that classroom work would translate into working with adult non-actors. So she and I designed Shakespeare for All together, and that was the same year I became Associate Artistic Director.

What’s your favorite memory from your time with SF Shakes?

I directed the Shakespeare on Tour A Midsummer Night’s Dream production a few years ago, and we’d been rehearsing for three weeks when we were asked to be part of the Litquake Festival. We performed in a parklet in the City with full costume and props, doing this one performance of the show as part of the Lit Crawl series. Our show was just along the way in between event venues, and we thought it would be a tiny performance, but as we started we had over 100 people watching us on that sidewalk. It got to the point where the audience started blocking traffic–when a cop came up to us and was going to ask us to disperse, someone told him it was Shakespeare and he changed his mind! It was such a beautiful guerrilla theatre moment—we thought we would lose people after 5 minutes and they stayed for the whole hour-long performance.

Do you have moments you’re most proud of?

My experiences teaching Midnight Shakespeare were both extremely rewarding and intensely challenging. Every one of those performances gave me a chance to watch these young adults shine in a way that I had never seen. They really understood better than anyone that Shakespeare’s words are meant to be performed onstage. There was one moment I particularly loved the year that Midnight Shakespeare produced Romeo and Juliet, involving the actor playing Mercutio: his girlfriend’s son had sat through entire show and had a good time. Later the actor brought the kid on stage, with no one watching, and he recited the Queen Mab speech to this little kid and asked the kid to say the words back to him. It was a great passing of the baton from one generation to the next.

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Steve as Leontes in last summer’s production of The Winter’s Tale.

What are you going to miss most about being Artistic Associate Director for SF Shakes?

The beauty of my SF Shakes job was that I got to just live in Shakespeare’s words every day. There wasn’t a day when I wasn’t reading the text and getting to delve into it and be a student myself. It was my job to study his work, how crazy was that? I’ll miss having Shakespeare be part of my life every day.

What are you most excited about working with Jewel Theatre?

At SF Shakes we worked on 400-year-old plays all year. Now I get to do at least one brand new show a year and every season is eclectic. Bringing new plays to life will be a big change for me. Also, SF Shakes does one or two shows per season, and now I get to produce five.

What will you take with you from your time at SF Shakes?

All of it! The biggest thing is the concern with social relevance—you have to think about relevance every time you produce a play. Every time SF Shakes would produce a Shakespeare show, we would ask, “Why are we doing this particular play?” I’ll also carry the social justice aspect of SF Shakes’ mission with me.

What are you most excited about when it comes to directing this summer’s Hamlet?

I think there’s so much relevance with the Hamlet story being a surrogate for the uncertainty of America right now. It’s not a 1:1 comparison, but there is a lot of similarity. I feel that when Hamlet returns to Denmark from school, he finds himself thinking, “Where am I? What happened?” I feel like no matter what they believe politically, the entire population of America right now is grasping at that thought of, “Where are we as a nation?” That’s where this play starts, and I’m excited about tracing that journey… as well as Hamlet’s own personal journey throughout the play, of course!

Thank you, Steve, for so many amazing seasons at SF Shakes. We are proud of you, we’ll miss you, and we look forward to working with you again this summer!

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Steve (bottom left) poses with the cast of our 2012 Shakespeare for All program in Salida.

 

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