Jacob Ming-Trent

African American man on stage in full medieval battle gear with a red plume on his helmet

Jacob Ming-Trent in Folger Shakespeare Library's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Brittany Diliberto

Jo Reed:  From the National Endowment for the Arts, this is Art Works, I’m Josephine Reed.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  But I actually think Shakespeare is expecting us to bounce off his work, to use it as a stepping stone. And I think that's what his real intent was. That's why when his actors would go to their different communities outside of London, they would change the plays when they took them home, right, to fit that community. And so I think we're doing, again, in the tradition of Shakespeare we're doing that here.

Jo Reed:  That is actor Jacob Ming-Trent, he is playing Bottom in the Folger Theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the National Building Museum. While he’ll look familiar to anyone who’s seen Only Murders in the Building, Watchmen, or White  Famous, Jacob Ming-Trent is primarily known and deeply admired for his work in theater: Here’s some background: Born in Pittsburgh, he moved to NYC at seventeen to study at the Stella Adler Conservatory. During his first year, he was accepted into the Public Theater’s Shakespeare Lab. After completing the program, he was the youngest person ever accepted into the American Conservatory Theaters M.F.A Program. Jacob has worked with many outstanding playwrights including Suzan Lori Parks in her Pulitzer-Prize winning- play “Father Comes Home from the Wars” for which he picked up  a Lucille Lortel Award. He is very familiar to lovers of Shakespeare with frequent performances at the Public Theater, both at the Astor Place theater and at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park where he played “Falstaff” to rave reviews in their rollicking 2021 production of “Merry Wives” set in the African immigrant community of Washington Heights and which reopened the theater after the pandemic shut-down.  This current version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has a similar recalibration to Merry Wives : it very much highlights Bottom and the play within the play that workers are producing to honor the Duke’s wedding. There’re still the wayward lovers and the fairy Queen Titania with her husband Oberon and the mischievous Puck and all unfolds in the glorious great hall of the National Building Museum which is transformed into a forest of dreams. But at its center is Jacob Ming-Trent’s wonderfully playful and textured performance  as the weaver and would-be actor Bottom caught in a fairy’s spell as he and his friends rehearse their play. I spoke with Jacob at the National Building Museum…the sound quality is a bit challenging, but he is a great conversationalist and a real trooper, speaking to me on a matinee day before the first of two performances.  We began by talking about performing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the spacious majestic great hall of the National Building Museum.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Well, I mean it's a gorgeous building. It's huge. It's beautiful. The columns are amazing. And the lighting design really helps to accentuate the building as well. I've never performed in a space like this. It's inspiring. It makes coming to work fun. And so when you walk in I was in awe the first time. I was in complete awe. It's been a great time.

Jo Reed:  It's a big space.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes. Huge.

Jo Reed:  How is it playing in that space without feeling daunted by it? And, also, making sure your voice is going where it needs to go?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Well, that's what's great about Shakespeare is that it gives you the license to be as large as you can be. And, also, as intimate as you can be, and the space actually handles both really well. When you have a building like this and you have words that are huge and ideas that are huge, then you think to yourself, well, I can fill this space with those ideas. Those ideas are big enough to fill this space, so it's a perfect match.

Jo Reed:  This is a play about enchantment in so many ways, and man, everything just adds to it, the building, the set, the costumes, and, of course, the performance. And, you play Bottom…

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes.

Jo Reed:  …who's a weaver, the star of the play within a play.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes.

Jo Reed:  And in this version of “A Midsummer Night's Dream”. It is Bottom’s dream. It is Bottom’s show in a lot of ways. And the whole play is recalibrated so that it actually begins with the rehearsal, or the casting of the play within the play. So putting that front and center.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Hmm. Yes, I've never seen it done before.  It’s unique. It really puts the working man first, which is interesting. And by putting the working man first, it kind of hopefully gives a window for the audience to say, you know, we identify with these people. And that is our window into the play is these workers who were making a play. They're not professional actors but they're endeavoring to be. And so we watch them kind of cobble together this play. And so I think that's why it was done.

Jo Reed:  Yes. They're a tinker, a carpenter, a weaver, a joiner.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes.

Jo Reed:  So we're beginning with everyday people.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes. And so that every man quality. I mean, we're silly. We're fine. We're telling corny jokes. We’re telling sophisticated jokes, you know? But it's there for the audience to kind of help identify as we move into this, magical majestical, crazy world in the forest.

