The pandemic has left many confused and despairing. Those in the theatre industry have especially suffered a loss of morale and opportunity. However, even with the restrictions faced by artists, there are those like actor Jae Woo who have still found ways to use their theatrical experience to give back to the community.
Born in South Korea, Jae Woo is a seasoned Shakespearean actor who has been working professionally both in the US and internationally. From being nominated as “Best Supporting Actor” for the role of Tiresias in LES Shakespeare Company’s production of Antigone, to playing lead roles such as Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Antonio (Twelfth Night) with Shakespeare On the Sound, he has gained his prominence in New York as an actor who excels in his engagement with the classics.
As COVID-19 brought the theater industry to a halt, Jae found that his opportunities to work had vanished. “It’s been tough grappling with the lack of work out there for actors, especially within the theater community,” says Woo. In March, Woo was cast as Caliban in Shakespeare On the Sound’s 25th anniversary production of The Tempest, a nightly outdoor performance to an audience of over a thousand people for 2-3 weeks. But like many others, the production was shut down for safety precautions. Similarly, in March, Woo was one week into his performance as Sebastian in The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Twelfth Night before it was closed due to COVID-19.
“It felt like my career as a theater actor was crumbling,” says Woo. “Not only could I no longer share my work and art with the hundreds of people who had planned to see my performance, but the weeks and months of rehearsing and developing my character felt too precious to let go of so unexpectedly.”
But despite the adversity Woo faced, he is still using his acting abilities to enrich the communities around him. “Once I was able to sit down and reckon with my circumstances, I couldn’t help but empathize with all the artists in the city who have been going through something similar,” he says. What caught Woo’s attention the most was the cuts in New York City’s Arts’ funding and the 30% deduction in arts education programs that the city faced. Woo is currently working with Apocalyptic Artists Ensemble to combat these issues. This summer, Apocalyptic Artists Ensemble will put forth a multimedia virtual production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, co-produced with The Astoria Performing Arts Center, in which Woo will be playing the star role of Lysander. Woo, along with other members of the company, will also use this production as a platform to help provide middle and high school students in New York City a deeper understanding of Shakespeare. In addition, they will host virtual workshops for students where they will facilitate an in-depth investigation of the Shakespearean language, vocal and movement training, and scene work.
“We are all facing some form of stress due to the virus. To me, acting isn’t just about performing, but it’s also a means by which we can enlighten others. A lot of schools in New York are experiencing a lack of support in educating their students about the importance of art. During such troublesome times, I’m grateful that I can use my craft to provide an environment where the youth can learn to appreciate and understand the richness of language and theater through Shakespeare.”
Tickets for the virtual screening of Apocalyptic Artists Ensemble’s presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will go live in April 2021. For more information, check out https://www.apocalypticartists.com/.
Website: www.jaebwoo.com Instagram: @jaejelly