Senior Jonathan “Jonny” Stulberg vividly remembers “Greater Tuna” as one of his favorite experiences from high school. What is Greater Tuna, you might ask? No, it wasn’t his debut in a hot emo high school band, but rather a two-man show, which he produced, directed and acted in, playing several different characters, both men and women.
Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, Stulberg began acting his freshman year of high school.
“In the last six years of my life, I have done 12 theatrical productions and each experience has allowed me to create something of my own,” Stulberg said.
Taking a hiatus from acting for the past year has taken a toll on Stulberg. Without the opportunity to perform, things became unclear and dismal. Acting had always been a creative outlet for him and being void of such practices led Stulberg to discover a side of life that was empty and tragic. As he reminisces about his past productions, the passion Stulberg exudes for the art of acting is undeniable.
While he struggled in the absence of acting, he was offered the part of King Lear in the upcoming production at UR’s International Theatre Program. Considered one of the greatest tragedies written by William Shakespeare, the role of King Lear has been brought to life by many distinguished actors. It is regarded to be one of the most demanding roles for any actor to portray and an immense privilege to play. Aware of the enormity of this role, Stulberg humbly comments, “Some actors wait their whole life to play a role such as this.”
Continuing his artistic fervor, he has been engaged in the drama scene at UR for the last four years. He has starred in past productions such as, “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore,” “Pterodactyls,” “Machinal,” “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” and the new production of “King Lear,” as the title character. Senior Pradeep Ambrose, who has been engaged in Stulberg’s acting livelihood, describes his performances as “extremely energetic, passionate and creative.”
UR’s International Theatre Program’s production of “King Lear” is set approximately in the mid-1950’s, with King Lear being personified as the quintessential American dad. However, the play is still spoken in traditional Shakespearean form, escalating the creative intricacies that manifest through individual characterizations.
Stulberg describes his character as one of high expectations, behaving unruly, rude and brash, not to mention progressing into a spiraling madness.
“[He is] probably the hardest working actor,” fellow castmate and senior Julian Klepper said. “He is constantly setting the bar for everyone else in the production to follow… Sometimes he will read his lines so prolifically that I get the chills.”
Faced with the task of portraying this complex character, Stulberg is bringing to the table 22 years of life experience and imagination.
“So my great uncle, he’s about 80 years old,” Stulberg said. “He owns a horse farm, is a World War II veteran and always sits at the head of the table at family celebrations… My great uncle is a brilliant storyteller and he has been pivotal in relating to King Lear since I myself have no experience in being a father or being a king.”
Stulberg makes sure to pay homage to director Nigel Maister, who has been a crucial element in his artistic development. Stulberg describes Maister as brilliant, extremely honest, self-deprecating, creative and a man of great devotion to his students. “He never sacrifices the goal of the show, even though I am laughing most of the time I’m in there,” Stulberg said.
With only two weeks until the opening night of the show, Stulberg is absorbed in daily practices that range from four to seven hours a night. Not only is he attempting to take lead in one of the greatest and most challenging English plays, but the entire experience has been life changing. Before I even had the chance to ask him why, Stulberg interjected, “Can I tell you why?”
Crediting the cast and crew of the show, he emphasized the relationships and intoxicating atmosphere of this particular production. The infusion of creativity and personal development has impacted the connections being made between actors and, for Stulberg, this has made all the difference.
“Imagination is key,” Stulberg said, and the cast is constantly trying to transcend time and literature through this imagination to make the play come alive. He realizes that he might never have another chance to play a role such as this and has taken it upon himself to push the boundaries of his own acting repertoire to do justice to this role.
“Jonny has the unique ability to be either totally normal or buckwild crazy at will, either a zero or a 10 on the crazy scale and I think he threads both extremes best when he’s on stage,” Ambrose said.
For those unaware to the world of acting, every role an actor plays has the capacity to personally transform one’s outlook on life. While not all may experience such emotional ties to the characters they portray, Stulberg exudes passion with every word he speaks, making me a believer of the sacred bonds between an actor and his character.
Even though “King Lear” is, in amidst, one of the greatest tragedies written, it would be a greater tragedy for Stulberg to not have had the good fortune to land this role. For someone whose life is sustained by creativity and passion, the character of King Lear, a tragic role which many could not describe in one sentence, has become both challenge and inspiration for Stulberg.
In response to why everyone should come watch this play, Stulberg replied “Because it is one of the best plays in the English language ever written.”
King Lear opens Thursday, April 12 at 8 p.m. in Todd Theatre and will run through April 28.
Han is a member of the class of 2007.