Jo Reed:   When I've read this, but certainly when I saw it this time, the way you all are rewriting the play as you're rehearsing and I kept thinking boy, Shakespeare must be having fun at the expense of his actors with this one.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Oh, absolutely.

Jo Reed:  I mean, man, this is payback.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Absolutely. We know that Shakespeare was frustrated with his clowns. So we know that. We know that the clowns would take a lot of liberties with the text, and that was a frustration for Shakespeare. He writes about it in Hamlet. And so, you know, in that tradition being the clown in the play I also take liberties with the text. Most people come and they-- well I couldn’t say most people, but people will come, and they’ll say, “Why is there added text? Why is there adlibbing?” That's what the clown would have done back in Shakespeare's time, so it's the history of it.

Jo Reed:  Yeah. And this is a version that has been edited down quite a bit, run length is 90 minutes.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes.

Jo Reed:  And I was really entranced from start to finish.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Good. Good. Yeah. Normally it's two-and-a-half hours long, so you know this bite-sized Shakespeare but we're seeing this a lot now in the Shakespeare community, people getting the plays down to an hour-and-a-half, two hours, I think you know, people's attention span is maybe not what they're used to. And plus in the age of television and movies and music videos where everything moves so fast, we're finding ways to adapt this writer so that young people can be interested. And I think it’s working. A lot of the young people that come are excited by it and they feel energized by it, so I think that's cool.

Jo Reed:  Yeah, because there's music in it as well.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Music, dance, you know, songs. It has it all.

Jo Reed:  Before we talk about the character Bottom more specifically, just a huge shout to the costumes.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes.

Jo Reed:  I mean the ass's head on Bottom, is a really fabulous. But when Oberon comes down these stairs in his best, Billy Porter, shocking, pink thing. And I really was sitting there on opening night and I'm thinking how is Titania ever going to meet this? And she comes in with a train coming from the second floor looking like this billowing cloud. I was just like, oh my God, that's amazing.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yeah, it's magical.

Jo Reed:  It was magical.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yeah. And the costumes are extraordinary. They help to transport the costumes, the sound, the lighting. You know, they all work together to really transport us. That’s why when you walk into the theater and it says, I believe it’s “come into the dream”, it really is like you're going through a portal into a new place, and that's exciting. It makes it easier on the actor, you know, because we have things to bounce off of. And it's always fun to sit in the theater. I know when I see a play, and someone makes an entrance, and the entrance is magical and your eyes pop open. And so, when you're on stage and you see people's eyes get big with wonder and excitement that's worth it.

Jo Reed:  Yeah, you're pretty close to the audience, which is nice.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes. Huge space, but the audience is close to us.

Jo Reed:  Yeah, really close, which is kind of cool. So this is your first time playing Bottom, not your first time in “Midsummer”, but first time playing Bottom.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes, that's right.

Jo Reed:  So tell us about Bottom. Bottom’s a weaver and a would-be actor. Who else is he?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  I think Bottom really wants to be a great artist, and he's-- this is his opportunity. So when we meet them, he's about to do a play for the Duke. And if he does a good job, he'll receive sixpence of day for the rest of his life.  So he would be famous. He would be wealthy. And this is his opportunity. And so he takes it very seriously, and to the point where he goes too far. Not only does he want to play his role, he wants to play everybody else's role, but the reason why is because he wants to show his skill. He wants to show how good he is. And that, you know, one of the things they call him in the show is bully Bottom, and so that leads to him kind of bullying his fellow actors a little bit, but then a piece of magic happens to him. And when that magic happens to him it changes the way he sees the world. No longer is he the big fish in the small pond? He realizes he's a small fish in a much bigger, magical pond. And it actually is the thing that makes him a better actor. In that way, Shakespeare's brilliant because he really is teaching actors how to approach the work. That it's not about you. It's about all of us. And the more you make it about all of us the better you'll be.

Jo Reed:  Well, that's actually one thing I was going to ask you because what's so interesting, I think about theater most particularly is it's so collaborative and everybody has to be able to do their own magic, but it has to be able to work as part of a whole, or it could be as magical as you want it to be, but it's not going to happen. So it's this great combination of self-realization and a community work.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes. Yes. It is about community. It takes a lot of people to make a play happen. You know, people backstage, people back at the offices supporting us. You know? It takes a lot of folks. And the more you embrace that community the better. But, also, that's why I came back to the theater because when you're here, you feel like you're actually doing something. You can actually change someone. You could make a community better. You know? There's that possibility. So yes, I love that.

