The Scarlet & Black

The Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

From Fishmonger to Hamlet

James DeVita has a background as diverse as his one man show, “Acting Shakespeare”.  After dropping out of college twice, DeVita saw Sir Ian McKellen’s original play by the same title and was inexorably drawn into the world of classical theater. Twenty-five years later, DeVita is a professional actor and tours with his production narrating his own journey into performing Shakespeare’s work.

In your performance you talked a lot about wanting to get to know Shakespeare. What would you say your relationship to him and his work is?
I’d never liked Shakespeare, I thought his work was boring and it made me feel stupid because I thought that everybody else understood it and I didn’t. And when you see a play and think ‘Oh Shakespeare is boring, I don’t like him,’ usually it’s not Shakespeare, it’s the actors performing it. And I’ll be the first to say that I’ve been guilty of that, too. Once I realized that I could understand his work, it opened a whole world of language. And his work is almost like learning a different language at times and after a while it’s not as much hard work but it takes active participation—you have to really listen.

You also talked about wanting to be honest with the audience. How do you juxtapose honesty and acting in a performance, it seems almost oxymoronic…
And it is but that chase, the challenge of going after that is what excites me. It’s like trying to marry the best of 20th century contemporary acting with classical texts. There’s a lot of technique—a lot of study and voice work and speech work and poetry that goes into it. Marrying the technique with that level of authenticity is hard. And somewhere in the middle is where the magic happens.

Apart from Shakespeare, what do you work on?
I love contemporary works as well… I just finished a stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. Six months of the year though, I’m working on classical texts and when I work at other theatres I tend to like to do something contemporary so that I’m not just seen as a Shakespearean classical actor. I’d say that I enjoy classical texts the most and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to make a living out of it. I tell young actors that there’s a whole world of regional theatre and a life in the arts is not just in LA or New York.

You seem to just have chanced upon theatre, how did that really happen?
The first thing I ever wanted to be was to be a writer. I wrote journals in 6th grade, before it was cool. That’s the only inkling that I had some desire to express something. I dropped out of college twice and thought I wanted to be a fisherman. But I loved books and I loved movies. And for some reason I found myself in a community college and met a few people and I then I remember seeing a show for the first time and I remember wanting to do that. But I acknowledge chance and good fortune. There was a lot of that.

You seem to have persevered through a lot of rejection letters, what was the process of continuing to follow your passion like?
It wasn’t just perseverance. There was a level of ignorance in there as well. I know I did hard work, but I didn’t know that I couldn’t apply to these [top acting] schools and I didn’t know that I couldn’t write a book. I was silly enough to think I could and I kept trying and I did. I’m kind of an advocate of ‘you don’t always have to know how to do what you want to before you start it.’ Just start it. If you hit a wall, ask for help. I got rejected from a lot of schools and it was devastating—I’d found a passion and all these schools kept on saying ‘no.’ I just kept on trying, I guess. I have some kind of a bug, if somebody tells me that I can’t do something I think ‘alright, I’ll prove to you that I can.’ In some weird way it’s worked.  There’s been a lot of good fortune. I’ve been blessed with great teachers

What advice would you give to aspiring writers/actors?
I think nothing’s for naught. I think you should just keep moving forward. I started writing really bad poetry and I showed it to someone that I trusted and she told me that my poetry was juvenile but that my prose was promising. I like frank teachers. It saves time. It may hurt a little bit at first but it’s great. Also, it sounds trite, but to follow your heart. I have found that the things I have chosen in life which seemed like a better business decision even though I didn’t really want to do them turned out to be bad decisions. Stay with what you’re passionate about, and reach out for help.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *