‘I Am Shakespeare: The Henry Green Story’ part two: the backstory

Interviews with Stephen Dest, director of the documentary, and Jeremy Goldman of Silhouette Stages, which is hosting a screening on March 12.

On March 12, 2022, Silhouette Stages will host a viewing of the film I Am Shakespeare: The Henry Green Story. The film is a documentary about the life of a young Black man who straddled two communities, living simultaneously as a gang participant and as a promising Shakespearean actor on stage with the country’s finest new talent. It’s also about the life transformation Henry experiences when he is shot at point-blank range, by a terrified adolescent: a shooting that the doctors who examined him at the time told his mother would be fatal: and a transformation that inspired many people around him in both communities. I spoke to both the director Stephen Dest and to Jeremy Golman, president of the board of Silhouette Stages, about the event.

Gregory Ford: Jeremy, how did you come to hear about I Am Shakespeare?

Jeremy Goldman: Stephen was the stage manager of a national tour that I performed in 2001. From the conversations we had, I knew that he was working on this documentary.

What made you think this would be a good fit for Silhouette Stages?

We wanted to bring new artistic events to the community in addition to musicals and plays. Slayton House, where we do many of our productions, went through an audiovisual upgrade so we wanted to take advantage of the enlarged possibilities of the improved technology. At first, we were just going to offer the movie. And then the project started growing. First, the director volunteered to come down to join the presentation. Then, Moms Demand Action joined us. Moms Demand Action is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. They have a chapter in every state. So we began to think more about the possibility of starting a meaningful dialog around some issues that are affecting this community.

How do the issues raised in this film relate to Silhouette Stages and the community it serves?

I think the first step in solving a problem is being able to speak about it. A large portion of the county doesn’t think that this issue exists here. But it does. Just this past Sunday night there was a shooting in Columbia, Maryland, about three miles from the theater. Hopefully, this film will help people feel comfortable talking about it.

Stephen, how did you come to be involved with Henry Green?

Stephen Dest: I moved to New Haven from New York City. Took a teaching job at an arts magnet school teaching drama. I took the job expecting that, like most gigs, it would be over after the first year. They said, no you can come back. In my second year, Kevin Green [Henry’s older brother] came into the school. I was assigned the school musical. Everyone kept telling me about this kid Kevin Green. We were doing Bye Bye Birdie. “He’s not going to do it but it would be great if you got him.”

Kevin was a big guy. I walked up to him in the cafeteria and said, “Kevin I’m doing a musical, I need boys.” He showed up at the audition. Because he showed up, 20 other boys showed up. And we did bang-up production.

Kevin took his experiences home and shared them with the rest of the Green family including Henry and his sister.

Henry came in at 5th grade. By then I was ensconced in the Green family. Doing musicals with kids who hated musicals and pulling it off. We had a great time. I have to credit the Greens with building that drama department.

I was involved with Henry all through middle school until he moved on to Co-Op School.

Later on, I directed him in the Shakespeare in the Park production of Romeo and Juliet where he played Tybalt with Yale-trained actors as his peers.

Where were you when you heard about Henry’s shooting?

I was on the circuit with My Brother Jack, another film that I had done, when I heard about Henry’s shooting. I was an artist in residence at the Napa Valley Film Festival. My at-the-time wife was also one of Henry’s teachers. She texted me and said, “Henry got shot last night.” I had no idea at the time that it was gang-related. I had no idea about his alias that he used — “Renegade.” He kept that part of his life protected from his theater and school community. I reached out to him and his family.

When did you decide to make this film?

At some point, I was talking to a group of producers and I just pitched to them the film of I Am Shakespeare. They were excited about it. So I kind of had to make it, at that point. I reached out to Henry to help me write the script. That’s how Henry got involved. It was not planned to be a documentary. But I would be looking at different actors to play the role of Henry in the film and things kept coming back to “Wait, Henry’s still alive. I don’t know that I could do him as well as he could do him.” We finally got together and I said, “Henry,. I think we have to do a documentary rather than a fictionalized story.’ ”

I watched Kobe’s [Bryant] The Muse. It’s just him as a talking head and some B-roll basketball footage. I liked the approach they took in that. And having worked with Henry on stage, I had a good sense of his passion and his sincerity and his delivery. We had a raw interview over three days with no script. What you didn’t see is the gallons of water for breaks. We did 68 hours of interviewing. We filmed it with a bookcase behind him. The movie itself was like a book to me. And so, I divided the film up into chapters that corresponded to the different identities he took on in his life.

I found a picture of you with a tattoo of Henry’s name on your arm. Tell me about that tattoo.

That was just a Sharpie or eyeliner. It was a night that I’ll never forget, though. Henry and I used to text each other a couple of hours before an event. He would be so nervous. On the night of this pre-screening, he sent a text. I expected he would just be asking me what to wear. But the text said I’m not going to make it tonight. I’m actually on my way back to the hospital at Georgetown University. I said don’t worry about it. But he never left the hospital after that. But on my way into the screening, I saw the Sharpie and I wrote his name on my arm. Someone yelled out something appreciative and I raised my hand to wave at them when that picture was taken. There was one screening scheduled. But there was an overflow audience of another 200 people and I was asked to do a second showing.

I Am Shakespeare: The Henry Green Story screens Saturday, March 12, 2022, at Slayton House Theater, 10900 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD, presented by Silhouette Stages, in partnership with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Tickets are $12 and available for purchase online and at the door.

‘I Am Shakespeare: The Henry Green Story’ part one: a review in rage
(by Gregory Ford)

Stephen Dest, the director of I Am Shakespeare is the founder and head of the Drama Department at Neighborhood Music School in New Haven, Connecticut, and professor (of Film Studies) at the University of Connecticut. In addition to his theater work, he has written and directed a number of noteworthy film projects including the 2013 award-winning feature film My Brother Jack.

Jeremy Goldman is the president of the Board of Directors of Silhouette Stages in Columbia, Maryland.

Silhouette Stages is Howard County’s premier community theater, offering award-winning, affordable theatrical experiences to local communities since 2003.


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