Jo Reed:  Yeah, as do I. Something else that happened very specifically in this play is that in this version it's Titania, who's Queen of the fairies, she has Puck who's her, what? her fairy elf?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes.

Jo Reed:  Put Oberon into a spell, her husband king of the fairies, and the spell has him fall in love with Bottom who now has the head of an ass, also, thanks to Puck. So it’s this gender swapping which I really loved, I don't know what you thought about it. But for me, I always felt Titania was so diminished by that. And I did not feel that with Oberon at all. It was something else entirely. I thought it was so smart.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  It's great. I mean it goes along with this community idea that you're talking about our world has changed, and we're endeavoring to be a more inclusive community. And so having Oberon, the spell is cast on Oberon. Oberon falls in love with Bottom. Bottom has been transformed into an ass, I don't know if I can say that, but he’s been transformed into an ass…

Jo Reed:  Just the head of...

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Right. Yeah, the head of an ass. Okay. And these two creatures fall in love in this dream. Another really special and magical moment, I think, in the show and I love it. I love it. It opens our minds to more possibilities. You know?  You could look at these plays in a few different ways. You can look at them as locked text where, you know, Shakespeare's intent, whatever we think that is we should stick to that. But I actually think Shakespeare is expecting us to bounce off his work, to use it as a stepping stone. And I think that's what his real intent was. That's why when his actors would go to their different communities outside of London, they would change the plays when they took them home, right, to fit that community. And so I think we're doing, again, in the tradition of Shakespeare we're doing that here.

Jo Reed:  Yes. My godmother and I have this argument very frequently because I always maintain I like to talk to theater people about Shakespeare, (and I love talking to theater people about Shakespeare. I really, really do.) And her feeling is “no, no, no, no, it's all about the scholarship.” No. No. He wrote to be performed.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes, that’s true.

Jo Reed:  He wrote it as live living theater and that's, I think, where it's best appreciated.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Absolutely. It's a performative text.

Jo Reed:  Yeah, directions and everything.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes.

Jo Reed:  “Exit. Pursued by Bear.”


Jacob Ming-Trent:   Right. But, you know, there’s scholarship to it, but he was endeavoring to have an effect on people, and on people of many different classes, right, and backgrounds. That's what he wanted to do. So when you're doing his text, if you want to be in that spirit, in his spirit then that's what you should be endeavoring to do to affect the community that's coming to see it, in my opinion.

Jo Reed:  Yeah,  I'm with you. You have had a very wide and varied career, but you return to Shakespeare quite a bit. And I'm wondering why? What keeps calling you back?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  You know, I left the theater for about five years and went to Hollywood, made some great TV shows and movies. And my first show back was Shakespeare at the Delacorte in New York, and I keep coming back to it because of the possibilities. The ability to make at the Delacorte 2,000, people laugh, or scream, or shout. Another thing about Shakespeare is is that worldwide we can come to the table. Right? Everyone is doing this writer. So it’s one of the places where all actors, all theater artists can meet and discuss and bounce ideas off about theatricality and where we are today with the theater and community. So that is the chief reason why I love it. It's just about these words. And it's about these words and it's about a community of artists coming together to help tell this story. So that's why I love it. Yeah.

Jo Reed:  I saw your Falstaff in “Merry Wives” and congratulations for the Drama Desk nomination for that.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Thank you. Thank you.

Jo Reed:  That was a fabulous production, and you were wonderful and that had so many layers to it. You know, it reopened theater in New York. It reopened the Delacorte Theater after the pandemic, so that is the first thing I want to ask you about that. What was that like for you as a performer playing Falstaff in that particular situation?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  What an honor. It was an honor. And we took it very seriously. You know, we were still dealing with pandemic things and racial reckoning. It was exhilarating. And again, to be in a space where people needed, wanted, desired to have a community experience because they hadn't had one because of the pandemic…most people. And to be there in that space with them as we celebrate what it is to be human with a writer that loves humans. You know? And to play Falstaff, which is Shakespeare's argument for life.  That we should love and eat and drink and, you know, just live our life to the fullest. Not that we agree with everything that Falstaff does.

Jo Reed:  Not at all, but who do you want to have dinner with come on?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Exactly. Exactly. So it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I love that stage. The Delacorte is amazing.

Jo Reed:  It's in Central Park.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes, Central Park in New York.

Jo Reed:  And it's free Shakespeare.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes, yes. Those are the times you live for-- when you can uplift folks who need uplifting. You know?

