Freshman Takes Shakespeare By Storm

Brenna Fitzmaurice outside of the Montclair State student center. Photo via Victoria Testa.

In her dimly lit dorm room in Bohn Hall, Brenna Fitzmaurice was ready to fall into a much-needed sleep when her phone chimed to let her know she’d received an email. She’d been intimated by the other actors and her lack of preparation after “winging it” at her audition for Montclair State Players’ production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night earlier that day, but secretly hoped she would get the lead female part of Viola.

“I’m about to fall asleep. I remember it was midnight and all of a sudden I get an email, and its Daniel Evans [the director] and I’m like ‘Oh my god! This is it, here’s the cast list!’ And I open it up it’s right at the top it says Viola: Brenna Fitzmaurice,” she said, recalling the night with fondness and excitement.

As a freshman at Montclair State, Fitzmaurice hardly believed she could snag even the smallest spot in the first play she auditioned for in her college career. Instead, she landed what she considered a dream role.

Her first reaction to the news was a little unconventional: “I was like ‘F**k!’ because I [thought] it’s fine if I don’t get in because then I won’t have to struggle through all this, maybe it would be a sign that I need to focus on school stuff,” she said. “But nope, I have to do it now.”

Fitzmaurice’s backpack displays an inspiring quote about art. Photo via Victoria Testa.

Fitzmaurice loves art. Growing up in the small community of River Vale, New Jersey, she became involved in theater during middle and high school.

“I had loved acting and stuff before, but [Pascack Valley High School’s] theater program was what really got me into it. It was intensive and really passionate and great. I loved it,” she said.

Acting grew into a passion, and Fitzmaurice struggled to find colleges that offered a strong art and theater department as well as a good computer science program, the major she’d chosen to pursue. She applied to three colleges, but ultimately chose to attend Montclair State.

“I think that I got into Montclair for a reason and I’m very happy to be here,” she said. “I’ve only been here for less than a semester and I love it.”

In her short time as a student at Montclair State, Fitzmaurice has taken the initiative to get involved in the campus community in any way that she can. She works as an usher at the Alexander Kasser Theatre and as a Peer Advocate at the Office of Health Promotion, where she volunteers at the drop-in center, passes out contraceptives and designs posters hung in the bathrooms to remind students to wash their hands.

But Fitzmaurice beams with pride and joy when speaking about her involvement in Players, Montclair State’s student-run theatre organization.

“I knew I wanted to get involved in theater but knew it might be difficult because I’m not a theater major,” said Fitzmaurice.

She admits that her discovery of the organization was less than dramatic, though: “I was told to go into HawkSync over the summer, I saw Players and was like ‘Oh sweet!’ I went to the first meeting, and the second, and the third and I kept going back,” she said.

When Players announced they would be producing a performance of Twelfth Night, Fitzmaurice was excited but hesitant: “As soon as they mentioned it, I was like ‘oh that’s cool!’ I’ve never done Shakespeare before,” she said.

“I didn’t really know about the show,” she admitted, but Fitzmaurice decided to audition anyway. At the time, she was so busy with schoolwork that she didn’t look over the script or character description until she got to the audition. She decided she would “wing it, and see what happens.”

“I got there and I started looking at the stuff and I’m frantically going onto No Fear Shakespeare to understand the monologue so I can actually do a good job,” Fitzmaurice explained with a laugh. But it worked, because she landed the part.

Fitzmaurice as Viola in Montclair State University Players’ production of Twelfth Night. Photo via MSU Players on Facebook (Meg Foley)
“When Brenna first walked into the office where I held my auditions, I knew I needed her on this production,” said Daniel Evans, director of Twelfth Night. “I didn’t know what for, or why, but I knew that I needed her.”

But Ashley Delaney, costume designer for the production, knew almost immediately that Fitzmaurice would be perfect for the role of Viola. “I remember Brenna walking out of the room and immediately saying “That’s Viola!” said Delaney, “I was sure that I wouldn’t need to see anybody else for the role.”

Soon, Fitzmaurice developed a connection with the character of Viola, a woman who dresses as a man and serves a duke whom she falls in love with.

“Viola is the kind of character that I’ve always wanted to play,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to play a character that is gender ambiguous and gender non-conforming.”

Players created, rehearsed and put on the show in the time span of about four weeks, an idea still hard to believe for Fitzmaurice, who emphasized several times with vigor: “We put on the entire five-act play. In four weeks. In Old English.”

The experience had its struggles, though. Fitzmaurice sacrificed a great amount of time, sleep and even her ability to cut her hair for the role. The play is long and the script is confusing. Fitzmaurice admitted at times she would think “this isn’t even a real sentence, Shakespeare, what are you doing?”

“It was a challenge,” she said. “But it was a challenge that I kind of enjoyed.”

The successful run of Twelfth Night has opened the doors for Fitzmaurice to audition for and perform in several more productions during the remainder of her college career.

“I definitely want to keep going through Players,” she said. “It’s one of my passions and I want to keep doing it for as long as I possibly can. Once college is over, I don’t know. But, theater has a very special place in my heart.”

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