Bridgeport News

Housatonic Community College student takes stage in ‘Hamlet’

Written by Cynthia Loynd
Thursday, September 18, 2008

HARTFORD -- Jovan Davis of Bridgeport relished his first experience as a professional actor in “Hamlet”, recently performed at Saint Joseph College in Hartford. Davis, a Housatonic Community College (HCC) Theater Arts student, says playing a role in the Capital Classics Theater Shakespeare Festival production is a huge milestone.

“I know that this was something really big. It was my first professional gig,” says Davis “and my classes at HCC helped prepare me for this opportunity.”

Davis was asked by Geoffrey Sheehan, Theater Arts Program Coordinator at HCC, to participate in this summer’s Shakespeare Festival outdoor theater production. Sheehan is founder of the 18-year-old theater company, Hartford’s only outdoor summer Shakespeare theater.

Sheehan, a Newington resident who co-founded the theater company with his wife Laura in 1991, says “Hamlet” continued the mission of serving the Greater Hartford area with a summer theater that is affordable, accessible and exciting. “Hamlet” ran through July 27 on the campus of Saint Joseph College.

The mission of the theater is two-fold. “We provide the Hartford region with the area’s only outdoor summer Shakespeare theater” says Sheehan, “and we bring together area theater professionals and student actors who make Connecticut their home and provide them an opportunity to display and develop their skills.”

The company also taps into state college theater programs such as University of Hartford, Eastern Connecticut State University, Housatonic Community College and Saint Joseph College, with whom it partners to present “Hamlet” and other Shakespeare productions since 1991.

The company looks for chemistry and connection in finding actors to cast a multicultural program and appeal to a general, diverse audience. “We always look to see how a play speaks to a modern audience,” says Sheehan “and present a universal theme of people and ideas. We have to connect to the audience watching today.”

Sheehan says “Hamlet” was not modernized and utilized period costumes and music and the company worked with the script to make sure the language was understandable. “We have to make the audience understand the essence of what is being said and we want to take the audience to an imaginative place.”

The company centers its productions on Shakespeare and classical theater as Sheehan says there are enough modern companies. Shakespeare is a niche “that needed filling.”

Since its beginning in 1991 with a performance of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” at Bushnell Park, the Festival has produced theater that includes live music, stage combat and Elizabethan dance and entertainment. The summer productions moved to the grounds of Saint Joseph College in 2004 with “The Merry Wives of Windsor”.

Sheehan says working with college level actors and area professionals keeps him sharp and connected with his students. He can relate to obstacles students might have and bring that familiarity and connection into his teaching.

“This isn’t math and two plus two does not always equal four when it comes to creativity” explains Sheehan. Though he did not direct this summer’s production, Sheehan played Polonius, the conniving father of Hamlet’s love Ophelia, in the play. He worked with the students as peers and showed them the creative process and encouraged them to take risks with their performances.

Davis says studying with Sheehan and performing in “Hamlet” with him “helps me to be more passionate, to be in touch with my characters and to project my voice and use better diction.”

The students also benefit as they get exposure to seasoned performers and “can pick their brains”. The cast and crew are all paid a salary so for actors like Davis, their first professional experience is a milestone.

In addition to the family-oriented summer festival, the theater offers the public workshops and entertainment for club gatherings. Its core is theater teachers and educators and they provide access to other theater programs.

Sheehan says they also would like to expand the summer festival into a two-show season and add one-act curtain raisers to the feature performance.

Sheehan is proud to provide professionals and students with acting opportunities and the chance to use their creative energy. Creativity, color and passion are key ideas he wishes to share with his fellow actors and audience.

“I love being in the moment of creativity,” says Sheehan. “Whatever play I’m working on has my attention, focus, energy and heart.”

Davis shares Sheehan’s passion for acting. “My mother and friends came to the performance and enjoyed seeing what I’m always talking about. It’s this cool thing I did.”

Cynthia Loynd is a journalism intern at Housatonic Community College.