Jo Reed:  Yeah. There was a documentary that HBO produced called “Reopening Night”, which was really, really moving  and there was a part that was equally moving and horrifying and that was your recounting your own experience where you were basically told you would have to elevate yourself in order to play Shakespeare. And even then the subtext is certainly, and” please don't expect to be playing a main character here”.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Right. Right. Yeah, you know, the theater has had its difficulties dealing with different communities. I started at the Public Theater when I was 17 years old. A lady named Rosemary Tichler found me and thought I could do Shakespeare. And she committed to me and helped me get into school and all other sorts of things. So the reason why I quit theater is because being at the Public and loving it so much, I had to deal with all sorts of racism and classism and that was a heartbreaking time. But then to come back and to be the lead in the show and my face on the set. And that was humbling, and it was also the realization that things could change. And that we can be the instrument of that change. And that this writer, along with other writers, but this writer as well, can help us with that change even today. Again, I was humbled and grateful to be a part of that.

Jo Reed:  I wonder whether with “Merry Wives” which was set in Washington Heights, the characters were from the African diaspora from Nigeria, from Ghana and performed with those dialects and it was beautiful. It was magic. And the way this version of “Midsummer” also has shifted so that people can just speak.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes.

Jo Reed:  I wonder whether the shift isn't happening so that Black voices on the stage doing Shakespeare can be Black voices on the stage doing Shakespeare and the play is enriched by it.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  You know, this is something I've been fighting for for over a decade that you can be yourself and come to this writer. That you don't, you know, we love watching Ian McKellen, but I'm not Ian McKellen, and he's great at doing him, but I can be me. Or I can bring my uncle to the stage. Or I can bring my father to the stage. That is so important moving forward that kids that are coming to see this, people that are on their journeys studying acting when they come to see this, they realize that they are enough. That what their gift is, their genius that is inherent, that is already inside of them is enough not only just to be in the show, but to be brilliant in the show. And that's not how I was taught coming up. I was taught that I had to-- the word “assimilate” was used. Or that I had to get as close to, you know, John Gielgud as I could possibly get.

Jo Reed:  Declaiming in the BBC voice.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  And you know, there's space for that too.

Jo Reed:  There is. But that's the thing about Shakespeare, I think, is that he's big and he shouldn't be reduced. I mean, he's big enough for everybody.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes. Yes, absolutely. And that's what we're endeavoring to do here at The Folger with this production. That’s what we were delivering to do with “Merry Wives”, and we'll keep doing that. And yes, there will be people that come, and they’ll want the Shakespeare that their grandfather saw. And there will be some of that, there will be.

Jo Reed:  He's big.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yeah, exactly. (laughter)

Jo Reed:  How do you approach a role like Bottom or Falstaff? What's your method for just getting into the character?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Hmm. You know, approaching any character for me is first of all understanding their desire, what they desire and why they desire it. What do they want? And then, once I start to understand what they want, I start to understand what drives them. And Bottom wants to be this great actor. He's got one shot to do it, so he is desperate to do it. Falstaff is on his last legs. He has no money. And so he sees these two beautiful women. He's like I'm going to get them to fall in love with me, so I can fill my purse and get back to living the life I wanted to live. And then the other part is where are they? You know, where are they? We always say when we were studying acting who, what, when, where and why? If you understand those five things you're good.

Jo Reed:  How does the collaboration with the director work?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  This changes over the course of an actor's career. You know, when you're young, you’re really reliant on the director. It makes sense because you're learning your craft. You know, now I've been in this for over 20 years, so I come in really well prepared, either completely off book or mostly off book. Now, I do tons of research and reading about how characters came about, who were the first actors to play them, why, all those things. And really, I look for the director at this point in my career to be an outside eye to tell me, “Okay, here's what you're trying to do, Jacob and here's what I'm seeing.” And so we work together to calibrate the performance in that way. But there's nothing like having a very good director. I worked with Julie Taymor, Darko Tresnjak. I can go on, and on and on. But when you have a really good director sitting outside of you and watching, there's nothing better. I love it. Some actors don't like notes. I love a good note.

Jo Reed:  Do you like rehearsals?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  I love rehearsal. Probably more than doing the show, and I never thought I'd say that. I would hear older actors say that when I was younger and that didn't make sense to me. Now, it makes more sense than ever because it's a lot more play. You're playing. You're trying things every day. Once you get into performance there’s a lot of things that are settled. But now, I’ve been around for over 20 years, now, even in performance I'm playing and trying things. I don't stop. Once you stop-- it’s like in life once you stop learning…you know. So I never stop trying things. I never stop learning about the production while I'm doing it. I don't mind failing anymore. I used to be afraid of failure. Now, failure is just a part of the journey.

