DAVID KWIATKOWSKI – STAFF WRITER
Reporter’s Note: Each summer, Chautauqua Theater Company and Chautauqua Opera Company invite young actors and artists into its program for a fully-funded fellowship. This summer’s program consists of seven actors and five Young Artists, as well as some guest artists. To better connect readers to the actors themselves, Q-and-A interviews will run regularly throughout the remainder of summer.
Who: Justin Von Stein, from Memphis, Tennessee, attended the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He portrayed Colin in Blood at the Root and El Capitano in Commedia this summer.
How did you hear about the Chautauqua Theater Company?
My academic adviser is Jed Diamond, who trained us in mask work for Commedia. He and I have gotten close and work together, and he is amazing. I was doing an independent study with him last semester, and it was me and this other guy, we were working with him on fine-tuning monologues for auditioning. He mentioned this place and that he was classmates with (Artistic Director) Andrew (Borba).
I had never heard of it and looked online and saw it was the biggest summer program for theater kids in the world. I looked through all the former alumni and saw students from Yale, Juilliard, Columbia, Case Western Reserve and schools like that. I saw one person who had come in as an undergraduate student.
I didn’t expect to get in, but I’m happy I did. It’s been a wonderful learning experience. From doing the shows and learning underneath these directors, but also getting to talk to people and hearing from them from these people in these top grad schools.
What is your go-to comfort movie?
“The Princess Bride” is the type of comedy I really jive with. I think it is one of the most quotable movies of all time, besides “Mean Girls.” I also love heist movies like “Ocean’s Eleven.” I guess both of those (movies) have such an already established world that they don’t care if the audience doesn’t understand, right? They all have jokes in both movies they have among themselves, that we the viewer just have to accept. That’s just the reality, and I think it’s so cool.
What have you been listening to?
The new Vince Staples album is amazing. It’s just been stuck in my noggin. “Take Me Home” and “Law of Averages” are really good bops.
What is your dream role?
I don’t really have a dream role like most other actors do. I’m not going to do things where I draw the line morally as a person. If there’s something I want to work in, honestly, Blood at the Root was what I’ve been looking for as an actor. It’s a show that is important and has an important message that creates change within the community. It’s something I’ve never gotten to do before. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I think that the most important thing to do as a theater artist. Our jobs aren’t important; no one needs theater or needs actors in the world — unless they’re doing stuff like this.
How did you get into acting?
I did drama club in elementary school. I was one of three guys out of the 50 girls who were doing it. I’ve always been on stage and had fun being in front of people and entertaining. That’s always been a part of who I am.
I stopped when I got to high school. I was playing football. And then I missed doing theater. So I started doing theater and football until (I quit) because I like my brain. My theater teacher was one of my favorite teachers in high school. He was like, you know you can do this as a profession, right?
He got me on the track. He planted the seed that I can pursue this as a job. I auditioned for one undergrad program and I didn’t get in. So I decided to go to (University of) Tennessee. I went (there), because it’s in-state and cheap. I got in, and all my friends were going there. And then I learned that Tennessee has one of the best acting programs in the world.