James DeVita’s ‘In Acting Shakespeare’ comes to Marquette

James DeVita is making Shakespeare come to life on the stage. / Photo courtesy of James DeVita

Friends and alumni of the Marquette English department and the Office of Student Development will present “In Acting Shakespeare,” a comical theatrical production featuring actor and playwright James DeVita, on Wednesday, April 25 at 4 p.m. in the Weasler Auditorium.

DeVita’s play is an adaptation of Sir Ian McKellen’s script, “Acting Shakespeare,” and blends together the story of Shakespeare’s life and DeVita’s story about how Shakespeare’s work led him to his acting career. The performance will take place two days after the 396th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

“This is a Shakespeare (play) for those who think they won’t like Shakespeare,” DeVita said.

DeVita has acted in the American Players Theatre for more than 25 years, playing roles in classics like “Othello”, “Macbeth” and “Hamlet.” The American Players Theatre is located in Spring Green, Wisc.

Off-stage, DeVita is an award-winning author and playwright, currently working as the resident playwright for First Stage Children’s Theater in Milwaukee.

After the play and reception, audience members can attend the Marquette Department of Performing Arts’ production of “The Comedy of Errors” at 7:30 p.m.

The Tribune sat down with the noted playwright for a Q&A session:

Q: How has Shakespeare’s work impacted your career in theater?

A: Well, six months out of the year, I work with the American Theater. So, for over 18 years, I’ve done a lot of classical work like Shakespeare. I’ve worked for many years trying to work on a technique that makes his language accessible and understandable. I was a fisherman from New York. I never thought I’d be doing Shakespeare.

Q: Describe your experience working with the First Stage Children’s Theater.

A: I love working with First Stage. They gave me my first shot at writing for the stage. First Stage really supports young artists. I love not only what they stand for, but how they support young actors and writers.

Q: What makes working with children so special for you?

A: Working with the children is so much fun. When casting now, I see young actors and they say, ‘They’re from the Academy.’ We’re connected through our work at First Stage.

Q: Why did you decide to stay in Milwaukee and build your career in theater here, instead of moving to a city like New York City or Los Angeles?

A: I’m from New York, and I always thought I’d go back. After graduating from UWM, I started working in Milwaukee, and found that there’s a thriving theater industry here. I had to choose between whether I wanted to move somewhere and look for a job, or if I wanted to work right away. I had too many offers here to pass them up.

Q: You have played roles in several Shakespearean plays. What is it about Shakespeare that attracts you so much?

A: I’ve always been attracted to making poetry accessible to a broad audience. When I was younger, I felt stupid when reading Shakespeare, that only those who studied him could understand. I know now that’s not the case.

Q: What would you say is the biggest difference between acting and writing for the stage?

A: There are more similarities than differences. Writing and acting fiction, in particular, is very similar; you’re always looking for authenticity. With acting, I think the difference is that, when you’re on stage, it is what it is, and with writing, you can revise mistakes.

Q: What do you enjoy more, acting or writing?

A: I don’t think either one is better than the other. They lend to each other very well. I would like more time to write because I enjoy it so much. When I was younger, I really wanted to be a journalist, but things just don’t work out that way all the time; I have bills to pay, and writing doesn’t always pay those bills.