Jo Reed:  It's another performance.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yeah. It's another one, and another one. And even when this closes, it doesn't end. I'm still thinking about it. And I'll take what I learned here and move into the next one. I used to think there would be a point in time in my career when I’d have it all figured out. But I realize now that day will never come. So I just keep my wheels keep spinning.

Jo Reed:  You also work with some of the best living playwrights around like Jeanine Tesori, and certainly Suzan-Lori Parks.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes.

Jo Reed:  And your role in her play “Father Comes Home from War” won a Lucille Lortel Award. Congratulations.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Thank you very much.

Jo Reed:  The experience of working, for example, with Suzan-Lori Parks on this play, you were there, when she's creating this work. What happens in that situation…?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  When the writer’s in the room.

Jo Reed:  When the writer’s in the room, and it's not frozen, yet?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Mm-hmm.  You know, I love working on new work. And that's been the bulk of my career is new work. So the relationship with the writer it depends where they are in their process. But one of the things I think it's just like when you give a piece of music to a great violinist they are going to illuminate things about that piece to the composer. So one of my job's is to illuminate this thing for the playwright so that they can see the potential in it beyond what they've written. And working with Suzan is great because Suzan, she's very sensitive to what's happening in the room. Working with Jeanine, I love Jeanine. Jeanine is amazing. As amazing as Jeanine is, she's underrated. So she's fantastic. Also, very sensitive to what's going on in the room. So it's a collaboration. It's a collaboration. And that's why I always go back to that. You can imagine if you gave a, you know, a guitar player a new piece of music and you're hearing that for the first time out loud, so you're hearing all sorts of notes. Plus the other thing is, another thing you can't cut out of the process is this actor that's coming to this new piece has a history, an ancestry. He comes from a certain place, a certain set of experiences, and that's going to meld with that text. That's why the director is important because the director is going: “Is this the right match between character and text between actor and a text?” You know what I mean?

Jo Reed:  You began studying theater at a very young age. Tell me about that. You were in Pittsburgh.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Pittsburgh. I started at the Performing Arts Middle School in Pittsburgh. And then I moved on to the Performing Arts High School. And then at 17, I moved to New York to be an actor. I don't recommend moving to New York at 17 to pursue acting, but I did. And I studied that Stella Adler which was amazing. And I studied at the Public Theater. And then when I was at the Public Theater I was 19, they said, “You know, you should go to grad school.”  And I was only 19 at the time, so I didn't understand how that was going to happen, but a lady I mentioned already, Rosemary Tichler, called all the good grad schools in the country and asked them would they take a 19 or 20 year old into their program? And a few would. As so then I went to grad school audition when I was 19 and landed in grad school when I was 20.

Jo Reed:  What did grad school give you what? What opportunities did it allow you?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  I think grad school taught me a lot of technique. It was also the first time that I experienced so many different voices and ideas, and how to compromise and build community and work together with a group of people. But then also coming out of grad school, you know, we do a thing called a showcase and I got an agent and a manager. And my career, thank God started right away.

Jo Reed:  Did you need a day job?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  No. No, I didn't. I didn't. I know I’m blessed. I did a production of “Three Sisters”, Chekhov's, “Three Sisters”. And then after doing “Three Sisters” I did a play called “Continental Divide” written by David Edgar and that took me to London. And then… I'm not going to give you the whole résumé, but the rest is history. (laughter)

Jo Reed:  Yeah, no, you don’t have to. But Jacob, what made you want to study theater when you were 11 in middle school? What was the compulsion here?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  You know, the head of the acting program in middle school, was a Black man. And he came to me, and he said he saw something in me. And that was important, you know, at that time. Somebody saw something in me. And they thought I could offer something in the theater. And so I followed him. And he taught me. And then when he was done teaching me he sent me to, you know, other people he knew to continue my training. So, I think what drew me in this is what draws a lot of young people to different things is somebody stopping them and saying, “Wait a minute, I see you. And I think you have something inside of you. And I want to help you bring that out.”

Jo Reed:  Yes, that's so important.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yes.

Jo Reed:    Is auditioning hard for you? Was it hard for you? What's that process like? Do you have to have certain attitude going in?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yeah. I mean, auditioning is hard enough for me than it's ever been, but I think because for the theater I don't really audition so much anymore. A lot of it is offers which is a blessing, I appreciate that. But then at the same time, auditioning is a skill. So if you're not doing it, you know, you're not getting better at it. A lot of actors say what we do for a living is actually audition. You know? So it's just a part of the game. And it’s something I have to keep working on. Always.

Jo Reed:  I would hate it. I would just hate it so much.(laughter)

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Yeah, I don't love it myself, let me tell you.

Jo Reed:  What was the first professional role you had?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  First professional role, I mean, you know, my first show was “Big River”. I was 12 years old. But I would say the first-- out of grad school I did “Three Sisters.” I played Fedotik. That was great.

Jo Reed:  Do you remember that feeling like going out for the first time. There you are. You’re a professional actor.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  I do. And it feels very different than what it feels like now. Back then it felt very exposed. You know, these people are looking at you. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be showing them something, or if they're just supposed to be looking at me. What am I supposed to be doing with my arms, my hands. You know, it takes a long time to learn how to act, just like anything. I mean, if you want to be a great French horn player it takes a long time. And I felt very naked, very exposed back then, and hoping that I just didn't make a fool of myself, or make a big mistake to where I would hurt my career, or hurt the show. That's really what I was thinking. Now, I don't have those thoughts at all. Now, I'm often thinking how do I get this cast, this group of people that's coming to see the show, how do I get us all on the same page that we can have a great time? What do I have to do in order to bring us together? So I feel very much now in charge of my instrument. And I feel capable of…. capable of setting the table for us, all to have a great experience.

Jo Reed:  Do audiences feel different from city to city, from house, to house?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Very different, very different. And I work them differently. You’ll have very quiet houses and so I work those houses differently than I work the houses that are very loud and boisterous. Yeah, so I'm in it with you. Think about it this way:  When you come to see the show I'm not just doing what I did yesterday. I'm responding with you and to you.   That is what the audience really craves that they’re in community and dialogue with this performer. They don't want me just giving some rote performance some all right everybody's getting the same thing. No, you don't want that. You want to feel like it's alive. And it's a happening.

Jo Reed:  Well, I think you might have answered this, but I was just wondering what theater gives you as an actor but then, as also as a theater-goer?

Jacob Ming-Trent:  You know theater for me the potential to affect people, and to be affected by people. That second piece is the new piece for me. Right? That first piece of affecting others in the audience on stage, being in community with them. But now that second piece of allowing myself to be affected by them, which means you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to take that in. And I think the more we endeavor to do that, the better we’ll be. I talk often about this is that the separation, the Ivory Tower, you know, and bringing down that tower and whether-- forgive me, whether you're a politician or a minister or whatever, you know, an actor, reducing the space between you and the people that you serve. Reducing that space. That's what I endeavor to do. I think that's what we endeavor to do.

Jo Reed:  Well, thank you. And thank you for this. Thank you for Falstaff. And thank you for everything, truly.

Jacob Ming-Trent:  Thank you. I appreciate you.

 Jo Reed:  That was actor Jacob Ming-Trent, he’s playing Bottom in the Folger theater production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” which closes on August 28. You can find out more about the show and the many related events, from cast discussions to poetry readings to music on the lawn to the activities at The Playhouse at folger.edu or at the  National Building Museum.  And you can keep up with Jacob on twitter or instagram—we’ll have links in our show notes. You’ve been listening to Art Works, produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Follow us wherever you get your podcasts and leave us a rating on Apple it helps people to find us. From the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

Jacob Ming-Trent has been moving from strength to theatrical strength. He played Falstaff to rave reviews in the Public Theater’s 2021 production of Merry Wives, the play that reopened theater in New York City after the pandemic shutdown and was set in the African immigrant community of Washington Heights. Right now, Ming-Trent is starring as Bottom in the Folger Theater’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is being performed in the great hall of the National Building Museum. This play has also been recalibrated: it very much highlights Bottom and the play-within-the-play that workers are creating to honor the Duke’s wedding. While there are still the wayward lovers and the fairy Queen Titania with her husband Oberon and the mischievous Puck, its center is Ming-Trent’s wonderfully playful and textured performance as the weaver and would-be actor Bottom. In this podcast, Ming-Trent talks about theater and live performance, why he returns to Shakespeare continually, the barriers he has faced in theater, why he had left the stage, and why he has returned. 

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